Originally Posted by tom baxter
I live in New Jersey, USA. I just got home from owling with a friend, it is currently 2:32AM here on the east coast of the USA. I have been unsuccessful at finding/hearing any owls other than great horned and short-eared owls despite a lot of enthusiasm and effort. I am not sure if there are secrets to this trade that I am unaware of or possibly certain aspects of my approach that are preventing me from detecting my targets (long eared, saw whet or screech owls). I live near Cape May, NJ and just recently during Xmas bird counts I learned of some general locations that people recorded these owls on their counts. I have used the advantage of knowing these general locations along with ebird reports and despite visiting these general locations I not had any luck.
So far the approaches that I have attempted include walking in farm fields and listening at both dawn and dusk. Sometimes I use a playback and sometimes I do not. I have tried owl calls as well as rodent squeeks to no avail. I have also attempted playing owl calls through the speakers of my car along roadsides. I will park and turn the lights off and roll the windows down and play the calls in 2-5 minute intervals and not get out of the car as not to disturb the birds by the slamming of the car door. I have tried adjusting the volume of the speakers ranging from quiet to slightly loud (subjective I know but not too loud)...
To be clear I do have a lot of respect for these birds. I do not wish for anyone to give me my owls, I want to find them on my own. I do not have any intention of harassing them repeatedly and would be satisfied even if I do not see them. If I only could hear them or detect them somehow. I am just baffled by the reports I hear from expert birders that record all of my target owls in one night of owling.
Is there any advice that someone could offer me?
I know I am a ways away location-wise and I've only gone owling twice. The first time I went it was from 3:30-6:30AM and we tried several locations. My recollection was we only heard barred and great horned owls. There were several times when we had to sit and wait (while using audio playback of a screech owl) before the owls either arrived or decided to finally call back. The barred owls make a characteristic entrance and I did see one in dim conditions. The second time, two weeks later in a new area at the same time, we used the same audio and found several different species (barred, screech, great horned, and saw whet). It may have been the location or perhaps the firs trip they were not as talkative. I never saw any of them but we identified them by their calls. Keep in mind some of them were louder than others and the two birders I was with who were more experienced than I, found them first and pointed them out to me. I can certainly see it taking me a few field trips of owling before my ears are better tuned to pick out their calls. I have likely gone less than you and always with experienced birders but I am enjoying it and will likely try on my own one of these days. To me any owl call back is exciting, probably since I'm still new to the scene. I would say keep at it and remember they could be there but feeling lazy hehe