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Any owling tips?

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Old Tuesday 6th January 2015, 06:45   #1
tom baxter
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Any owling tips?

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?
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Old Tuesday 6th January 2015, 11:29   #2
jurek
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Did you consider that species you are looking for may be simply not there?

I would extend walks further, and try more wooded places. And mid-winter is not the best time for calling owls, better are warm, calm early spring evenings.
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Old Tuesday 6th January 2015, 11:35   #3
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Also some peoples hearing is better than others - owls some kilometres off may be heard by some but not by you (also some frequencies).

There is also a possibility that if people are using playback in a limited area, then different groups could be hearing each others playbacks, with no real owls actually calling in the area at the time! (It has happened).

Time of night may be an issue, although don't know the specifics for your species - some species will be more vocal after midnight for example (but sounds like you may have that covered if you just got back).
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Old Tuesday 6th January 2015, 17:38   #4
ChemNerd23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tom baxter View Post
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

Last edited by ChemNerd23 : Tuesday 6th January 2015 at 17:42. Reason: Typo and add content
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Old Tuesday 6th January 2015, 20:41   #5
tom baxter
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Thank you everyone for the advice. I am happy to hear all of your suggestions and they have me feeling motivated again after a discouraging adventure last night. I do believe that owls are present at my search locations because I find pellets during my daytime walks and I have heard of reports from other birders.

I have been staying away from Cape May point which is probably where the highest concentration of owls are near me. I have a personal tendency to explore the less traveled roads. That being said, walking around in the nighttime on the less traveled road can be intimidating at times. So Jurek, your point about searching the more wooded areas and longer walks is probably a valid point.

I appreciate the responses! Maybe a little more experience is all it will take? I think I am going to try again tonight.

Tom
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Old Wednesday 7th January 2015, 01:00   #6
jurek
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Hi,

I don't know situation in USA, but in Europe it is very safe to walk in remote woods at night - troublemakers are in villages and towns. The only risk is being shot at by an over-keen hunter.

Granted, you instinctively jump up at any noise - even a wood mouse. It takes some years to get used too. Just think the meanest animal in this woods is you.
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Old Wednesday 7th January 2015, 15:33   #7
tom baxter
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Hi,

I don't know situation in USA, but in Europe it is very safe to walk in remote woods at night - troublemakers are in villages and towns. The only risk is being shot at by an over-keen hunter.

Granted, you instinctively jump up at any noise - even a wood mouse. It takes some years to get used too. Just think the meanest animal in this woods is you.
This is probably very true. I suspect that in the winter at least, any trouble makers are seeking warmer temperatures indoors. The other night when I was out it was very quiet, and I was standing still for roughly 5 minutes when suddenly a woodcock flushed from only a few feet away from me. That scared the crap out of me for an instant !

Last night the wind got pretty strong so I did not make an attempt at owling. Hoping for a quieter night to come through soon.
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Old Saturday 10th January 2015, 17:28   #8
tom baxter
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Following some of the advice received on this forum, I had my first successful search for screech owls last night! It was very exciting, the only time I have ever heard a wild screech owl was just by chance from the living room of my house last summer. To succeed in my search was very rewarding to say the least.

I began owling around 6:30 PM at a local patch with many rumors of owl records. My friend and I made four stops , about 10-15 minutes each, without having any luck. We would begin with Saw-whet owl and play call back recordings once every two minutes or so. After repeating this process about 3 times we would cycle through other species- screech then barred owl. On our fourth stop, and about an hour after the beginning of our adventure, we were getting slightly discouraged when out of the silence we heard a smooth, descending monotonic screech. It sounded quite a bit different then the several recordings we had been using, so both of us looked at eachother and asked, "what was that?". My gut was that it was a screech owl, but I was unsure. It just sounded like a painful squeel at first, but no more than 10 seconds later it was there again. The quiver in its voice was audible this time and I had no doubt anymore. It continued to call on and off for at least 5 minutes. And the best part, at one point both my friend and I clearly saw it fly directly over our heads.

We reached the marsh edge last, where we had two owl sightings without the use of playback recordings. Here we were playing yellow rail, black rail and Virginia rail calls, with Virginia being our only real hope. Anyhow we did not have any luck with rails.

In total, with at least 2 great horned owls calling in the background, a close range screech owl, a long-eared/short-eared sighting along the marsh edge and an unidentified large owl sp. in the same vicinity, this was one of the best birding nights of my life. Thanks for the contribution everyone!
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