Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Of Thrushes and Owls
I was happily sweating through my chemistry homework yesterday afternoon when my cell phone in my pocket buzzed. I dug it out of my pocket, glanced at the screen, and saw that it was Doug Willick calling. Oh, goody. Whenever Doug calls, it's usually about some unusual bird that has showed up in Orange County, so I eagerly answered. And yes, I was right - an unusual bird, a Varied Thrush, had been found at my local patch, Irvine Regional Park. Ah, someone has been poaching my patch! I glanced outside to see if I had time to madly race over there before dark, but dusk was beginning to fall. Drat, I'll have to wait for tomorrow.
Following some vague directions (this was a second or third hand report, after all; Doug hadn't found it), I wandered around Irvine Regional Park in search of the Varied Thrush this afternoon. I knew the general area where it had been seen, but Varied Thrushes are shy and difficult to find. I probed around in thickets of berry bushes and scanned the grassy edges the brushy woods in search of it, but I never could find it. When I bird Irvine Regional Park, I don't normally search the undergrowth so thoroughly, so I found more Spotted Towhees, Bewick's Wrens, and Hermit Thrushes than usual. One Hermit Thrush was very tame and let me photograph it from six feet away. Well, it's a thrush, but not the one I was looking for.
As I was rambling along, I heard a band of Oak Titmice making a fuss in a nearby tree. They seemed to be congregating around a cavity in the tree trunk, occasionally landing on the edge and peering in. This is always a good sign that there is an owl around, but I didn't see anything in the hole. Hmm. The titmice were still very agitated, so I climbed up on top of a handily-situated picnic table and managed to see a Western Screech-Owl ear-tuft sticking up!
Eventually the titmice stopped harassing the owl and went on their merry way. It's strange how small birds get so angry at small owls. They will pester these poor owls that are just trying to get a wink of sleep, even though the owls are obviously not a threat to them at the moment. Of course, screech-owls do sometimes prey on small birds, though they much prefer rodents. It is very difficult to find day-roosting Western Screech-Owls, since they like to hide deep in cavities, completely out of sight. I would have walked by, a mere twenty feet below the owl, if it had not been for the scolding titmice. I spent the rest of the afternoon scouring the park for the thrush, but I still came up empty.
As dusk approached, I decided I'd better start heading home unless I wanted a scolding more severe that that of the titmice from my mom. I decided to cruise by the Western Screech-Owl, to see if it had come out any farther. As I approached, it seemed that the hole had suddenly shrunk. I looked again, and realized that the owl was sitting at the entrance of the hole, blending in almost perfectly with the bark! I took more photos; the owl bobbed around, preened, and seemed to be getting ready for a night of hunting and adventure. I'm sure that's what it is doing right now, swooping amongst the old oaks and sycamores of Irvine Regional Park in search of rodents even as I type these words.