Friday, January 17, 2014

Jan 17 (Day 17) - The hunt for the Long-eared owl

I had two goals today. First, I wanted to meet Connecticut birder and photographer Mardi Dickinson to give an interview for Bird Calls Radio. This weekly radio show explores all things birds with special focuses on bird conservation and youth birding. This exchange went very well as Mardi and I chatted for nearly two hours. Keep your ears open for the interview once it is posted. The second goal was to make it to Greenwich where I had planned to search for a previously reported Long-eared owl. This second endeavor will be detailed below. I rode 35 miles today.

I arrived at Greenwich Point Park at 2:00pm. No sooner had I arrived than a truck pulled up beside me with some clear and deliberate purpose. "It's you, I've been following you online!" exclaimed the driver. "Oh, so you're the one" I replied. After a momentary bit of confusion, I ascertained that the  driver, Bruce Weber, had heard about my adventure from the Connecticut bird list, and that he had driven down to the park to see if he could find me. He immediately produced a bicycle from the back of the truck and suggested that we go for a ride. What a great idea! For the next 75 minutes or so we bounced around the park by bike and by foot. We spent a good long while staring into the tops of pine trees for long-eared owls that were apparently somewhere else, but it was s fun afternoon nonetheless. I'm glad to hear that my efforts have inspired at least one person to hop on a bike!

So, after being relative lucky with birds in the last few days, I had been defeated by the long-eared owl. I figured I would have one last crack at this bird in New York City tomorrow; There has been a single bird hanging around Central Park the last two weeks. Central park is actually a decent spot for this species as I saw 3 of them there during the 6 years that I lived in Manhattan.

I secured everything on my bike and began the ride out of the park. As I was leaving, a car pulled up and a young guy asked if I was looking for Long-eared owls. I informed him that I was, and he instructed me to follow him. He parked his car down the road, and when I caught up, he introduced himself as Stefan Martin. He explained that he had been following my blog, and that he knew instantly who I was when he saw the fully loaded bike. He further explained that he knew in which exact tree a Long-eared owl had been roosting for the past fews days. We took a short walk together and after a few seconds of staring into the thick evergreen, a long-eared owl magically materialized from the tangled branches. I cracked a quick record shot of the bird and then we left it in peace, just as we found it. What an amazingly fortuitous set of encounters, first with Stefan, and then with the owl!

Personal encounters such as the two I had today are the main reason I feel so strongly about the notion of a birding community. I am continually amazed by the people in this community and the efforts they make to connect themselves to others in it. Bruce, a self-confessed backyard birder, just wanted to meet me and see what birds we could find together. Stefan, an apparently better seasoned birder, had a much more focused goal of showing me the owl. Both approaches were successful, and my network of birding friends increased by two as a result. In a world where text messaging is mistaken for conversation and where tailgating in a football game parking lot passes for experiencing the outdoors, it is so comforting to know that real human interaction while enjoying nature is still possible.

Tomorrow I ride into Manhattan where I will bird Central Park for a few hours. The contrast between Central Park birding and the coincident Manhattan rush hour never ceases to amaze me.


  1. This post reminds me of the following of people that 'Forrest Gump' received during his run across the country. I am extremely amazed in the effort you are putting forth this year. Be safe and may the sun be shining while you're peddling. Sam Plew - smplew@gmail

  2. Amazing! Very inspiring! Thank you...