Steve and I decided to hit Cumberland Farms in Middleboro Saturday night in hopes for some owls with the Short-eared Owl being at the top of our list. We'd get there a little before five and still see a hand full of hunters as well as two people flying their model airplanes much to our dismay as it can be a little distracting, but do have to admit those airplanes are nothing like the ones I used to buy for the kids at Radio Shack as they are top notch toys so was kind of fun to see.
We'd set up shop at the sh*t pit and it wouldn't take us long to see one of the many Northern Harriers around the place. There would even be two hunting together which was rather cool to see as I'd never seen them hunt in pairs before.
I'd be scanning the area with my bins and Steve would be scoping out the place and he'd come across a raptor in a far away tree who seemed the perfect candidate for a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk due to its overall shape , some white that could vaguely be seen at the base of its tail as well as how it was perched which was close to the tips as Peter Dunne (pronounced Dun ;-)) describes in his Field Guide Companion Page 172 as "When perched the bird very often sits on the springy tips of tree and shrubs", which this bird was doing so this would be a FOY for me and very nice to see as I don't see them often enough
Passerine activity would be somewhat light as the birds were getting prepared to roost and we would be near the roosting spot of the various sparrows which was entertaining to listen to as scores of sparrows could be heard doing their one note calls all at once to allow some comparison between the species and there would even be some birds attempting to break out into song and messing up the notes so it was most likely the juves getting in more practice before calling it an evening.
There would be more Northern Harriers coming and going with the most interesting of them being one I'd spot that had me confused as I could see some gray on the bird, but it wouldn't be nearly as striking as the "gray ghost" so it had me stumped. Steve would ID it as a subadult (basic 1) male which was very cool as I'd never seen it before. Not the gray ghost I longed to see but a very good substitute!
Soon enough the sun would start to set and the temps would drop but there would be no wind which made for perfect owling weather. Steve would finally spot one of the the Great Horned Owls we had heard earlier as well as a Short-eared Owl but of course the little bugger would disappear before I could get my bins on it.
Despite the dark skies we'd see a lone Great-blue Heron fly by as well as a small flock of American Black Ducks and a single Wilson's Snipe which was probably part of the larger flock we'd hear earlier calling over head.
Soon enough we'd be back on the road but would make one more stop along the way in hopes for an Eastern Screech-Owl. We'd come along an abandoned road, park the car and that's when things got a little weird. Steve would notice a car nearby and suddenly some dude comes out of no where with a flashlight looking at us and wondering what we were doing. To the right of this guy was another with a bunch of plastic bottles in the back of a pick up truck which he appeared to be doing something with. There would also be a half dozen or so dogs barking in the nearby yard to add to the weirdness factor. We exchanged cautious greetings as Steve explained to them we were looking for a screech and one of them mumbled his disbelief as the other told us he had one a few days ago so off we went as quickly as we could. We'd make our way along the road and Steve would tell me if we heard banjo music we should make a run for it and there would be crap everywhere. Abandoned trucks, tires, small children's tables and more tires that never seemed to end. To my relief we'd finally come to a nice quiet spot near water and Steve would attempt to call in a screech. After a while one would start calling back which was so cool to hear and well worth the short walk and the weirdos.
We'd make our way back and another dude was now there and he had on this big honkin white cowboy hat so we'd exchange small talk again and they explained to us they were adding some kind of metal to their truck which I still don't understand as they had no lighting except for a single flashlight and it was frickin cold out. Sheesh, and I thought I was odd....Sometimes it's nice to come across folks like that as it suddenly makes you realize just how normal you are when compared to others seriously.
We'd make our way back to 495 with a Dunkin's stop in between for cocoa and we would see deer everywhere making for an eerie drive as Steve would have his high beams on but you could see their forms and glowing eyes along the sides of the road. Caution would be in order at this point as we saw one hit on the drive to Cumbies and didn't want to add to the list, but these deer were smart enough not to get too close so it was nice to see.
So all in all, a great way to spend a Saturday night. I don't do much owling so it was fun to head out to somewhere different and with such great company. I had always been curious about Cumbies and am still in awe over how vast and beautiful it is and am looking forward to seeing it again.
Our official list for the evening
Northern Harrier - 6 including one sub-adult male
Rough-legged Hawk - 1 Dark individual
Black-bellied Plover - 1 calling overhead at dusk
Killdeer - 3 calling over head at dusk
Wilson's Snipe - 5 calling overhead at dusk
Great-blue Heron - 1
Great-horned Owl - 2
Short-eared Owl - 1
Red-winged Blackbird - 60
Summer Street:1 Eastern Screech Owl.
Precinct Street: we had 22 Wild Turkeys.
Take care all