Birders frequently find ourselves chasing tips, which go something like: there was X bird sighted in X place (typically rather vague) on X date. Sometimes these tips lead to nothing but discouragement, as in the case of our fruitless 5 hour round trip to see the Crested Caracara who visited Vermont in March 2020. Sometimes these tips pan out for us spectacularly, like last spring when a dear friend shared this Times Union article with me about Barred Owlets who had been spotted in the Kinns Road Park nearby to where we live.
Kevin and I headed over to the 64 acre wooded area, equipped with our binoculars, camera, and a photo of the tree where the owlets lived. At the risk of sounding cliche, it was truly like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But Kevin took a scientific approach to the matter, wandering through the unfamiliar park looking for clues for about an hour until we eventually found our way onto a path that bore some similarity to the photo in the article.
Just a few feet off the path, we spotted a familiar tree with a cleft in the center, still not daring to hope we’d found it. Happily, the view in my binoculars revealed a fuzzy white head with a pair of disproportionately large round eyes staring back at me. As we stood there oooing and awing its sibling must’ve decided hiding was no fun, so we saw a second little head pop up to say hello. Apparently there were a total of three in there, but we only ever saw two.
On our way back to the car I looked around knowing one or both of the parents must be close by. Sure enough, we saw an adult perched vigilantly on a low branch not far from the nest.
Eager to watch these little beings grow, we returned several times over the next few weeks. We observed a parent hunting a screeching chipmunk as it hid under a log. We watched and were watched. One day when we returned to the tree though, we found it empty. I’d been obsessively following the live feed of another Barred Owl family on Cornell Lab Bird Cams and I knew generally fledglings stayed fairly close to home for awhile. Sure enough, we saw a fuzzy little guy up the trail a ways.
He couldn’t fly yet, but he wasn’t comfortable with us watching him so closely either, so he literally climbed up a large tree to get out of sight. A parent was nearby throughout this encounter so we were able to spend several minutes enthralled by them both before we left.
The last time we visited the family, they were nowhere near the nest and we lamented at how we would find them. Wandering around, we just hoped that our lucky streak would continue. It did. We saw a parent first and admired it for awhile, but there was no sign of the fledglings. Just as we were heading to the car, I heard the familiar call of the Barred Owl that sounds remarkably like “who-cooks-for-you.” So we turned toward the sound, suspecting someone was bringing dinner for the fledglings who still couldn’t hunt for themselves. Sure enough, Kevin spotted two curious heads peeping down at us from high in a tree. We watched as the other parent flew in with a chipmunk for dinner, too suspicious of us to offer it to the hungry babies yet. We left the family to their dinner, feeling once again so blessed to have these glimpses of everyday wildness.