Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24, 2009 - North River Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield, Massachusetts

It's my home base, and I was saving it for later in the year when all will be in bloom, but circumstances dictated that today would be my North River Wildlife Sanctuary day. I'll walk here many, many more times this year, but this will be the only walk you'll read about in detail.

Today's walk might as well have been called "30 Minutes in the Dark," which I also think would be a cool idea for another blog. But that's for another day. I had a wedding to attend on the other side of Boston in the early afternoon, which meant that I had to get out early if I wanted to get my 30 in. No problem. My full-time work schedule took care of that.

A few years ago I learned a secret. When planning public programming, try to involve food as much as possible. My first attempt was "Pilgrims, Plovers and Pancakes": brunch at a famous historic Kingston, Massachusetts, landmark once owned by Pilgrim descendants, then birding on nearby Duxbury Beach in search of piping plovers. It sold well, so I expanded last year to include a second idea: "Owls and Omelets." I don't know if alliteration has anything to do with selling programs, but it's sure fun to try to think up the names.

I was at work at 5 a.m., a long time before sunrise. When you're searching for owls, that's good. By 5:30, seven people had joined me, and we set out onto the wildlife sanctuary. My job was simple. I had to bring them an owl that they could see plainly. My friends Ellen and Matt were going to take care of the omelet side. With digital recordings of the owls to play from an iPod, it can be a somewhat easy process. Owls respond to what they think are other owls under the guise of territorial defense. As such, we limit these programs to just a few a year, and we limit the calls we play to just a handful. We don't need to unduly agitate the owls, to stress them out just for show. I'll do this trick once again later in the year when working on the state's Breeding Bird Atlas project, as confirmation or non-confirmation of their presence will help us better understand their population status, which will allow us to strategize and develop plans for their conservation should we find they're in danger.

We weren't out in the field for three minutes before I called in a red phase eastern screech owl. It perched in a tree right in front of us, and at that point, I learned I had a new skill. With a flashlight in my left hand spotlighting a tiny bird thirty feet away and an iPod dangling from my wrist, I focused my digital camera, zooming it through the darkness to find the owl, and snapped the picture above. We later called in a second screech, but failed to rouse a great horned owl anywhere on the sanctuary. After an hour and a half, the breakfast bell rang and we retreated to the caretakers' cottage for crab souffle, homemade toast, bacon, ham, sausage and cheese and mushroom omelets.
I can't wait for April. That's when we test out "Timberdoodles and Tapas."
Time: 83 minutes.
New species: eastern screech owl (99).
Stranger hellos: None.
What else happened: finished research on the golf course history; attended Amy and Jerry's wedding in Danvers/Salem; dinner with Michelle's parents.