Last night, I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in my first ever nocturnal owl survey by Ken McIlwrick. Ken has been doing the survey, which starts at Parks Canada's Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site, for many years. We were joined by Barry Lyons my dad, Ron, and Ken's dog, Max.
We arrived at Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site about an hour and a half before the survey began so that we could get some additional birding in. We didn't really find much of interest. Ken, with his amazing hearing, was able to hear a single chip call of a Winter Wren and of course it never called again once we were listening specifically for it.
At 8:40pm, the survey began. Ken said that the first stop on the route rarely produces any owls and that held true again. However, since there was still a little bit of light left, the first stop was the most productive for the amount of species. We heard Wild Turkeys, a Sandhill Crane, two American Woodcocks, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, five American Robins and an American Tree Sparrow.
Two kilometers down Fort Road was the next stop. Here we got five species, including our first owl. We heard Canada Geese, another Wild Turkey, a passing over Killdeer, two noisy Wilson's Snipes and a Barred Owl. We were on the board now!
The third stop on the route took us off of Parks Canada property. We heard a single hoot of a Long-eared Owl, which was really exciting for me. Lifer! At the next stop, Ken thought he heard a Northern Saw-whet Owl, but he could not confirm it, so he didn't record it. We got another Barred Owl and a Ruffed Grouse here. The next two stops on the route produced two more Barred Owls each, including two that we were actually able to see as we called them right in.
The excitement really started at seventh stop of the night. We were able to clearly hear two Northern Saw-whet Owls calling, another lifer for me. Throw in another two Barred Owls and it was a really productive spot.
Stop eight happened to be right at the entrance to Stewarts Creek Environmental Preserve, a property owned by my friend Terry Stewart. I really hoped that we would hear some owls calling from within his property since I knew that he would love that. Turns out I would have something to tell him after. A Northern Saw-whet Owl and a Barred Owl called from his property with an additional Barred Owl calling from the other side of the road.
The final two stops were extremely productive as well. Five more Barred Owls, a Long-eared Owls and even a Common Goldeneye to wrap things up!
In total, we had 16 Barred Owls, 3 Northern Saw-whet Owls and 2 Long-eared Owls. Despite the coldness of the night, it was extremely fun and I hope I get to do this again sometime!