Saturday, September 24, 2011

Elf Owl

At 5 and 1/2 inches, the Elf owl is the shortest owl in North America. It's range is similarly small; this uncommon owl is seen only in Arizona, New Mexico, and southwest Texas. They had recently been reported at the Desert Botanical Gardens, and were apparently in residence for a couple of days before Pops and I found them with the help of one of the Gardens' photographers. The first trio were pretty far back in the brush, and the two parents seemed to be dozing while their fluffy chick sat and contemplated little things.
You can see he still has lighter, downy feather while the adults in the background are a much darker shade. The sunlight was pouring into their little nook, but they seemed pretty content and somewhat out of reach.

This was already a great experience, with the Elf Owl being a new addition for both of our life lists. Before departing, Pops and I decided to retry the wildflower garden in hopes of seeing a rumored Yellow Breasted Chat that was supposed to be hanging around. While surveying a large mesquite tree, we saw what seemed to be a large-headed sparrow standing oddly upright in the tree. It really is hard to take in how small these owls are. Picture the large, Great-Horned Owls we've all seen, only without the ears. The same sort of strong claws, same sharp beak and large eyes, except everything is proportionately shrunken down so it could fit in the palm of your hand. It was simply amazing to see something so small and simultaneously realize that it was an owl.
This pair of adults was also dozing in the early morning light, and provided a much better photo opportunity than the earlier family. To date, this is probably one of the rarest and, by happy coincidence, better documented birds I've seen. They're pretty uncommon, and incredibly difficult to see. Our luck was in full force today as we happened upon them without even trying. Great Day!
Click on the images for a larger view.
I love the bristly feet here. This branch is maybe the width of a pencil, to help put their size onto a scale.  
The white eyebrows are pretty impressive. They match the stoic demeanor well.
There they are. Those big eyes looking past me and back into yesterday.

All of these blurry tentacles are criss-crossing mesquite twigs and branches. These owls were still a good 12 feet back in the canopy, and there was not a clear opening for a picture, but such circumstances come with the bird.

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