Monday, April 27, 2015

Everyone's Favorite Highly-Adapted Micro Predator

It's been increasingly difficult to find good quality birding time in recent weekends. It's quite cruel that this always happens in late April and May, and to a much worse extent this year, because this time is also some of the best to be birding in Arizona. To make matters worse, I also tried to be sociable this weekend. It was always the plan to head down to Madera Canyon pre-dawn for some owling and then bird through the morning, and since I stayed up late (social moth instead of social butterfly?) it meant I pulled an all-nighter, something that hasn't happened since college. 
It was also overcast and rainy this weekend, something that causes birders and kite-enthusiasts to look towards the heavens in despair. 


It didn't seem like this would affect nocturnal birding, but it did limit the extent to which birds were calling and the extent to which I could hear them. The precipitation cleared by 4:45am or so, but that left only about 45 minutes in which to try and get visuals on the birds. Common Poorwill, Whiskered Screech Owl, and Mexican Whip-poor-will all registered, but I could not get visuals on any of them. 
That element was a disappointment, but for consolation here is a crushy Elf Owl to rub on one's face instead. I photographed this bird near its nesting cavity along the Salt River last Wednesday, and so it will now fall to the smallest owl in the world to compensate for the lack of all the other nocturnal birds. 


Here are a bunch of facts about Elf Owls. Some of them are true. Elf Owls are tied for the shortest Owl in the world, and are also the lightest, which makes them superlatively small. Elf Owls do not believe in Santa Claus. Elf Owls are super cute, but they are also voracious predators, with highly adaptive, highly sensitive vision and hearing that allows them to pinpoint prey in near pitch-black conditions. Elf Owls are known to enjoy the taste of human as well as horse flesh when it is seasonally available; thus the closure of Food City markets in Phoenix is a habitat loss concern. Elf Owls are in the minority that do not have ear tufts. Elf Owls think ear tufts are silly, and a clear compensation for something...err hem...Great-horned. 
Coincidentally or not, Elf Owls all ascribe to the adage, "It's not the size; it's how..."


Even though the nocturnal birding was less than fruitful this past weekend, there is still plenty to see and heard in the Santa Rita Mountains in the day, believe it or not. There'll be more from that trip coming later this week. Stay alive in the mean time; watch your back.

18 comments:

  1. Dude, this is some nice shit. Well done.

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    1. Cheers Nate.

      You got a Big Day post coming up?

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  2. Santa Claus, ha ha ha! Elf Owls certainly don't help him make toys, only Will Ferrell looking elves do.

    Good grief Laurence, these shots are outstanding! You could be having Nat Geo contacting you soon...

    For Arizona, I have good/decent shots now of 11 out of the 13 owls. I'm missing Flammulated of course (who actually does believe in Santa Claus), and a good shot of Short-eared (the one I have I might as well toss). I want them all!

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    1. Yes!
      You have the best Whiskered Screech crushes I've seen for sure, which also puts you ahead of me...and I have some unfinished Poorwill business.

      Gotta crush 'em all. Let's just be honest. Our generation's main attraction to birding and photography is that it's basically as close as we'll ever get to pokemon.

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    2. Time for a card-trading convention Up north. Y'all need our Fab 4 (or 6 if you count Eastern Screech and Barred).

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    3. And if only this were Harry Potter world, we could do all the shipping for free.

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  3. Dude, you killed it (and me in the process) with these Elf crushes. Madera Canyon in the morning and back by lunch? This world is so unfair...

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    1. Yeah, and then there are those S.O.B.s who just live 20 minutes away in Tucson!!

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  4. Elf owls are super cute: definitely a fact.
    I threatened to bite an owl on Saturday, but that was the owl-light of my weekend. (Apparently this owl didn't get the memo that humans were not in season this weekend.) I still have owl envy, can't cope! I did learn that the owl particularly dislikes jazz.

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    1. You threatened to bite an owl eh?? Was it a threatened species too? That would've been double.

      I'm surprised to hear they don't like jazz, but maybe it's just too discordant. Maybe light classical?

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  5. Wow, Nice job on crushing that Elf Owl! Sadly that bird is a lifer for me.

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    1. Now's the time Caleb. Find a dessert-y patch with mesquite and saguaro and you'll get some crushes.

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  6. Replies
    1. (Crap I knew there was something I forgot)

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  7. Amazing! All incredible photos, but the experience itself must have been unforgettable. That all-nighter could only have boosted your street with this little guy

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    1. What experience??

      he he he ...I am too funny. Yeah, I do feel pretty tough and haggard now, and I can tell that I've earned a new measure of respect from the bird.

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  8. I could barely pay attention to the awesome photos because I was so distracted by the fact that some folks are still capable of all-nighters. Good job!

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    1. It wasn't great (I had to chug soda and corn nuts to stay awake--gross gross gross) but it was forced upon me.
      I guess Godwits and stuff do that crap every year. I don't like it.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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