On six different occasions spanning all times of day and even part of the night, I had traipsed through the trail and canyons of OPNM waiting to see the tawny flush or hear the metronomic tooting of the highly coveted and highly difficult Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.
It went on for years. I knew where I was. I knew where they should be. Other people found them and seemingly did so easily. And yet, disappointment and sunburn alone persisted.
My drive was recently reignited when I saw photos of the desert owl dynamo posted by AZ birder Walker Noe, who was a great sport in sharing his information, confirming that the Owls were there, albeit just a little farther from where I had been searching.
With Walker's updated and much-appreciated information, I arrived at the OPNM trails with Pops before sun-up and began the short hike to the FEPO's purlieu, having to make peace with the notion that the owl was so close to where I had spent hours and hours searching other times, and thereby had probably just barely been missing it (or else there really is a conspiracy--probably that too).
Maybe in the past my timing was always a little off. Maybe in the past the canyon really had been deserted. Maybe in the past I had beeswax over my ears and scales over my eyes. Past shortcomings not withstanding, on this momentous day and within 10 minutes of beginning, I hard the diminutive tooting of one of Arizona's more desirable little rusty-brown blobs (and AZ does have a few).
One might worry that approaching a FEPO for photos is difficult business, given the extra set of eyes they have in the back of their heads.
Truth be told, they (or, at least, this bird) are pretty accommodating. The bird was first calling down in a wash running parallel to the trail but then moved prominently to the less-tangled flatland on the opposite side.
Although the sun had not yet crested the canyon ridge, disallowing close-detail lighting, the FEPO moved from perch to perch, overseeing his arid domain. The bird seemed especially to favor ironwood perches (though it also perched on mesquite), which I had to admit was something lacking from my previous excursions--the ironwoods only seem to grow on one side of the wash, not really in it, and in times before I was usually on the opposite side or in the wash itself.
Cathartic pronouncements and the peaceful calm of closure echoed and permeated through the cool shady canyons of the OPNM. The FEPO called intermittently but consistently, vocalizing 5-7 times in about 5 minutes periods before moving to a new perch in a cyclical fashion. I stuck with the bird waiting for the sunlight to crest the eastern ridge, realizing not long before the moment of truth that I had forgotten to switch out camera batteries beforehand.
The subsequent blinking red lights and mad dash back to the car resulted in substantial and not necessarily un-boastworthy lacerations, and thankfully the FEPO stayed local with Pops maintaining the stakeout, moving to a larger palo verde tree as the sun finally flooded the little valley.
After my many previous high intensity and high energy excursions for this bird, he just sat, super chill, and compelled me to do the same.
Perhaps there was a lesson here. Be cool. Relax. Take in the surroundings and abide. Well the FEPO didn't have to worry about time, heat, and gas prices in the same way, even if he is also keeping a list of birds he has seen and/or eaten, so don't get too lecture-y there FEPO, but the point is taken.
Sweet, sweet release.
With a little extra time to kill, I also stopped by the Avondale/PIR bridge for Barn Owl, where there were also hundreds of Cliff Swallows building nests and foraging with impressive coordination.
Neighborhood Great Horned Owls and a briefly calling WESO made for a four-owl day, which is a very good day by various and sundry standards. With FEPO falling, that leaves Five-striped as the only AZ resident species I have yet to see. So look out California Gulch; I am feeling sassy.