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.