Punked by a Great Horned Owl

I have been birding for almost a year now and have seen many examples of wonderful birds, but a few types have eluded me thus far.  One of those is the owl.  Over the last few weeks I have read several different local birding reports from birders who have spotted owls.  Burrowing Owls have been seen at local airfields, a Great Horned Owl was seen at a nearby park and another at the Dump Marsh close to my home.  During the last few weeks I have driven from one side of the county to the other just hoping to get a glimpse of an owl, but I have come up empty.  So you can imagine my excitement when I over heard some coworkers yesterday talking about an owl they had seen in the tree behind our office.  I grabbed my camera and raced out to see if it was still there.  To my great exhilaration and surprise, there he was.  The first thing I noticed was the prominent ear tufts, telling me it was a Great Horned Owl.  The downy feathers around the neck and smallish size suggested that it was a juvenile.  Here are some photos.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
The downy feathers around the head indicate this is still a juvenile.
There was a lot of down, but if you look closely you can see a big red watchful eye.

After spotting the owl I went to lunch with my brother, who had stopped by my office just as all the commotion was beginning.  He seemed a little perplexed about all the fuss about the bird, and I was hoping that he didn’t think that taking bird pictures was all I did at work.  I took a longer than normal break and occasionally during our lunchtime discussion I allowed my mind to wander back to the owl.  I can add this to my life list AND my year list…  When I got back to the office I’ll quickly go online to positively ID it before continuing to edit that stupid report… I wonder how my photos turned out…  This is going to be a great blog entry….

I returned to office and one of my coworkers asked me if I was going to blog about the owl and suggested that I might want to wait a day or two.  Huh?  Another one looked away quickly when I mentioned that I was going out to see if he was still there.  Then my boss mentioned to me that a great amount of work went in to that joke.  Joke?  Yep. It turns out that the owl was a hoax.  My good friend CJ had climbed high up into the tree the previous evening to plant it there.

At first I was pretty mad, but when I thought of CJ twenty feet up a tree branch planting the owl, I couldn’t help but laugh.  I got punked!  Everyone at the office played it off perfectly and I never suspected a thing.  Here are some more photos of the juvenile Great Horned Owl and a video of the most gullible birder in the world.

Punked!
Me and the Juvenile Great Horned Owl
The owl now lives atop the monitor in my office.
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Just What is Birding Anyway?

Most people are familiar with the word bird as a noun, but did you know that bird is also a verb? To bird by definition is to observe or identify wild birds in their habitats. In this post we will take a deeper look at what it really means to bird.

First, I must confess that I am not writing this from the standpoint of an expert. When it comes to birding, I am a real greenhorn — or should I say greenbeak? So if you are a seasoned birder that stumbled onto this blog, I welcome your comments and corrections. If you are new to birding like I am then let’s take this journey together.

The essence of birding is simply watching birds. Anytime you or I stop what we are doing to watch and appreciate a bird in nature, we are birding. But obviously birding enthusiasts go a bit further. I have broken birding down into three categories based on what I have learned about the sport so far: Accomplishment, Identification and Appreciation.

Accomplishment

Birders seek to see as many different species of birds as they can, and most birders keep a record of these sightings. You might be tempted think that recording bird sightings is somewhat obsessive, and you would be right. It is somewhat obsessive. Being obsessive about your passions is a good thing, if it helps you do it better. Faithfully recording bird sightings helps the birder to see what she or he has already accomplished and helps the birder set goals for what comes next. Now if you still think logging birds is too weird then maybe birding is not for you, but don’t get upset if I give you a hard time when I find your list of snakes.

When it comes to recording my bird sightings, I have set a couple ground rules for myself. First, I have decided to only count birds that I observe in nature. Zoos, pet shops, bird cages, etc… do not count. Second, I will only count birds that I have stopped to actually enjoy. Just because I happen to see a bird and know what it is doesn’t mean I am going to rush to write it down. I would not dare to impose these rules on other birders. They are my rules for me. One of the great things about birding is there are no official rules. Everyone is free to play the game the way that they want to.

Identification

One of my favorite things about birding so far is identifying the birds I have observed. It really isn’t as easy as it seems. There is a lot of help out there on the internet, but try describing something you saw to a computer. There are thousands of birds species flying around and many of them look very similar. Some websites are better than others, especially the ones that allow you to collaborate with other birders. I have listed some websites below that have helped me thus far, and if you know of more please comment so I can add them to the list.

Fortunately for a novice like me, birders have been struggling with the identification issue for many years. They have learned to break down the characteristics of a bird, making it easier for someone who has really paid attention to what they saw to narrow down the possibilities. Birders learn to look for things like body shape, wing bars, eye color and much more. They also learn to identify birds by their song or call. The key to identification is careful observation. You have to take the time to take in the whole bird and this always results in a much greater appreciation of the bird you are observing.

Appreciation

In my first post I mentioned how my broken foot pulled me out of the fast pace of city life and allowed me to stop and enjoy nature. I will be back to full speed soon and I am realizing that to keep this up it has to be intentional. Birding won’t just happen. I have to seek it out. I have to plan to go to beach to watch seagulls. I have to be willing to sit a little bit longer in the car when I see finches playing in a nearby puddle. I can’t appreciate birds on the run, and that pause, that re-acquaintance with nature is what I’m after.

I really like birds so I am excited about the opportunity to appreciate their beauty, character and uniqueness. Maybe you like birds too, or maybe you like something else about nature. I encourage you to stop and appreciate it. We have so many things to distract ourselves with today,and most of the time nature is nothing more background music. The world is a ever-changing place, and nature won’t always be the same, but those moments that we choose to stop and enjoy little pieces of it will always stay with us. Don’t miss out on all of those moments.

Until next time,

Greenbeak