Hey all, in the coming days, or rather evenings, I will be adventuring into parts of the west end of Toronto listening for the call of Eastern Screech Owls!
Echo, a permanent resident EASO at Mountsberg Raptor Centre.
Why am I doing this? Well, it's fun. And more so because Bird Studies Canada has put the call out to us "Citizen Scientists" to help them out in trying to get an idea of the population in Toronto. The fine folk at BSC cannot be everywhere to do this monitoring, so they ask for the public to help. They have many programs where we can help. Angie and I participate every year in Project Feeder Watch. We've done an Eastern Whip-poor-will survey. We have helped out with Chimney Swift and Common Nighthawk watches as well. If you like birds, these programs are great! And you are contributing to bird science, monitoring populations, etc.
With the Screech survey,it runs from March 26th to April 11th, and it involves going out in the evening on an assigned route, stopping at various points (5 on most routes) and spending approximately 20 minutes at each location playing a Screech Owl call. The call is not a steady play, there are pauses in between the whinneys and trills where one must listen for out for an Owl calling back somewhere in the vicinity. Data sheets are provided to document your information gathered.
These nocturnal surveys aren't photo ops. I don't advise trying to get photos because flash certainly isn't good for wild Owls in the dark, temporarily blinding them. Turning off the sense of sight for this survey and turning on the ears to hopefully hear them call back is a completely different sensation for a birder.
The routes go through parks and residential areas. One must be respectful to property owners. Meaning, if you hear an Owl coming from a nearby backyard, that does not mean it gives you the right to step on private property. I was asked about this recently while discussing the survey with another birder.
Safety comes first. This survey goes on after dark. Stay off the road. And not everywhere about our city is exactly safe of vermin which I mean the dregs of society, those who may see a dollar sign attached to your mobile phone and little speaker system. If you don't feel safe in an area, do not stay. I wouldn't worry about passing Raccoons, they may hold you up for a peanut butter sandwich but not your equipment.
I already know of a few Screech spots in our area. The birds aren't always there but have been seen on occasion throughout the year. Like in this photo below, they aren't always easy to spot. The two routes I have (Angie will be joining me so I should say "we") aren't far from home but not spots I've ever birded before.
They are one of my favorite Owl species and it would be great to have a better idea on their population in our city. I hope to hear some throughout the survey. I love their eerie calls which I've only heard a couple times.
If you live in Toronto, are reading this and you know of a Screech Owl location, please do not post any locations in the comments section to this blog.
I will share results at some point after the survey is completed. Wish me/us luck!