Today, in frigid temperatures, I headed out to Pelham Bay Park for an Owl walk with the Urban Park Rangers. I arrived just around 11:00 a.m. and met Rangers, Kathy, Adelaide and Mara at the Nature Center. We were chatting outside the center, when Ranger Adelaida, indicated that something had flown in on one of the trees. I scanned the area and found the subject; the bird was too big to be a Hawk…could it be, I quickly brought up my bins and shouted with glee, “Great Horned Owl.” I could not believe it; here I was getting ready for an Owl walk and who shows up, but a Great Horned Owl. I tried to get my camera for a photo, but the Great Horned who by now was being harassed by Blue Jays decided to leave and with a few flaps of its magnificent wings, was quickly gliding among the trees. We tracked it and got additional looks before we lost it in the trees. Three of us, walked out to the trees where we lost it, hoping that it might have perched, but with the Blue Jays, no longer fussing, I knew that the Owl had moved on. If we were looking for a good omen to start the day, then nothing else could top this. I was pumped and looked forward to the rest of the walk.
By then, we were joined by one other birder, Johnny, and the five of us boarded a Parks Department Van and headed out to Hunter’s Island. At Hunter’s Island we were joined by two additional Rangers, who were also hoping to find Owls. The group headed over to the Pine Grove; the same place where I had seen Long-eared Owls back on January 3rd and began searching. While there, I met a couple of knowing faces…fellow birders, Tom B. and his wife who indicated that they had not found any Owls. It appeared we were not having much success, when Ranger Kathy beckoned me over and pointed up into the high up branches of an Eastern White Pine. There in the sun taking a nice snooze was a Northern-saw Whet Owl. A cool sight indeed! I was able to get a few photos even though the Owl was pretty high up and partially hidden by pine needles. Everyone got good looks and we continued searching the rest of the Pine grove, but could not find any other Owls.
After about half an hour, we left the Eastern White Pine grove and headed along the Kazirimoff Nature Trail towards another grove of Norway Spruces. Along the way we stayed alert looking for the Great Horned. While there was no sign of the GHO; we did see a number of birds including Red-tail Hawks, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Tufted Titmice and Carolina Wren. We got to the Norway spruce grove and did a thorough search, but could not find any Owls; that is not to say nothing was there. The Norway spruce is a very tall tree and Owls could easily hide in the topmost branches, making them hard to find. As we were leaving the grove, an immature Red-tail Hawk flew in and was very cooperative giving us fantastic looks and posed for many photographs that I took. We got back to the van and headed back to the Nature center ending our walk with the Rangers.
I decided to continue birding and headed out to Eastchester Bay; along the way I found additional birds including Hermit Thrushes, American Tree Sparrows, Fox Sparrows and an Eastern Tohee. I decided to call it day around 3:30 and headed back home. It was a fantastic day of birding and the Urban Park Rangers were great spotters and excellent hosts! I look forward to birding with them in the near future. Species seen include Great Horned Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Blue Jay, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, American Tree Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow (Juvenile), House Sparrow, Canada Goose, Eastern Towhee (Male), European Starling, Hermit Thrush, Red-tail Hawk and Northern Harrier for a total of 22.