Thursday, June 26, 2008

Burrowing Owl update

Apparently no one was able to relocate the Burrowing Owl that came to light Tuesday in Darke County, near Greenville. It had been present for a week, according to the landowner who first brought it to the attention of Robb Clifford at the nearby Shawnee Prairie nature center. The massive weather front that moved through western and central Ohio yesterday afternoon and last night probably didn't bode well for keeping the owl around. It was probably the worst storm yet this summer, with high winds and heavy rains. The handily placed tornado alarm near my house here in Columbus blasted for an hour last night, thank you very much, and the counties in the area of the owl was were apparently hard-hit as well.

I'm sure people will be looking for the owl today, and we'll hear if it resurfaces.

There has been some backdoor buzz amongst some of the hardcore listers about the speed with which this bird was reported. The owl didn't come to light until late in the day on Tuesday. Prior to posting it to the birding community at large, it was important to find and talk with the local landowners on whose property the owl was located. This situation is a very similar one to the Black Rail near Circleville in that the bird is along a sparsely traveled country lane in a very rural area. When masses of people suddenly descend on such sites with no warning, local residents notice and sometimes aren't overly thrilled. There were a few unpleasant incidents at the rail site that likely were the result of a lack of communication. Such incidents can't always be avoided, but it's likely that with some forewarning to let local landowners know about rare birds like the rail and this owl, why people are interested in them, what to expect, and what they - the local residents or landowners - might like to see in regards to parking and that sort of thing, most issues can probably be headed off before they become issues. But it does take a bit of advance effort and time.

So, in large measure thanks to Robb Clifford, the two gentlemen who own the properties where the Burrowing Owl is/was were fully aware of these things within a few hours. They knew what the bird was, how rare it is, what to expect from birders, and were consulted about parking issues. They were totally wonderful about it. Better to work all this out beforehand with a bit of diplomacy, and eliminate or reduce the risk of potential problems later, even if it means a delay.

So, by 9 pm or so that night Robb had posted the bird out on the Internet and calls were being made to help spread the word. By early the next morning most interested parties were probably aware of it. Not sure how this could have been done much more quickly. Probably within a few hours of confirmation of the bird the word was going global.

Call me old, but I still remember the "old days" before the Ohio Birds listserv and other Internet forums when there was no way a rarity could go public in such a widespread way with such rapidity. It's good that such things can now circulate so quickly.

Many of us who have been birding a while have fielded reports of all manner of allegedly amazing birds, from well-meaning folks who often don't really know birds that well. I just got an email about a Brown Pelican - in central Ohio - that is eating all of the goldfish out of someone's ornamental pond. They wonder whether netting over the pond might discourage it :-) Haven't yet been able to get in touch, but I will. Really think it'll be a Brown Pelican? In most cases, these reports turn out to be something common. It's easy to get jaded and not follow up on these things.

I really give Robb a ton of credit for listening to the gentleman who reported this owl, and taking the time to check it out. And then helping to insure that all would be well with the locals, and there would be no issues for visitors.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jim,

I appreciate your take on the situation that local landowners face when they have a rare bird species on their property. On the other hand, I had a very negative encounter with a nearby landowner at the black rail site, that I'd like to bring to others' attention. If you've been following the Ohio listserv news about the black rail site, in Pickaway County, you might have heard that the land had been placed under a conservation easement some years ago. This means that its not being used for any type of crop production, if I'm not mistaken. The situation I encountered involved parking on the right-of-way of the road, near Charlie's Pond. The gentleman, if such a term is appropriate, who lives in the nearby house was mowing that afternoon. As he finished mowing and rode by on his mower he stopped by myself and the other birder who was present. He proceeded to threaten us, that "if I have to get off my mower, someone's going to get their a** kicked". I was angered by such unanticipated animocity, but nevertheless didn't say much in response to further provoke the situation. We both checked our parking jobs, the apparent source of his ire, and there were no tracks beyond bent-over blades of grass. Someone had spun a tire and put a small rut in the grass nearby, however, this is the county road right of way, not this man's property. And as I mentioned, this is not land being used to grow crops. Ultimately, the other birder and I decided not to bring this to the attention of the Listserv, as it didn't seem like people needed to hear about such negativity, and we believed the encounter was more a result of the landowner being hot and tired, than actually a threat. I do, however want to make the point that the birding community is not always viewed kindly. I imagine most birders have been subjected to some sort of scrutiny in the course of going off the beaten path to look for birds. Personally, I've been hasseled by local law enforcement, threatened, and had the dogs turned loose on me, all while on public property. Some people don't like people with binoculars standing around where they perhaps think you're a peeping tom. I hope that all birders are cautious when they are in areas they're not familiar with, and also know their rights and how to diplomatically tell someone that what they're doing is within their rights.