Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Stygian Owl in Ohio!

The Ohio Birds listserv has been aflame with the news of a first state record Stygian Owl, found early this morning in Erie County. The fact that this Central and South American species could make it to Ohio is amazing, but it isn't the first North American record. To date, two have been found in south Texas, so this bird's appearance in Ohio wasn't entirely unexpected.


The bird was found at 9:15 this morning, and word quickly spread. Acting with great rapidity, by about 9:45, after extensive deliberation amongst themselves and consultation with outside experts, the Ohio Bird Records Committee (OBRC) unanimously voted to accept the record, ensuring all of us lucky enough to see the bird of a bonafide tick for our lists.


As is frequently the case with vagrant owls, the Stygian Owl was found aboard the deck of a boat. In this case, this fishing boat, the SS Trix, out plying the waters of Lake Erie. Fortunately for us, one of the crewmen, Al Bard, spotted the bird in a large Christmas tree that he had tethered to the fore deck in the hopes it would attract migrants winging over the vast lake. You can see the tree propped up on deck in the photo above, almost to the front of the ship. Al is an active, longtime birder, and sailors with an interest in birding often place trees on the decks of their ships to lure in birds.

One of Al's documentary photos. Even in the gloom of the Christmas tree's dense cover, there is no doubt as to the Stygian Owl's identity. The ship's skipper is OK with birders visiting to view the owl, thanks to Al's greasing the skids, and many birders have already chartered other vessels to boat out to the ship and try to get aboard. As this is a working fishing vessel, operating during the peak of the Freshwater Drum migration, the boat and crew can't afford to shut down to accommodate birders, so interested parties will have to manage a moving boat to boat transfer at sea.

This may be the best documentary photo of the Stygian Owl yet taken, by one of the first birders to gain access to the ship and see the bird. The avid lister was on the lake by 10 am, and his chartered fishing trawler met up with the owl boat by 10:30. Apparently the boat to boat crossover was a bit rough, what with the 15 foot swells, but our man got his owl. Unfortunately, he rather badly overexposed the one photo he managed, but anyone can clearly see that the bird is a Stygian Owl. This photograph also provides concrete evidence that the owl is wild and not an escapee from captivity, due to the clearly visible patterns of feather wear as determined by the OBRC.

If you're a birder, you won't want to miss this one. Good charter services that can get you out to the SS Trix to see the owl include the Jet Express in Port Clinton, and Joe's Canoe and Johnboat Service on Kelleys Island.

Best of luck if you make the trip!

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14 comments:

Julie Zickefoose said...

What else could it be? Thanks for this hot tip. I'm Erie-bound!

Tom said...

I'm headed up there too! Two years in a row we've had some amazing early April rarities.

Tom

Janet Creamer said...

Man, Ohio is chock full of rarities! I am sooo jealous! Cheryl Harner posted the new plant species we found a couple weeks ago.

Harold said...

Maybe we could get the skipper to sail into Ontario waters. I'm pretty sure this would be the earliest record for a Stygian in Ontario.

dAwN said...

Oh goodie...now I am coming to Ohio...Our motorhome can also be a boat...so we will just float over there after we put up our sails.

Butmonky said...

I'm leaving for Erie after I get off work. Does anyone from the Akron area need a ride?? This will be a lifer for me. I wonder if I need my kayak?

You almost had me fooled.

Sandy Brown

KatDoc said...

The give-away as to this post's true nature was the idea that the OBRC could come to an agreement in 30 minutes. When could 3 or more birders ever agree on the ID of an unusual bird so quickly?

Funny post, Jim, but you didn't fool me!

~Kathi

Dave Lewis said...

Hi Jim,
I have a new floating lens system for my camera. I'll meet you at the canoe dock...
Dave

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Very funny.

F said...

I drove all the way from Albany, NY to see it, but I couldn't even find the ship ! You could have provided better directions. Oh well, maybe it will show up again next year ?

F said...

I drove all the way from Albany, NY to see it, but I couldn't even find the ship ! You could have provided better directions. Oh well, maybe it will show up again next year ?

Anonymous said...

It's vastly more believable than Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas, since the Stygian Owl isn't extinct.

Marc said...

Next you'll be finding a Spotted Rail in Pennsylvania.

Anonymous said...

Jim, you could have at least found a real picture of an actual Stygian Owl. No, it made it more funny this way.- Ben Warner