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Owl Symposium! February 15-17, 2013

Mark your calendars in ink for the weekend of February 15th thru the 17th. The Ohio Ornithological Society is putting on a conference that's all about those wisest of birds, the owls. The venue? The fabulous Mohican State Park lodge, nestled in the thick of a 5,000-acre forest full of wonderful birds. GO HERE for details about the Owls of North America Symposium.
A sleepy Barred Owl, Strix varia, fails to acknowledge your narrator. I photographed the animal as it slumbered in a gnarly Swamp White Oak along a back road in the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area. Barred Owls are one of only two owls that occur in Ohio that have dark eyes. I'm sure you can guess the other. We'll be out looking for owls in their natural haunts at the symposium, and there's usually an obliging pair of Barred Owls a mere stone's throw from the lodge.

This Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia, did acknowledge your blogger, although I wasn't nearly as close to the animal as the photo suggests. The bird pierced me with its fierce yellow eyes as it perched at the entrance to its burrow in Cape Coral, Florida. Believe it or not, there are four Ohio records of these lanky-legged ground dwellers, and we'll probably have others. Burrowing Owls have a broad but patchy distribution throughout the Americas, and western U.S. and Canadian populations are highly migratory.

Our keynote speaker hails from the west, just like this owl. Denver Holt is director and founder of the Owl Research Institute and one of the world's foremost experts on owls. He is a dynamic speaker, and a hoot to listen to. The chance to hear Denver is worth the price of admission alone. His subject is awesome - Snowy Owls, Bubo scandiacus, and his work with them on their home turf, the high Arctic of Alaska.

Its "ears" flopped down like a hound dog, a plump-looking Long-eared Owl, Asio otus, looks down in wonderment. I luckily espied the bird from afar, long before it saw me, and managed to furtively sneak near enough for some photos before it detected my presence. This, apparently, is what a Long-eared Owl in repose looks like - fat, fluffy, and ears adroop. Seconds later, it snapped to attention, sleeking its body to impossibly slender branchlike propertions and erecting the ear tufts to complete the illusion of a broken off snag.

Gail Laux of the Ohio Bird Sanctuary will be on hand and giving a lecture about the various Ohio owls and their amazing anatomy and habits. She'll have props, too - live owls that the Sanctuary has taken in, but which can't be released due to injuries. In addition to up close and personal owl encounters, we'll also be out-of-doors and finding wild owls, in addition to all manner of other birds, As you probably know, this has been a bonanza year for crossbills, and the hemlock-choked Mohican Gorge usually has them.

Photos of Northern Saw-whet Owls, Aegolius acadicus, often elicit involuntary "aahs" from people, and I've got to admit - they're cute. You wouldn't be oohing and aahing if you were a White-footed Mouse and saw this thing swooping in, I'll tell you that much. To the rodents, this is a feathered Freddie Krueger come to life. This one was photographed during a banding operation.

Bob Placier and Tom Bartlett, who have banded hundreds of saw-whets between them, will give a program about their fascinating work with eastern North America's smallest owl. As a major perk, they'll set up nets and try to capture saw-whets on Saturday night.

There's much more, including live music by the inestimable band of birders, the Rain Crows, on Friday night. These symposia are a lot of fun, and a great chance to learn, see lots of birds, and meet lots of like-minded people. Even if you live in far-flung places such as Uzbekistan or West Virginia, I'd encourage you to make this scene.

Registration and all of the other details are RIGHT HERE. Hope to see you there!


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