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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Debbie Beer

November 2, 2013
Saw-whet Owl Banding at Hidden Valley, PA

Leader: Debbie Beer

The annual DVOC Saw-whet Owl Banding Trip to Hidden Valley was a great success, yielding 6 Saw-whet Owls throughout the evening, much to the group's delight! Our group of 15 people, including 3 young birders ages 16, 9 and 8, were delighted for the chance to admire, photograph and adopt these adorable but fierce nocturnal predators.

Project Director Scott Weidensaul, sponsored by the Ned Smith Center for Nature & Art, operates 3 Saw-whet Owl banding stations along the Kitatiny Mountain Ridge, staffed by volunteers 7 nights a week from October 1st through the end of November. Owl activity is cyclical, and, as predicted, this year had been running slowly after last year's owl bonanza. But activity had just started picking up last week, and we were hopeful to see at least one Saw-whet Owl during our trip. Much to our surprise, we were immediately rewarded by one owl on the very first net check at 7:30 pm! It was a second-year female that already had a band on her leg. Bander Deborah Danila (also a DVOC member), did a wonderful job explaining about data that is recorded during the banding process, including bird weight, bill length, wing length, sexing, aging, eye color, fat and breast muscle.

It was once thought that Saw-whet Owls might be a rare or endangered species in Pennsylvania, but Scott's banding project and other initiatives have shown that their populations are fairly stable, as the birds migrate through or roam around the state each winter. There is still much to learn about the birds' roaming habits, and why most of the birds banded are females. It is theorized that males stay on their breeding territories in Canada and high elevation mountain regions.

The next net check at 8:30 pm produced another owl, a fresh hatch-year female, who clacked her bill impatiently while we admired her being fitted with a leg band. The 9:30 pm net check was empty, and about half the group departed, delighted with the showing. Those who lingered after 10 pm were treated with 4 birds retrieved from the nets, including the very first bird that we caught that night! Deborah and assistants Brett and Denise quickly processed the owls, and released them into the calm, starry night. We left soon after, not sure if we missed even more Saw-whet Owls moving through Second Mountain that night!

Thanks to everyone who participated and supported the Ned Smith Center with donations. DVOC thanks Scott Weidensaul for generously sharing this amazing Saw-whet Owl experience with our members and guests. Connecting people, especially children, to birds and wildlife is key to preserving natural resources for the future.

By Debbie Beer


Photo by Adrian Binns