As 2011 began, the Northern Saw-whet Owl was right at the top of my list of Birds I Must See. I had heard them singing in the spring before in both the Weaselhead area and in Bowness, but I had never seen one. They are very small, about eight inches (20 cm) high, and active at night. They spend the daytime roosting in tree cavities or dense conifers. So although they are quite common, they are rarely seen.
On Saturday, March 19, the Friends of Fish Creek Park Society outing was at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, where we were looking for returning gulls and waterfowl. Before starting, the leader, Gus Yaki, mentioned that a Northern Saw-whet Owl had been reported a few days previously at the sanctuary. We would look for this little bird near the end of our walk, in the row of spruce trees that run north from Walker House.
However, as we turned north by the lagoon, I noticed a pair of Black-capped Chickadees that seemed quite agitated. Two of us hung back to investigate as the rest of the group went ahead. After a couple of minutes a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches arrived, and then a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches and another pair of chickadees. All the birds were noisy, flicking their tails, and making short sweeping flights into the tree. I have seen birds behave like this before – they are trying to drive away a predator. Still, despite circling the tree a couple of times, I could see nothing. Finally, from a spot right under the tree branches, I found the owl:
Then he found me back:
These owls sit still when confronted, and this one barely moved, except for batting his eyes, as you can see in the video.