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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ghosts of the Swamp: Barred Owls at Corkscrew

[Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida. April 2014]

There are 2 pair of breeding Barred Owls at Corkscrew Swamp which start nesting in February. By April, the young have fledged and the Owls are busy attending to the demanding appetites of their fledglings.

This means that both mother and father owl are hunting round the clock -- even during the day. This fact affords a wonderful opportunity at owl observation of these otherwise nocturnal creatures.

 Barred Owl -- note the deep set eyes in the dual-conical face

 Barred Owl

Barred Owl seen at Corkscrew Swamp; note the remarkable flexibility in the neck

Barred Owl pair perched together before setting off on the hunt.

Barred Owl has historically been an Eastern species. In relatively recent times, however, the range of the Barred Owl has expanded Westwards. Their success in the West unfortunately has come at the expense of the Spotted Owl which is being outcompeted by the resourcefulness of their Eastern cousins; sadly, the Spotted Owl is now classified as "Threatened".

Barred Owl: note the vertical streaks ("bars") on the breast (a disambiguating feature from the otherwise similar Spotted Owl).

Barred Owl is an opportunistic feeder -- preying on rodents, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians. It is completely silent in flight; flying like an avian ghost through the woods.

Barred Owl listening intently for prey; it later dropped to the ground to catch a crayfish from a pool of water

Strix Varia is a fairly large owl; just slightly smaller than the Great Horned Owl. In the Eastern US, it is unlikely to be confused with any other species: it is the only Owl with dark brown eyes (all other owls have yellow eyes).

Completely oblivious of the small multitude of onlookers, the Barred Owl proceeded to alternately perch, glide and hunt. Eventually, the hunt was successful:

Barred Owl with prey item (a crayfish)

Having caught a crayfish, the dutiful owl proceeded to feed it to the fledgling; perched much higher up on a nearby cypress.

Owls weren't the only birds livening up the Swamp; it's April and the Northern Parula can be heard everywhere -- emphatically proclaiming their presence through song.

Northern Parula singing at Corkscrew Swamp

This is one of our smaller warbler (outdone in smallness only by Lucy's Warbler) and is strictly an Eastern warbler species. The female is similar to the male but duller and lacks the orange breast-band. The broken eye-ring, green patch on the back, grey upperparts with yellow throat and breast and white belly all help to make this tiny warbler one of our most distinctive.

Northern Parula seen at Corkscrew Swamp

Corkscrew Swamp is one of the few places in the US where Northern Parula can be observed year round.

Northern Parula. The green patch on the back is clearly visible from this angle.

While the word parula comes to us from the Latin for the birds in the tit family, the Northern Parula is not a tit (Linnaeus classified it as such in 1758) but the name has stuck. However, what is taxonomically a tit is the next bird: the Tufted Titmouse:

Tufted Titmouse

The Tufted Titmouse is one of over 50 species of tits globally; this family is particularly well represented in the Old World and only 5 species are found in North America. This is a familiar bird to anyone living in the Eastern US.

From a tiny warbler to an imposing Owl, the woods at Corkscrew Swamp never fail to surprise and delight the patient observer.

================= Addendum: additional photographs ====================

Barred Owl after finishing swallowing prey item

Barred Owl preening

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

Carolina Wren

A series on Black-and-White Warbler:

The Owl (again):
The Parula (again):
Red-shouldered Hawk:

A couple of herons were also observed:

Little Blue Heron

 Black-crowned Night Heron

Purple Gallinule always delights:

Purple Gallinule -- this species is not regular at Corkscrew

A gorgeous Swallow-tailed Kite circling just before the entrance of the Swamp:

Swallow-tailed Kite

Of course, the Barred Owl and Parula again:

Barred owl
Northern Parula

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