Date: 2/26/18 6:51 pm From: Mitchell Pruitt <0000000b4ac30a99-dmarc-request...> Subject: Saw-whet Owls, Red Crossbills, and a Black Vulture Courtship Display
It was a magnificent day to be doing field work on the Madison County Wildlife Management Area, south of Eureka Springs! The sun’s rays warmed the upland forest, sending off an intoxicating aroma from the pines. Birds could feel spring’s grasp just like I could, with singing all around. Pine Warblers were numerous, partaking in song from what seemed like every other pine. In addition, Red Crossbills linger on the WMA. I heard 12 today, as they flew from pine to pine.
One saw-whet remains in the area, old faithful Trip. This is the female who was captured 3 times last fall, first on October 31. She’s clearly been enjoying our mild-ish winter ever since. Trip was vacationing elsewhere during the last week of December, but has been a regular ever since. After a brief hiatus from wanting to be located, I was able to find her roost site and even locate her visually! She remains the only individual I have tracked to cedars rather than short-leaf pine. Today’s cedar was located in what I like to call the Hansel and Gretel forest, a dense and rather creepy swath of cedars, with gnarly old trees dating back to who knows when. I’d be interested in knowing more, as the area seems not to be a glade that has been choked out by vigorous cedar in the last 60 years. It's more reminiscent of what has become of a cedar grove planted to shelter a modest settler’s cabin in the early days.
This was not the first time I have tracked Trip to the Hansel and Gretel forest and, I must say, it is much more peaceful on a calm sunny day, as today, than on a creaky, gloomy day. It didn’t take me long to pinpoint the tree and after several minutes of searching the crown, I located a little ball of fluff perched serenely where the crown was thickest, and limbs from another cedar encroached upon those of the roost tree. Without the aide of radio telemetry, these saw-whets would surely go unnoticed, as they largely have since the time of Arkansas’ pioneering ornithologists. The photo attached demonstrates just how well hidden a decently-sized female saw-whet can be (decently sized still being hardly over 3 ounces). And a “low” (25 feet) cedar roost seems to be out of the norm, in the region…try finding one 75 feet up a pine! I certainly couldn’t do it without the help of technology.
I quietly and quickly examined the ground below the tree, finding only one spot of whitewash and a single, gooey-fresh pellet; it's likely Trip has only used this roost once recently. She sure has plenty of nearby choices, however! Based on a quick Google Earth study, the domain she has ruled since December is about 12 acres. That’s not counting another patch of cedars that she has been known to roost in, down the road a bit.
As an ending aside, I was also thrilled to watch the aerial courtship display of two Black Vultures! At first, the pursuing individual (presumably the male) chased the other bird, occasionally catching up to grab onto a tail feather. Eventually, the feather grabbing ceased and the two flew circles, in tandem. I was able to get photos, so stay tuned. Pretty incredible day!