Around 11 on Sunday morning, Joe Brin called to say that he had relocated the local Northern Saw-whet Owl that has taken up residence along the boardwalk at a nearby nature center. We had searched several times for this owl with no luck and were excited about actually seeing it so we rushed out to meet Joe. We walked down the trail and found the saw-whet perched eye level not 5 feet off of the boardwalk. I have done some field work with migrating saw-whet owls, attaching a radio-transmitter to their backs and then following their movements during the night. Each morning we would then track them down on their roosts, and the birds I found were almost always way at the top of a pitch pine (or oak before the leaves dropped) and difficult to see.
It was right in the spot we had looked two days ago, but had not seen it. It has been found in several different trees so far this fall so either it is moving around a lot or we are getting different owls. With it being such a strong year for banding saw-whets, it does seem plausible that we are seeing different birds.
The owl was so close that we had a hard time focusing on it in the scope until we moved the scope as far back as the boardwalk would allow. I ended up taking a lot of photos and video (at the bottom) but I plan to get back a couple times this winter so I can hopefully photograph it when it is both a little further from the path and less obstructed by the tree. It was very calm the entire time we were there, only occasionally opening its eyes and generally remaining pretty motionless. We took off when we heard a chickadee call in the distance, hoping to not lure it in and reveal the owls location.
I recommend watching this video at full screen and at 1080p if your internet connection can handle it. Click the little gear icon to change quality settings.