Rushton Rules – November 1st!

EXTRA, EXTRA, Read all about it!         Dateline Malvern, November 1, 2010

Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Rushton Farm bird banders set a record for Chester County when 15 Northern Saw-whet Owls, rare but yearly winter visitors, were banded by Lisa Kiziuk, Alice Sevareid, and Doris McGovern working with four mist nets from 7 PM- 2:30 AM.  The Rushton owl banding project is part of a nationwide network of Saw-whet Owl banding stations which gather data to learn the movements of this tiny owl.  As a “fledgling” owl banding station operating only three times in 2009, Rushton banders were encouraged to learn that on Nov.1 historic banding stations such as Hidden Valley, headed by top ornithologist Scott Weidensaul* trapped 16 owls using more nets in a more productive location.  [There’s no gloat factor here. OK,  maybe there might be a smidgen of glee, richly deserved, that on this night we were banding like the big boys.  Rushton-15  Hidden Valley-16,.  Double Digits. Wow.]

Aegolius acadicus is exclusive to North America and is among the smallest owls in the world.  That can of Coke in your fridge is larger than a female.  The male is even smaller.  In 2-3-4 year cycles the northern cone crop declines producing less oil-rich seeds.  Microta (mice-like species) which feed on these seeds become less numerous. Hungry owls which feed on microta, and finches which also need the cone seeds, wander south in search of food, an event we call an “Irruption Year.”

The winter of 2010 is an IrruptionYear not only for Saw-whets, but for Pine Siskin, Black-capped Chickadee, and Purple Finch which arrive at our feeders and in our woods as conditions worsen in the north.   Presaging Rushton’s record 15 owl catch, Lou Hahn and McGovern caught what is now called a “mere four owls” on 10/30.  While Hahn and McGovern worked the nets from 7pm to 3am  they heard the distinctive Saw-whet rasps, mews, and even the signature “toot” call coming from Rushton’s hedge rows.  These vocalizations were a sign that the owl irruption was in full swing and maybe a 10-Owl night was possible.  On 11/1 the moon rose around 3am with only a little breeze, a good sign.   Big owls eat smaller owls which are vulnerable in full moonlight. Sorry Guys, but Great Horned Owls eat Long-eared Owls who eat Screech Owls who eat Saw-whet Owls.  Protein is important for the chain of life.  It’s an owl-eat-owl world out there.

Banders continue to mist-net birds on Tues.and Weds .mornings as weather permits.  The number, but not the diversity of species was fine this week with American Woodcock, flushed from net 1 and a Norther Harrier overhead being notable new species.

* Scott Weidensaul has been our inspiration and advisor.  Netting one less bird than he did on Nov. 1 makes us feel like we’ve arrived.  In this irruption year, Rushton Farm Banding Station has measured up. On a good night Scott can catch over 100 owls.  Now we can  hope for a 20-owl night.

Hope you share our pride in the Trust.

See you in the woods.

((     ))    Hoo-ha-hooo-hooo
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