One of the many perks of exploring the natural world is the occasional opportunity to observe the same individual animal more than once. We certainly see local representatives of common species over and over in our day-to-day lives, and sometimes a wayward traveler sticks around longer than expected. It is particularly exciting, however, when a family of critters sets up shop in your neighborhood. Watching the circle of life carried out as parents tend to growing offspring is a uniquely wonderful experience.
Jamaica Bay is not exactly “my neighborhood,” but it lies within a 10-mile radius of my home address. My favorite inhabitants of the preserve are the Barn Owls who nest at Big John’s Pond year after year: one of very few reliable, accessible locations for viewing this species in our area. Although I’d known about the site for some time and been fortunate enough to glimpse an individual there once, 2016 has been the first year I’ve been able to visit regularly and enjoy extended encounters with the handsome raptors. I heard through the grapevine that the fluffy owlets I’d observed from the blind a month ago were rapidly growing into fully-feathered, flighted birds. I made plans to visit them again before they flew the coop, bringing Sarah in the hopes of sharing the sighting with her.
Sneaking along the backroads adjacent to the congested Belt Parkway, we made good time in our journey to the refuge. Our arrival at Big John’s Pond was met by several other wildlife watchers already settled in the blind. I glanced over the scene as I trained my gear on the box, noting how much the pond had changed with the seasons. The silent, chilly pool fringed by bare branches and dry grass had transformed into a lush, green oasis where herons and egrets stalked to the tune of twittering songbirds.
When my binoculars found the nest hole, I scarcely had time to think “nothing yet” before a bright white face abruptly, comically popped into view. Wow!
At least three members of the little family were visible moving about inside their home. Now that the owlets have lost their fuzz, it is rather difficult to tell them apart from their parents. One or more of the birds we could see had to be a youngster, and the palest, male-looking bird may have been the father, but it was hard to identify whose head was whose as they fidgeted and fussed in the darkness.
Sarah and I watched the owls through binoculars, scope, and camera lenses for the better part of an hour, and they certainly delivered the entertainment. We could see one individual bobbing its head repeatedly, rotating it side to side and nearly upside-down as it fixated on something within the box. Several times, the birds turned to face one another and snuggled up close for a tender moment. Flapping wings and adorably-awkward, shuffling walks highlighted that it was a little cramped inside the nest for a whole family of fully-grown predators. I imagine that the new generation will be taking flight soon, hopefully going on to raise puffballs of their own some day.
I led Sarah on a brief jaunt to the shore of the East Pond, where we scanned the flocks of ibises, gulls, terns, and waterfowl resting along the water’s edge. The honeysuckle was in bloom, the breeze and sun were a perfect combination, and unfortunately the biting insects were out. We swung back to the blind on our way out, saying farewell to the Barn Owl family as they prepared for the coming night.
Back in Lynbrook on the heels of a successful adventure, we stopped at the recently-expanded Craft Kitchen and Tap House for a delicious dinner. As we relaxed in the setting sun on their new back patio, I read through the cocktail list instead of defaulting to a draft beer. One concoction of huckleberry vodka, lemonade, fresh mint, and lemon was dubbed the Lynbrook Owl. How could I say no?
Year List Update, June 22 – 328 Species