Delaware Owl Chase 2015

Last updated April 11, 2015



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Day One | Day Two

Norma and I have seen quite a bit of wildlife...but not so much in terms of owls. I really like owls. When I was a volunteer animal care assistant at the Sacramento Science Center back around 1986, I worked with various raptors: turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, barn owl, great horned owl, and golden eagle. The experience was very up-close and personal. I wanted to share some of this with Norma and relive it myself.

Our friend Sue M. told us about an event called "Delaware Owl Chase" organized by Andy of Caretta Nature Tours. Norma and I looked into it and signed up. It seemed like a good way to get outside in the winter and see some wildlife that few others would ever see.

Day One, Saturday, March 14, 2015

There are very few places within driving distance of Washington DC where one can find 7 different species of owls within 30 miles of each other. Delaware is one such place. The variety of habitats, pine woods, agricultural land, wooded bottomlands, coastal marsh and extensive beach dune attract Barred, Screech, Great Horned, Short-eared, Long-eared, Saw-whet, and Snowy Owls. Several of these are found only in the winter. We will visit specific locations where the birds are known to occur.
- from trip description

The event was originally scheduled for February 21 and 22, 2015 which would have been most ideal for seeing owls. But inclement winter weather forced this trip to be rescheduled. March 14 and 15 were not all that great since some sources called for a 100% chance of rain on the 14th. But Andy decided this would be doable with a little change of plans.

Norma and I met Sue M. and her friend Maile for carpooling in Columbia. Maile (pronounced like "Miley") drove us in her Honda Fit.

We met the group at the 15th Annual Eagle Festival event at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. They had plenty of live raptors on display and talks by various groups including the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Salisbury Zoo. Most of the raptors on display were injured and would not survive in the wild.

  • First photo, first column: Barred owl.
  • Second photo, first column: Immature bald eagle.
  • Third photo, first column: A leucistic red-tailed hawk.
  • Fourth photo, first column: Screech owls.
  • Fifth photo, first column: Turkey vulture.
  • First photo, second column: Egyptian eagle owl.
  • Second photo, second column: Another screech.

  • Sue and a few of us took a short walk to hear chorus frogs croaking. I never saw them. They got quiet as I approached so I could only hear them from further away. But in some areas, their calls were quite loud. I recorded them in the third image/video, second column.

    The event had plenty of food for sale, a hands-on archery demonstration area, and a bird box building station.

    Once the rain stopped, Andy got us organized and took us on a drive through the park area to look for birds. There were about 15 of us packed densely into as few cars as possible. We followed him and stopped at various points to look for birds. He pointed out some harriers and a few others raptors that we saw from afar. We saw some bald eagles (fourth photo, second column) and a nest (fifth photo, second column) through the fog and mist. No owls were seen yet.

    Andy then took us to Delaware, where we would spent the rest of the weekend. We parked, regrouped again to pack into a few cars, and then drove to a remote location near Marydel. He set out a stereo that emitted barred owl calls. We stood further away in silence. After a few minutes, several barred owls returned calls and flew closer. This was truly an amazing sight and the highlight of the trip. See sixth photo, second column. I'm guessing we saw about 3 of them. There were others calling that we did not see.

    That night, we checked into the Hampton Inn in Dover and ate dinner at Vincenzo's Italian Restaurant.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Two, Sunday, March 15, 2015

    The following morning, we were up before dawn. We drove to a location at or near Little Creek Wildlife Management Area. I know how to dress for hiking and kayaking but not for birding. I thought my layers and rain gear would be sufficient but not moving for such a long time in the cold got me frozen to the bone. We did see a snowy owl in the distance but it was so far away that even through a spotting scope, it looked like a plastic bag. I would have thought that it was a bag except Sue said she saw it fly. People were pretty excited to see it but Norma and I are rather spoiled when it comes to seeing wildlife and it was hard to be so interested about seeing something so far away. I think some people might have seen some short-eared owls.

    We took a drive to the Dover Air Force Base visitor center but didn't see any owls.

    Andy led us to the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. A lot of birds were seen such as egrets, snow geese (first photo), and various ducks but I don't remember any owls, specifically. The serious birders were able to identify most of the things they saw. Norma and I were feeling a little cooped up sitting in the car for so long.

    Our next stop was a barn to see a barn owl. Some of us were at one end and the rest of us at the other. Andy went into the barn and the owl flew out the side that Norma was standing. Unfortunately, she was adjusting her camera and didn't have it ready in time so we didn't get any photos. I saw it for a second as it flew out. But fortunately, Sue got a snapshot. See second photo.

    Lastly, we went to a location to see a great horned owl. We stood in one location while Andy went into the woods. A few minutes later, we saw the owl fly out. I saw it for about three seconds and wasn't able to get a photo of it. Neither could Norma.

    Maile drove the four of us back to Sue's place and then Norma and I headed home.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    It was great seeing the owls but it is clear that Norma and I are not birders. We'd rather see a snake up close for a few minutes rather than catch a fleeting glimpse of an owl from far away. We also prefer seeing things while walking on a trail or in a kayak rather than being stationary. To each his own.

    Andy did a fantastic job of keeping such a large group organized and informed. He is very knowledgeable about birds and has their best interest in mind. Owls are very elusive so seeing any in the wild is pretty rare, even if they are seen just briefly.