BURROWING OWLS ON ELBOW CAY, ABACO
I hadn’t planned to revisit the birds of Elbow Cay so soon (2 days!) after the Key West Quail-Dove post, in which I alluded to another rare and special species there, the Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia. However, Milton Harris – resident and birder – has already sent me some photos of his recent sighting at the north end of the cay, and they are so great that I am going to get them ‘out there’ (the interweb-cloud-ether-space-thing) right away. Carpe diem.**
“I’m watching you watching me. Don’t think I haven’t seen you…”
When I previously featured the BURROWING OWL, I used my own photos (not taken on Abaco). Click on the link to see them and to get some facts about these cute little birds. I also added reports of two sightings on the mainland in the Cherokee / Little Harbour area late last year. As I wrote then, “on Abaco, this little owl is a rare vagrant, presumably visiting from Florida which has the nearest resident population. There have been few reported sightings; and for ‘The Birds of Abaco’ we were unable to locate a photo taken on Abaco.”
Here’s a wonderful shot of the bird’s legs and feet. Despite their small size overall, the claws (talons?) mark out this owl as a fearsome predator of small creatures. One with hairy toes, too.
HOW LIKELY AM I TO SEE ONE WHEN STROLLING AROUND ELBOW CAY?
Very unlikely indeed I’m afraid (unless you have been shown roughly where to look), and for 2 reasons. Firstly, the burrowing owl is rated as an uncommon to rare vagrant on Abaco. There aren’t even reported sightings every year. So it’s a question of ‘right place, right time’, with a bit of local knowledge, a lot of luck, and excellent eyesight (see below) – the one positive being that, unlike most owl species, these birds are active during the day as well as nocturnally.
Secondly, even were you to be given the exact location of a recently-sighted owl, it’s still a long shot that you would actually spot it, unless you happened to see it in flight. Otherwise, it will be most likely be sitting completely still on a branch in the coppice, quite well camouflaged, watching you stealthily walk by…
Would you notice this bird in the coppice from 75 feet away?
On the other hand, you could be in luck. Milton got a quick shot at this owl as it flew up onto a shed roof in the sunshine. But the bird knows he’s been seen, and he didn’t stay long… I reckon the one-legged pose is particularly neat!
** or, as Horace fully wrote, “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero“; seize the day, don’t place too much belief in the future…
Credits: All photos taken on Elbow Cay (north end), Abaco by Milton Harris – with many thanks for use permission