Sunday, November 8, 2009

Whiskered Screech-Owl

A year ago on the Atascosa Highlands Christmas Bird Count south of Tucson, Alan and I encountered a little Whiskered Screech-Owl at its day roost. The owlet perched at the entrance to its roost cavity, comfortably soaking up the sunshine on that wintry day. A brief Morse code call and its yellowish bill confirmed its identity.

Yesterday that image of the basking owl, shimmering in my awareness for the past year, finally made it to paper. Here's the beguiling little raptor, rendered in watercolor and gouache.

Whiskered Screech-Owl by Narca

Whiskered Screech-Owls are common within their limited habitat in the southwestern Sky Islands. Their abundance in the Chiricahua Mountains helps to boost that area's density of nesting raptors to a dizzying level. Helen Snyder has investigated nesting raptors around Portal and the Chiricahuas for years, and found that when owls are included with the hawks, eagles and falcons, the density of nesting raptors in Cave Creek Canyon far exceeds that known for any other location in North America. The next closest is the Snake River Birds of Prey Area in southern Idaho, and it boasts less than 1/4 of the density of raptors found in Cave Creek Canyon. Helen and others are encouraging the US Forest Service to give Cave Creek Canyon a special designation that recognizes its unique importance to raptors and further protects the region from oddball threats that occasionally arise.

If you will be in southern Arizona in early January and would like to join Christmas Bird Counts for these areas, you can contact the compiler for the count that interests you. For Atascosa Highlands on Sunday January 3, email Rich Hoyer ( For Portal on Saturday January 2, email Jackie Lewis ( Counts for Portal and the nearby Peloncillo Mountains are run back-to-back, and many people spend the weekend attending both counts. For the Peloncillo Mountains count on January 3, please contact Alan Craig ( Yes––the dates for Atascosa Highlands and Peloncillo Mountains do conflict!

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