While visiting the rare Oak Savannah at Pinery Provincial Park and helping out with some wonderful highschool classes this fall, I was fortunate enough to hear and see some unique animal signs. During the first night of the camping trip, the school classes were treated to a chorus of coyotes calling and at least two Great Horned owls hooting. The next day, along a walk to the Old Ausable river, we saw a wild turkey in the savannah and a 5-lined skink basking on a log beside the water. The skink was a juvenile – small in size, with an iridescent blue tail. In the early hours of the next morning, we heard Great Horned Owls hooting again, near the campsite. I carefully tracked the sounds of the owl calling from the North side of the campsite into the Oak Savannah. My co-worker Dan and one of the highschool teachers tracked the sound of the other owl calling from the South side of the campsite. We walked in a parallel formation through the grasses, underneath the Oak tree canopy. We were listening to the owls calling back and forth. While listening, I thought that I could hear 4 owls calling – two at each location. I wondered in that moment if the parent owls were teaching their young owls the “ins and outs” of calling*. I crested a hill and the sound stopped. I thought that I could see an owl nearby but it turned out to be a grey-brown Oak stump. I realized that I was in an ideal location for Great Horned Owls to blend in with their surroundings. I waited and watched the savannah – seeing the landscape become bathed in light. I assumed that the owl had either flown away or had stopped calling altogether. As I made my way back to the campsite, I heard the owl call again and realized that I must have been right beside it, unable to see it. Amazing camouflage! Dan had better luck. He was able to get close enough to see where the owl was calling from and watch it fly to another location. On our way back to Guelph, Dan and I stopped at the Pinery beach and found this feather – a telltale owl calling card:)
*I learned that mated pairs of Great Horned Owls are monogamous and they defend their territories by hooting energetically, especially in the winter before they lay their eggs and then again, in the fall when their young leave the area. Males and females sometimes sing duets, the male calling the well-known pattern of “Who’s awake? Me too!”, “whoo, whoo-hoo, whooo, whooo.” The female responds with a higher pitched, two syllable call “Me too!”, or six to eight lower pitched hoots, “I’m awake! You too? You too?” “whoo, whoo-hoo, whoo-oo, whoo-oo.” Young owls remain dependent on their parents for food until the fall. This is consistent with what we heard in late September at the Pinery.