In this hot winter season, we have been without many of our owls for a few reasons, that being one. There seems to have been little to no Northern Saw-whet Owl irruption this year demonstrated by both a lack of sightings from birders and word from the experts who band them as they pass through our state. Short-eared Owls have been spotted very infrequently instead of casually at places like the Great Meadows NWR or Stratford Point. Long-eared Owls have not been reported to eBird in Connecticut thus far in 2012 or on the state's list serv.
While there may be an individual or two out there that have not been reported to protect the location of a roost, there can be no doubt our state has far fewer of these raptors than we used to. If you take a stroll with an expert birder who is a long-time Connecticut resident they will likely have a list of locations these birds used to roost, sometimes with multiple owls in the same spot. This was apparently commonplace a few decades ago, though I have never seen more than one at a given location in my life. These roosts used to be in everywhere from a rural area to the heart of a developed town like Fairfield. However, these roosts are empty now, with development and human traffic becoming too much, more frequent passes by other creatures or dogs, or overzealous birders of the past scaring them out of such areas permanently. This is why they are rarely reported publicly now.
I know of several areas that were recently used in the state, some even within the last couple of years, that are without Long-eared Owls now. This is why it was such a pleasure to hear that our friend Barney Bontecou had found one in an unexpected location (one I will not divulge, so please do not ask).
Long-eared Owl by Barney Bontecou
That beautiful bird can hopefully remain undisturbed by everything and everyone. If you ever find a rare roosting or breeding owl, please let us know. Your information will not be given out, and I would encourage you not to tell anyone about it. The roost may be in an area we would like to protect. Even those with the best intentions and cautious ways can unintentionally harm these owls when they are flushed or upset enough so that they do not return to the spot. Despite knowing the location I have not gone out to see this Long-eared Owl because I do not want to bother it in the slightest. If you can log such owls in eBird in a way that shields them (such as entering it in a location a mile or two from the actual sighting) that would be tremendous, too.
Photo © Diane Bontecou