Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saw-whet Owls at Tygart Lake State Park

Storm delivers unusual visitors to Tygart Lake area: gulls, ducks; re-directs saw-whet owls

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Bonapart gulls have been sighted at Tygart Lake State Park. “The possibility of a little gull was also reported,” said Joey Herron. Herron is a master licensed bird bander and conducts banding of migrating saw-whet owls at Valley Falls State Park.
Tropical storm Sandy created a big fallout of ducks and gulls in the area. “In addition to sighting gulls at Tygart Lake, over 5,000 ducks and gulls of various species have been recorded at Cheat Lake,” Herron said. The storm may have side-tracked the migration of saw-whet owls that typically pass thru the Tygart Valley area annually from late October into early November.
The owl banding occurs at Valley Falls State Park near Fairmont, with two remaining dates open to the public on Nov. 9-10. “A Wheeling resident attended the most recent session and got to see her first saw-whet at 11 p.m.,” Herron said. Herron has conducted banding eight years now and banded his 200th northern saw-whet owl the week of Oct. 29. Individuals interested in observing and learning about saw-whet owls migration are invited to enjoy this activity with Herron. Those planning to attend should dress warmly, wear appropriate footwear, bring a flashlight, a camera, a thermos of coffee and a folding chair. Meet at the park entrance with the sessions beginning at 8:30 p.m.
For overnight accommodations, Tygart Lake State Park lodge and restaurant is open, or call 304- 265-6144. For more information, attendees should email or call 304-203-5251. For activities and programs at state parks in West Virginia, visit and click on Event Calendar.
About saw-whet owls
According to Three Rivers Avian Center (TRAC) website, the northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadiucs ) is also called sparrow owl, white-fronted owl, Acadian owl, Kirtland's owl, and whetsaw. The females weigh 3-4 ounces and males weigh an average of 3 ounces. Average height is around 8 inches or less and the bird has a wingspan of 17 to 20 inches. The owl’s residency range is from southeastern Alaska across Canada south to California and New Mexico in the west, to North Carolina in the east. They winter through the entire breeding range and down into western Mexico. Saw-whet owls prefer conifers, preferably in a swampy or boggy area and they sometimes nest and roost in mixed coniferous or deciduous woodlands, but prefer higher altitudes. They feed primarily on insects and mice, although they also will eat small rats, young red squirrels, chipmunks, shrews, bats, sparrows, juncos and warblers. They use a perch and glide hunting technique. They are nocturnal in habits and are most active at dusk and just before dawn. Saw-whets are uncommon in West Virginia and are mostly observed in higher elevations, with swampy places such as Dolly Sods, the Elkins area and Cranesville Swamp. West Virginia is in the southern part of this owl's summer range.
Saw-whets are the smallest owl in Eastern North America. The typical call of a saw-whet is sort of a grasshopper sound that resembles a long crosscut saw being sharpened -- hence the name “saw-whet.”

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