Fwd: An Owl to remember(Long and tearful)

Subject: Fwd: An Owl to remember(Long and tearful)
From: Paul Taylor <>
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 10:36:56 +1100
This message originally appeared on the Texbirds list (and forwarded to
the MNbirds list.)

-----Original Message-----
From: Mel Cooksey <>
To:  <>
Date: Tuesday, March 17, 1998 7:44 PM
Subject: An Owl to remember(Long and tearful)

>Did you ever dream of seeing a new North American record? Did you ever feel
>that you might have found a new NA record, but weren't certain of the
>identity? How about those of you who have studied a bird closely,
>photographed it, wrote detailed field notes during the observation, and
>still blew it?!? Stay tuned, I'm about to give you details on a real world
>class humility lesson that I recently received. Humble pie. A diligent
>exercise in retrospective.
>To set the scene, Arlie and I were birding around Bentsen on Dec. 9, 1994.
>Late in the day, we spotted an owl not far from the road which we both
>immediately ID'd as Long-eared Owl. After looking at the bird through the
>scope, taking notes and Arlie shooting two quick photos, other birders came
>along and shared views of the owl. Everybody was delighted to see a
>Long-eared Owl, this one likely an immature by it's undeveloped facial
>pattern, at Bentsen, and some of the observers had seen the Dec. 1989
>Long-eared Owl very near this spot,which we also saw and photo'd, and
>perhaps another record, I don't recall the date, also from Bentsen. That's
>the end of that portion of the story. One owl, fairly well seen, given the
>dim light of the late afternoon, about 5:30 PM, by several capable
>observers, including some well-knowns. Just another day at the office.
>Cut to March 15, 1998, and to my littered desk, where I am going through
>some old photos. There's the Bentsen 1994 Long-eared Owl photo.
>                    I freeze in my tracks.
>The areas where I used to have hair stand up on my head. My entire life
>flashes in front of me. This birds' likeness haunts me like some diabolical
>celluloid Medusa.
>              It.......has......blackish......facial.....disks...
>              It...has.....a...(groan) the...middle
>    's.....for................(pitiful gurgling noises...)
>It's a Stygian Owl. A Stygian damned Owl.
>This, of course, is an exercise in hind-sight. The first question was "How
>did we mis-ID this bird?" Well, I will take the credit for that one. (I now
>recall how Arlie had asked something like " Why does it have that face
>color?" or "Something doesn't look right". How absurd to be caught up in so
>much trivial detail!) Actually, I wouldn't have had the foggiest idea what
>a Stygian Owl was in 1994, it wasn't until Dec. 26, 1996 when most Texas
>birders were enlightened by the one day Bentsen sighting. My only experience
>regarding the species was a very unfortunate drawing in "Owls of the World"
>by John Burton, 1973, which looks absolutely nothing like this bird. The
>Stygian Owl plate in Peterson's Mexican Guide, plate 16, doesn't help much,
>either. The sighting date was pre-Howell and Webb by a few months, so I don't
>really feel so bad about the incorrect ID, as we were surrounded by people
>who had much more tropical experience than us, and they didn't have a clue,
>What I now believe, even more than ever, is that the birder needs to prepare
>for anything in South Texas in as many ways as possible. In my case, that
>includes re-reviewing old photos. It is becoming a little easier with all
>the tapes and books that are now available, to learn quite a bit about what
>Mexican strays look and sound like. The need to anticipate is a credo in
>birding. I hope I can practice what I preach. If we theorize a bit further,
>if Stygian Owl can occur, what about Vermiculated Screech-owl, Mottled Owl?
>A very good birder told me recently about a Barred Owl sighting in Bentsen.
>Brad McKinney shows Barred Owl as an Accidental in the valley. I was with a
>very good birder who called a Barred Owl at Salineno in 1993. Guess what is
>almost exactly that size?
>Kent Taylor and Patty Beasley have generously posted Arlie's photos to the
>Audubon Outdoor Clubs Website at:
>The character after the "l" in "Owl" is the numeral one.
>That's the story....sad, ain't it?
>Just remember three things.
>1. If a bird looks funny, it probably is.
>2. Old photos should never be looked at on rainy days.
>3. If your wife asks you what's "wrong" with a bird, you better, by God,
>find    something wrong with it.
>Mel Cooksey
>Corpus Christi
>"..This story ain't got no moral..
> ..This story ain't got no end...
>...This story just go to show you,
>...That there ain't no good in men,...
>...He was her man, but he was doin' her wrong...
>     (Frankie and Johnny, Public Domain)

   Paul Taylor

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