Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mysterious Woodland Sounds: Owls and Chipmunks, and more

Today's discovery: animals make really weird noises.

I was walking my normal loop through the Naugatuck State Forest this morning when a loud screeching call started echoing through the forest. It didn't sound like anything I'd heard before -- not like a hawk or a Blue Jay, which are the normal screamers around here. I thought it might be mammalian in origin, perhaps an agitated carnivore... which didn't make me very eager to get closer, I must say. But then the source of the sound moved, and it was now coming from above. I looked up into the trees above the path, and there, perched on a branch and very actively looking around and making that crazy sound, was a Great Horned Owl.

Great Horned Owls are the owls that make the classic "hoot-hoot" sound, usually at night, so I have no idea what this fellow was up to. I've read that juvenile Great Horned Owls make a screeching sound, but this creature's well out of the nest, so I don't know if that's a suitable explanation.

Here's a video I took of this owl making its crazy call -- I didn't think it would be post-worthy at first, but YouTube magically removed all the shaking, and now it's like a real video! The audio's quite soft, and you'll have to listen past the Blue Jay calling constantly in the background, but there's some cool stuff there. Also, if you right-click on the video to watch it on YouTube, and then enlarge it to full-screen, you can actually see the owl's mouth opening as it calls. The call right at the end is the best:

I just love owls, and any day I see one is immediately a best-day-ever. I wonder if this individual was part of the family of owls that was nesting in this same area earlier this year.... Be well, big fellow, and I hope your screaming got you whatever it was you wanted!

Speaking of strange sounds in the woods, I've been hearing this hollow wood-block sound for a while now, but it wasn't until today that I finally found its source: an Eastern Chipmunk. Here's another video -- again, you'll have to turn up your volume to hear the sound (my camera doesn't have a great microphone, as I'm learning):

Apparently this is a sound that chipmunks make when there's an aerial predator in the area, and in fact, right after I saw this guy, a small falcon zoomed across the path (chased by a Blue Jay... what tenacious birds). I've already learned to recognize that persistent bird-like cheeping that chipmunks make, but I had no idea these little mammals could produce this strange sound as well. There's always something new to learn!

Not everything in the woods today was noisy, of course, and I saw some cool silent creatures as well. The Red Efts (the terrestrial, juvenile forms of Red-spotted Newts) were out in force today, trundling along the sides of paths in several parts of the forest. (I love these little guys. Love, love, love.) The first eft I saw has the distinction of being possibly the most orange thing ever, as well as the only eft I've seen climbing above the ground (only by a foot or so, but still). Maybe this fallen branch was a handy bridge toward wherever the eft was going:

This eft I saw later in my walk was decidedly browner than the first, but no less photogenic:

Hello, eft creature, what a perfect little newt face you have:

On my way out of the forest, I stopped to hang out with a Common Yellowthroat who was foraging on a goldenrod-covered bank, when a second warbler popped into view. It was a Blackpoll Warbler, a bird I've only seen once before and at a great distance. This one was content to forage close by, within camera range:

In the spring, male Blackpoll Warblers have striking black and white plumage, similar at first glance to a chickadee. But in the fall, both males and females take on this more subdued look. Even without the bold spring markings, however, I think this is one pretty bird:

And I love that olive-and-brown striped back:

It was quite the day -- so many new things to learn, and it's always exciting to see old friends like the efts. The weather forecast is predicting rain every day for the next week, but I'm hoping there will still be a chance to get outside again before too long!


  1. Another delightful early morning walk in Naugatuck for me! The videos are a great idea. The owl is just ...well, owls are special. And the cute chipmunk? :-) But - for me - the Red Eft wins the day. What a great name? Red Eft. It will stay with me all day. Today with be my Red Eft Day. Thanks for sharing. I love your blog. Mel

  2. I enjoyed the videos you posted, which is a fun touch. I had no idea that creatures like an eft existed in Connecticut!

  3. Thanks, Mel and Alissa! Red Efts are indeed awesome, and I wish I knew where that name comes from. Alissa, watch for bright orange on the ground the next time you're hiking, especially if it's recently rained -- the efts are out there and they're even cuter in person! (At least, I think so.) :P

  4. We went on an 'owl prowl' this past Sunday evening - the 'leader' had some recorded calls. We had no luck, although it was pretty special being out on such a clear night with such a star-studded sky!

    Your birds are always fabulous - for the longest time I thought the call of the chipmunk was a ground nesting bird - they are cheeky little squirts! ;-)

    The eft is beyond extolling - you take such wonderful pictures!


  5. Your photos, especially those of birds, are just incredible. You must have quite a zoom on your camera, since it looks like you're taking the photos from just a few feet away. Love those little efts. I have heard that before you try to pick one up, you should rub dirt on your hands to neutralize your skin's acids, which could harm the newt's delicate skin. The videos are great! Thanks for posting them.

  6. hikeagiant2: Thanks for your comment! A night-time "owl prowl" sounds like a great idea, if only for the chance to be out under the stars, as you pointed out. I was confused for a long time by the chipmunks' squeaking, too -- they sure do sound like birds!

    Jackie: Thanks and thanks again! I'm always wary about picking up amphibians -- I had a pet tree frog for several years and the first thing I learned was to always make sure my hands were clean and free of chemicals/residues since their skin is so sensitive -- but I do also feel the need to move the efts I find in pathways to safer locations.... Your tip about dirt is a great one, and such a thing would never have occurred to me. Thanks!