The first leg of my Australia trip involved driving from my hometown of Ithaca, New York to Columbia, Missouri, where Carl Gerhardt, my co-traveler lives. His home is on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. I arrived yesterday evening and immediately noticed that it was dead-calm. So when darkness fell I walked the ridge trail to a small clearing in the woods, hoping to record the mellow insect chorus. But as I approached the clearing, I became aware of periodic screeches given by two mysterious creatures of the night, one fairly near and the other much farther away.
Excited to get a recording, I quickly placed my soundscape microphone at the edge of the clearing, a hundred feet or so from the nearest screecher. I turned the recorder on, left it sitting on the ground, and then moved back in the woods where I sat on a log and enjoyed the spectacle. How exciting, but “who” or “what” is making these unusual sounds?
Mysterious screeches in the night, set against a cricket and katydid chorus, 16 September 2012, 11:00 pm, near Columbia, Missouri. (don’t play too loud or the insects will overwhelm).
Someone new to nature’s night chorus might think these sounds are made by some kind of mammal. Or, if by a bird, they must be the screeches of a Screech-owl (that sure seems logical, doesn’t it?). Well, they are indeed made by owls, but not by screech-owls (which hardly ever make any sound approaching what we may call a screech) … these are the screeches of two young Barred or Great Horned Owls, I’m not entirely sure which.
Given the time of year, these are certainly not the calls of “baby” owls, but rather of immatures … adult-sized but still dependent on their parents for food. Such screeching sounds are generally thought to be “begging calls” or else “location calls” that allow the parent owls to find and feed the young.
But which species of owl is this? My initial impression was Barred Owl (at times, I could hear adults calling way off in the distance), but Carl says there are a lot of Great Horned Owls in the area. So I’m just not sure. Maybe someone out there can tell me how to tell the two apart, based entirely on the sound of the screeches of the immatures?
To my ear, this is a very pleasurable soundscape. The insects provide a continuous and reasonably mellow backdrop for the owl calls. And I love the distant caller, which adds depth to the recording. On the whole, I am very pleased to snag these mysterious voices of the night, only two days prior to our launch toward Australia.