It was very dark when I left the parking lot variant of my sit spot, and still it still is. Was it worth it? Maybe.
I entered the parking lot around 4:35am this morning. After spending a while just listening to the sounds of “nature”, finishing my coffee and trying to not make sounds into what they weren’t, I gave in and decided to play some screech owl trills. Unfortunately, an issue I have not yet addressed was beginning to get in my way for real: the highway.
Even when I play calls from my phone, I could tell the white noise from the interstate not far away was cancelling the sonorous sounds of my owls. That part isn’t a big deal, but I know my inferior human hearing will struggle to pick out a chatting owl even within my part of Fox Park. The frequencies are just too similar, often exhibiting a similar timbre. This means a sound carrying more energy (lower frequency rumbles and what not) will not only mask the weaker and more refined owl toots and hoots, but could “phase cancel” them out altogether. Phase cancellation is obviously not a standard concern of birders, but I happened to know from recording sounds in this frequency range (lower end of a medium grand piano and acoustic guitar for example) achieving a mini “Bose noise cancellation” is quite easy. All it takes is two sounds going the opposite direction and/or of similar magnitude or at least frequency (a distant truck with a Jake brake and closer GHO for example and whoops! there goes the owl hoot.
I mention all this because in the ~50 minutes waffled around in the parking lot (10 degrees below freezing mind you), during which I played screech, saw-whet, and GHO, I heard lots of mumbles and whoos and blops… …yet I can only take one seriously. One toot, that’s all.
I had played screech, then saw-whet, and screech once more at this point. The toot sounded much lower than a saw-whet toot, and there was just one. It was not dainty, and had a nice conviction and resonance. I have never been compelled to describe an automobile this way, so I can say with good faith this was an owl.
But was it Barred or GHO? Both make single toots in this way sometimes. Indeed, I’ve seen it done on trips where the either owl may want to just put a small idea out there, a pleasantry maybe to the owl it listened to from a birders phone, or perhaps just to test the waters on who could call back. For whatever reason, more than half of my hearing/visual owl encounters involved a single toot instead of a full blown dissertation of whoos and haws.
So, I will tentatively stick with the current idea this is a GHO, because my other evidence seems to support this. As I played some GHO after the toot, I quite honestly could not listen between the cars and trucks from, say, half a mile away. Thus, while the tooting owl was not in spitting distance of my mini encampment on a bit of ice in the parking lot, it could easily been in Fox Park or an adjacent landowner’s pine tree and I would never have known.
The saga continues…