Great Horned Owl at Yellowstone NP - Photo Jim Peaco

James Muller led groups of owl watching hopefuls on evening walks at Walnut Woods Metro Park on Monday, October 11; Wednesday, October 13; and Tuesday October 19. This report is based on the Wednesday walk, but the other two were similar.

Walnut Woods Metro Park – Photo Kye Feasel

The days are getting shorter this time of year, and the park closes at dark. Our 6:30 start time was chosen to take advantage of a tight window: early enough to give us a good hour to be in the field, and late enough so that the owls would be active — we hoped! Fortunately, we had lovely weather, starting under clear skies and just cool enough to be comfortable with light jackets.

Our walk was on paved paths that wind through the woods in the park. Despite the park’s name, the largest trees are different species of firs, mostly left over from when the land was a tree farm, long since abandoned and then acquired by Columbus Metro Parks.

As we strolled away from the parking lot, we started to hear the evening chips and calls of locally resident birds. Eastern Towhees apparently are the late partiers of the bird world, as they called until it was almost completely dark; we had good locks at several. Other common residents such as Northern Cardinals and American Goldfinches occasionally joined the fun as well. But hey, we were on the prowl for owls, and not to be (too) distracted by mere passerines!

The old pine trees tower over the trail in the aptly-named Tall Pines Area at Walnut Woods – Photo Josh Mund

We scanned the tops of pine trees without much luck. But attentive listening was rewarded when a couple of Barred Owls started a conversation nearby. They were a little too far away see, as we were looking through a densely wooded area, but their raucous calls were unmistakable. A little further on, we detected the faint sounds of American Woodcocks, and shortly thereafter saw one fly right over us for an unexpected treat. Along the way, James spotted a very small Dekay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi) that we were able to pick up and examine. Not everyone joined in that activity, but some of us are fascinated by these amazing reptiles. Although initially alarmed, the snake settled into my hand, which was relatively warm, seeming pretty relaxed about the whole experience!

The trees to the left of the first fairway provide excellent roosting spots for Eastern Screech-Owls

It was getting quite dark by the time we were walking back toward the parking lot, and we were overtaken by the park ranger who reminded us that it was indeed time to go. But we weren’t done yet! Most of us drove a quarter mile or so to The Links at Groveport, a golf course operated by the city of Groveport. We walked behind the clubhouse toward the first tee, where we played the call of an Eastern Screech Owl. The call was immediately answered by one of these miniature owls who seemed to be in a tree very close to us. We looked hard, but couldn’t find this little critter, but hearing that small owl sing a large song — if the can be called a song — was a lot of fun.

Here’s a table showing which owls were found on which nights in this series of walks. (Woodcocks were found every evening!)

Mon 10/11Wed 10/13Tues 10/19
Eastern Screech-Owl1
Great Horned Owl21
Barred Owl12
Owls found in this series of trips