Owl Prowl promises to be a hoot at Weir Farm

Residents looking to get their minds off the recent storms may find respite at Weir Farm's 20th Annual Owl Prowl on Friday, Nov. 9.

"Fall is a good time to try and find owls because they are not nesting, but still responsive to calls," said Frank Gallo, who has been leading owl prowls and bird walks at Weir Farm for more than 20 years. "Also, Great Horned Owls are beginning their courtship, so they are generally rather vocal at this time of year."

Weir Farm is home to several species of owls, according to Mr. Gallo, who is the director of the Connecticut Audubon Society's Coastal Center at Milford Point. "The Eastern Screech-Owl and Barred Owl are the most common species, and the ones we usually encounter on walks," he said. "The preserve is large and has a variety of habitats, and can thus support several species. We hear the Great Horned Owl from time to time, which is our largest nesting owl, and prefers drier hilltops adjacent to open areas for nesting."

Barred Owls prefer "wetter lowlands, especially swamps and hemlock-forested ravines with streams running through them," according to Mr. Gallo. "Screech Owls can be found in red maple swamps and semi-open areas with a mix of trees — such as people's yards. The Screech Owl is the smallest, 'tufted' owl in our area and comes in three colors — red, gray or brown."

During the owl prowls, Mr. Gallo said, actual encounters with the birds vary. "We hear an owl two out of every three years, and actually see an owl one out of every three years," he said. "Most people are fascinated by owls, and it's always a pleasure to have one respond and then come close enough to see," he said.

The owl prowls are popular, drawing up to more than 90 participants, according to Mr. Gallo.

In the free presentation, Mr. Gallo will explain such things are why owls are such effective raptors of the night. "Owls have acute hearing and excellent eyesight, allowing them to find food at night," he said. "They're also equipped with sharp talons for capturing prey. Most owls are nocturnal, but some, like Snowy Owls, and even Barred Owls, will hunt during the day."

In Connecticut, the Barn Owl, which is also found at Weir farm, is listed as "a species of conservation concern," according to Weir Farm's website. Mr. Gallo said most other owls in the area "seem to be holding their own, but habitat destruction in other areas has caused drops in the number of owls."

How did he get interested in owls?

"I've been fascinated with owls since I was a young kid," he said. "One of my earliest memories is of a Barred Owl sitting in an apple tree in a neighbor's yard."

Owls have also been cloaked in mythology throughout the ages, which adds to their mystique. "Some believe that owls, especially Barn Owls, may be responsible, in part, for originating the idea of ghosts. I'll explain more about it in my talk."

The 20th annual Owl Prowl at Weir Farm will take place from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Burlingham barn at Weir Farm. Parking is at Branchville Elementary School, 40 Florida Road, in Ridgefield. Free shuttle bus service will be offered to the site, beginning at 7 p.m. Information: Bruce Beebe, 203-834-5066.