Saw-Whet! Say What??

"I saw it!"

"Saw what?"

"A saw-whet!"

"Say what???"

That's right, I saw it! The northern saw-whet owl. At 7-8 inches in height and weighing less then 4 ounces, it is one of the smallest owls in North America and we are on the northern edge of its range here in Southcentral Alaska. In fact, saw-whets just started showing up in this area within the past 10 years. They are elusive little creatures and mostly nocturnal.

Have a great Memorial Day out there and enjoy this last day of the holiday weekend!



Northern Saw Whet Owl

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can have all the skill in the world and top-of-the-line photo gear but if you don’t have luck on your side, you will only produce mediocrity. If you’ve been following my posts over this past week, you might agree that I’ve had quite a bit of good fortune recently. It all began last Sunday while out on a late evening hike. I was listening to the calls of two different species of owls– a great horned that was further up the mountainside and a little saw whet owl that was so close to the trail it stopped me in my tracks. I stood completely still for a few minutes in the dark forest when suddenly, it flew out of an owl box and right past me, barely five feet away. 

The following three mornings I was treated to beautiful, vibrant sunrise skies and, among other things, a pair of trumpeter swans that allowed me to create a series of timeless images. I’d also been keeping an ear out in the evenings, listening for the saw whet owl calls after sundown. Last night I returned to the box where I saw the owl in the chance that it might come out and show itself before the light was gone. To my surprise, it popped its little head out of the box and watched me as I scrambled to hastily set up my camera and tripod. I spent just a few minutes with the owl, doing my best to capture a few sharp images in the low light, then picked up my gear and walked away as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.

To put this into perspective in terms of how rare a sighting like this is, northern saw whet owls are primarily nocturnal and only 6-7 inches tall, making them very difficult to view. There are more than a dozen of these owl boxes in the vicinity of the Nature Center. In approximately eight years since they’ve been posted, this may be the first confirmed sighting of a saw whet, or any owl species for that matter, using one of the boxes.