The Out of Town Owls
Date Planted: May 24, 2008
Address: Rockingham Recreational Trail, Ash Swamp Road, Newmarket/Newfields, New Hampshire
Bike length: 6.75 miles round trip
First aid: None required presently
Clue last updated: May 24, 2008
You may or may not know that I have a bit of an obsession with owls. I already planted one series of owls at Blue Job in Stratham, New Hampshire, which consisted of all of the owls native to New England. But there are many, many species of owls so I couldn't stop there! :)
This new series has owls who are native to the United States, but do not live in New England. I called it "The Out of Town Owls" because not only are the owls not from around here, but neither am I. Let me explain—I grew up in Eliot, Maine and never knew Newfields existed until a couple of years ago, and I'll be moving here at the end of the summer.
I've included facts about each breed of owl from www.OwlPages.com and AllAboutBirds.com. Enjoy! :)
To get to the Rockingham Recreational Trail, take Route 108 into Newmarket. After going through downtown, keep your eyes open for Ash Swamp Road on your right, next to the Rockingham Country Club and across from the Great Bay Athletic Club. Follow Ash Swamp past the Sculptured Cut on the right and go straight past the "No Outlet" sign. Park on the right, away from the active train tracks. Please DO NOT park near the active railroad tracks, and stay away from them altogether.
The Rockingham Recreational Trail is a rails-to-trails route (there are no longer train tracks here) that stretches over 26 miles from Newfields to Manchester. Don't worry, we're only doing the first part of it! :) I chose this particular stretch because it starts in Newfields and ends at the road I'll be living on! :) The trail is straight and flat with only slight inclines and descents.
I designed this series as a great set of boxes to find by bike, since it's a very flat, straight trail. It can be a little boring walking, but either way you choose is fine. The owls aren't picky about their visitors. :)
There is only one logbook, which is in the very last box. Happy hunting! :)
#1. The Barn Owl
- Found on all continents except Antartica
- It is one of the few bird species with the female showier than the male. The female has a more reddish chest that is more heavily spotted. Heavily spotted females get fewer parasitic flies and may be more resistant to parasites and diseases!
- Its ability to locate prey by sound alone is the best of any animal that has ever been tested.
- It has a wingspan of 39–49 inches.
- Other names for the barn owl include the Monkey-faced Owl, Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Death Owl, Hissing Owl, Hobgoblin or Hobby Owl, Golden Owl, Silver Owl, White Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Scritch Owl, Screech Owl, Straw Owl, Barnyard Owl, and Delicate Owl.
To find the barn owl: Look past the old depot for a cement block with a diamond-shaped hole in the middle. Check behind it.
#2. The Flammulated Owl
- It gets its name from it's unique coloration. The word flammeolus is Latin for "flame" or "flame-shaped."
- Also called the Flammulated Scops Owl and the Dwarf Owl, and was previously known as the Flammulated Screech Owl.
- Flammulated Owls are nocturnal, and by day they roost close to tree trunks where they're well-camoflauged, resembling a broken branch.
- Its call is a rather deep-pitched, single "hoot," like blowing across the top of a bottle. They can be difficult to locate due to the softness of the call, together with the gradual beginning and end, which makes its direction hard to detect. In addition, when the owl detects a person, it sings even more softly, making it sound as if it's is far away. When alarmed, this owl will produce notes sounding somewhat like the meowing of a kitten!
- It feeds mainly on nocturnal insects, especially crickets, moths, beetles, and spiders.
- Some consider it the most abundant owl of western pine forests.
- It has a wingspan of about 16 inches.
To find the Flammulated Owl: You'll see the start of the trail to your right. Follow the trail to the gate. Standing with the gate on your left, look just a bit ahead of you for a birch log on your right. Check underneath.
#3. The Western Screech Owl
- The species name "kennicotti" was created to honor Robert Kennicott, an American explorer and naturalist. Originally, this owl was officially called "Kennicott's Owl." Common names include Little Horned Owl, Dusk Owl, Ghost Owl, Mouse Owl, Cat Owl, Little Cat Owl, Puget Sound Screech Owl, Washington Screech Owl, and Coastal Screech Owl.
- It is one of the west's more common owls at lower elevations.
- When threatened, it stretches its body and tightens its feathers in order to look like a branch stub, but it will take flight when it knows it's been detected.
- It's likely to be confused with the Eastern Screech Owl and Whiskered Screech Owl, but can be distinguished by bill color. Eastern Screech Owls have gray-green bills, while Western Screech Owls have gray to black bills. They also have different calls.
- When flying, it rarely glides or hovers, but may fly bat-like with erratic movements.
- When defending a nest site it can be very aggressive and may attack humans.
- During courtship, males and females call to each other in a duet as they approach. When together, they preen each other's heads and nibble at each other's beaks.
- It occasionally takes prey larger than itself, including cottontail rabbits and Mallards!
- It has a wingspan of 22–24 inches.
Continue down the trail past a swamp on your right, following a rock wall on your left. You will see rock walls on both sides of this trail intermittently. Once you re-enter the woods, look for a birch tree on the left. The Western Screech Owl is behind the rocks next to it.
#4. The Spotted Owl
- Also known as the Canyon Owl, Brown-eyed Owl, Wood Owl, and Hoot Owl.
- Its plumage is soft and fluffy, which can make its head appear oversized.
- Spotted owls take a "sit and wait" approach to hunting, and dive down to capture prey. They rarely forage in flight. Sometimes they will save food for later consumption (leftovers, mmmm!). Prey taken to the nest by the male is often decapitated first!
- They feed mainly on flying squirrels and wood rats, but are known to capture 30 mammal species and 23 bird species. They also like to walk around campgrounds at night, looking for food.
- Spotted owl pairs mate for life, but a new mate is readily taken if the other disappears.
- Unlike most other owls, Spotted Owls sometimes do not defend their eggs and young from predators.
- This is probably the most famous owl of North America, due to publicity over its endangered status. Because of its dependence on large tracts of old-growth coniferous forests, it has caused tremendous turmoil in the forest harvesting industry. Because of this, it has become one of the best-studied owls in the world.
- It has a wingspan of about 40 inches.
- The Spotted Owl nests in tree cavities, broken-topped trees, and platforms, such as old raptor or squirrel nests. It does not build its own nest.
To find our famous Spotted Owl friend, keep your eyes open for a tree leaning over the trail from the right to the left. Just before this tree there are two giant boulders. Check between them. If you pass post 168AA, you've gone too far! :)
#5. The Northern Pygmy Owl
- Also known as the Pygmy Owl, Rocky Mountain Pygmy Owl, Vancouver Pygmy Owl, California Pygmy Owl, and Dwarf Owl.
- On the nape of its neck, the plumage has two distinctive, vertical black patches that resemble an extra pair of eyes.
- Northern Pygmy Owls are very secretive, and also quite fierce when threatened. They will attack prey or drive off intruders several times their own size. When threatened, it will puff up its feathers and spread its tail to make itself look larger.
- It has an average wingspan of 15 inches.
- Not for the faint of heart: this owl hunts mainly by vision, diving down onto prey on the ground and driving its talons into the victim's throat. They will also attack birds in shrubs, crashing into them. Most prey is carried off in the feet to feeding sites. Birds are plucked before being eaten, and often they only eat the brains. They also only eat the soft abdomen of insects. Picky, picky! One of these little owls can carry prey weighing up to three times its own weight. Voles make up the bulk of their diet, with birds (songbirds mainly, but as large as the California quail!) comprising the rest.
- They are entirely dependent on old woodpecker cavities for nest sites.
Our picky-eater friend can be found further along the trail. Once you come upon two raised hills on either side of you consisting mainly of boulders, you know you're in the right place. Look on the left for the last large group of boulders, with a V-shaped birch sticking out the top. Check the bottom (at about shoulder level) where a small, rectangular rock leans. If you pass post 168, you've gone too far.
#6. The Elf Owl
- Its scientific name is Micrathene whitneyi. "Whitneyi" is a Latinised word formed from the last name of Josiah Dwight Whitney, a prominent American geologist and the founder of the Harvard School of Mining in 1868. It was first known as Whitney's Owl. Other names include Texas Elf Owl, Whitney's Elf Owl, and Dwarf Owl. I like to call it "Santa's Helper Owl." Okay, that was a lame joke. :D
- When danger approaches, it straightens its body, covers its lighter underparts with one wing, then turns its head and peers over the bent wing with the top of its eyes (like Batman!). But they are not very aggressive, preferring to fly away rather than fight (not like Batman).
- Virtually all prey are anthropods—mainly insects and scorpions, although they'll dine on the odd mouse or small bird from time to time. Most prey is captured in flight as these owls are very maneuvrable. Oftentimes they'll hover over an insect, causing the insect to take flight, and then they capture it in mid-air! Then they carry the prey to a nearby perch and tear it apart before eating it (it likes its food bite-sized!).
- Males attract females to potential nest sites by calling from a cavity, then flying out while singing as the female approaches. On moonlit nights (how romantic!) calling occurs continuously all night. The female selects the nest cavity it finds most suitable, and begins to roost in it prior to laying eggs so no other animals will steal their spot!
- Elf Owls share parenting duties. Sometimes the female hunts at dusk during incubation, leaving the male to sit on the eggs in her absence.
- They have the highest breeding success rate reported for any North American Owl: 70%. This is due to the difficulty that predators have in reaching their nests, which are in woodpecker cavities in cacti and deciduous trees. But they have few enemies because there are few larger owls that occur in the same habitat (overgrown deserts mainly).
Though elves help Santa, the Elf Owl must only help him during his time off when he's on vacation in the Southwest! Continue down the path and look for an old stone post on your left. Facing the post, look for a group of small trees to the left, about 10 steps off the trail. Check behind the little trees for this little elf!
#7. The Burrowing Owl
- Also known as the Ground Owl, Prairie Dog Owl, Rattlesnake Owl, Howdy Owl, Cuckoo Owl, Tunnel Owl, Gopher Owl, and Hill Owl.
- It is ground-dwelling, active in daylight, very vocal, and surprisingly bold and approachable.
- It has a wingspan of 20–24 inches.
- Burrowing Owls are often seen perched on a mound of dirt, telegraph or fence post, frequently on one foot. They bob up and down when excited.
- Juvenile owls give a rattlesnake-like buzz when threatened in the burrow, and adults give a short, low-level "chuck" call to warn of approaching predators. This is usually accompanied by bobbing the head up and down.
- Unlike other owls, Burrowing Owls will eat fruits and seeds, especially the fruit of Tesajilla and prickly pear cactus, in addition to insects and small mammals.
- Courtship displays include flashing white markings, cooing, bowing, scratching, and nipping (kinky!). The male performs display flights, rising quickly to 100 feet off the ground, hovering for 5–10 seconds, then dropping 50 feet. This sequence is repeated many times.
- They are listed as endangered or threatened in most areas where they occur due to their high mortality rate. Many meet their death while crossing the road (hence the joke involves a chicken and not an owl), or at the jaws of one of many predators (larger owls, hawks, falcons, badgers, skunks, ferrets, armadillos, snakes, and domestic cats and dogs).
- They sometimes nest in colonies, so they can alert each other to incoming predators and drive them off. A small area around the nest burrow is aggressively defended against instrusions by other Burrowing Owls and predators.
- It collects mammal dung and puts it in and around its burrow. The dung attracts dung beetles, which the owl then captures and eats.
- Lives in dry, open areas with no trees and short grass. Found on golf courses, cemeteries, airports, vacant lots, university campuses, pastures, and prairie dog towns.
Keep on going until you reach the road (Old Lee Road). Be sure to stop and look both ways before crossing! Keep on trucking past a sign saying "Stay on Trail or Stay Home", another stone post, a marsh with tall grass on your right, another post with the numbers 1161 just before a bridge with a lovely little waterfall. Continue until you get to the next road crossing (stop and look both ways before you cross!). This is Halls Mill Road. There will be a gray house with white trim on the left and then a blue house with white trim on the right. Continue through the gate and on until you see marker 158B (there are four posts there, two on each side of the trail). In between the two posts on the left side of the trail, you can find a Geological Survey Marker. Look behind the closest tree to marker 158B for your friend.
#8. The Boreal Owl
- It was named after the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas. In other parts of the world, it's known as Tengmalm's Owl, Richardson's Owl, Sparrow Owl, Partridge-haw, and Pearl Owl (in Finland).
- The Boreal Owl is nocturnal and unsociable, and males will sing intensively only as long as they are unmated.
- The most common call of the Boreal owl is the terretorial song of the male, which varies widely from individual to individual. It is a series of "Poop" notes followed by a 3–4 second break, then another series.
- They hunt by perching on low branches or tree trunks and scan the ground by moving their heads slowly from side to side. They hunt primarily using their excellent hearing.
- Unlike most other owls, pair bonding is only seasonal.
- The ear openings on the Boreal Owl's skull are asymmetrical, with one opening high up on the skull and the other much lower. The different positions help the owl find exactly where a sound comes from, helping gauge height as well as distance.
- It has a wingspan of 22–24 inches.
Peddle along through a muddy section, past marker 156A near a marsh with a beaver dam and find marker 154A. Take 14 steps further down the trail and look to your left. You should see a tree with a yellow band around it, as well as a pink and black band. Check behind that tree for this handsome gentleman.
#9. The Great Gray Owl
- Also called the Great Gray Ghost, Phantom of the North, Cinerous Owl, Spectral Owl, Lapland Owl, Spruce Owl, Bearded Owl, and Sooty Owl.
- The Gray Owl is the provincial bird emblem of Manitoba, a province in Canada.
- It has a noticeable white "moustache" stripe under its face, broken by a black "bow-tie."
- It can have a wingspan of up to 60 inches!
- Their primary territorial call can be heard up to half a mile away under good conditions.
- When the ground is covered in snow, a Great Gray Owl can hunt by hearing alone and often plunges into the snow to capture small rodents moving underneath as far as 12 inches down!
- When mating, the male typically approaches the female, holding food in its beak, which is passed with both birds closing their eyes. (Like in Lady and the Tramp?) :D
- Unlike most other owls, Great Gray Owls usually tidy up and refurbish their nests before use.
- They aggressively defend their nests and have been known to drive off predators as large as black bears!
- They are long-lived birds, with captive owls living up to 40 years of age.
- Although it is the tallest American owl with the largest wingspan, it's just a ball of feathers.
Follow the trail through a junction and soon you'll see a pasture with horses on the hill to your left, and a wooden garage building on your right. Continue on through the gate and you'll reach another road. This is Piscassic Road, also known as Route 87, where I'll be living soon! My house is down the street a ways though. Turn around and go back the way you came. Find marker 152. Across from it is an orange "POSTED" sign. Standing with the sign on your left, take 10 steps forward. The Great Gray Owl guards the log book in the group of trees on your right. Please re-hide VERY well!!!
Please contact me on AtlasQuest after you find these and tell me what you think! I'd especially appreciate feedback on the clues, since I know these aren't the easiest to find. Happy letterboxing! :)
NOTE: Before you set out you must read and agree to the Waiver of Responsibility.