Barred Owls of Lake Beverly
By Robert Strickland
We have a pair of Barred Owls living in the Citrus County, Central Ridge Park, near Lake Beverly in Beverly Hills Florida. The park is a remnant of a 1960 development, leaving a wooded park with a Lake, a pool, recreational building, tennis court, and walking paths and trails. There is enough wooded and open acreage to support the Barred Owls. They seem to find mice and other rodents to support their diets. They live in the woods near the lake and fly out in the evening in search of food; Returning to the woods in early morning to sleep.
Back a few year ago when I first moved to the area, I was walking in the park with my camera and one of the locals that walk there every day asked me “did you see the owls” At this time I had no idea there were any owls there. I said “no I did not realize there were any in the park” He went on to tell me he hears quite often as he is walking through the park. With that in mind I went back to the park the next morning early to see if I could find them, I looked around where the gentlemen from the previous day told me where he sees them but I could not find them. Then a walker walking her dog came by and said “did you see the owls” and I reluctantly said ”no I did not find them”, she kind of gave me a weird look as if to say they are right there. She said “look up there”, I looked up where she was pointing and there they were my first sighting of the Barred Owls from Lake Beverly. Since that day I have seen them many times up high down low, I have taken many photos of them but one day stands out from all the rest when I saw them close up for the first time.
The morning was very quiet as I walked down through the park nearing the far end of the paved trails, then suddenly; I heard a distinct hoot of a Barred Owl. I knew that call from my day’s turkey hunting in upstate New York. I immediately turned around and headed back to where I heard the hooting. As I approached the wooded area across from Lake Beverly, I heard more hooting so I moved as quietly as I could up to trail to see if I could observe the owls and get some photos. As I approached the calling owl, I stopped suddenly and froze as there was one right there on the branch with Spanish moss hanging all over it. I clicked off many photos, as this was my first encounter with an owl. After shooting the photos of what I though was one owl, I moved around the tree to see if I had any other pose of the first owl and to my surprise I saw two Barred Owls together on a branch that looked to me as they were on a swing.
Since that time I have had many opportunities to photograph them if you can find them. That first encounter they hooted, but there are many days when you go to park that you just cannot find them. They don’t hoot, meaning their asleep somewhere high in the trees. You can walk all over the park and will not find them. Other times they are in public view near the walking path and the walkers see them and pass on the locations. Once you zero in you are provided many photographic opportunities. The Barred Owls have become familiar with people walking the trails throughout the wooded area that they just sit on their roosts and let the people walk on by. They realize they are in a protected area and will not be bothered.
Many times you can go down to the park and you will hear them hooting to each other from a distance. Then you will hear that distinct interaction call where the two owls have gotten together. The Interaction call is very loud and distinct that you can’t miss it. It goes on for quite some time, if you hear that you know that they are together and you can close in and get setup for some action shots. The Lake Beverly Barred Owls are so accustomed to the many people who walk the trails each and every day which makes them fairly easy to photography if you can find them.
A while ago I bought an App for my cell phone called iBird 7.2 pro, an interactive field guide to birds of North America. The app has birding ID as well as sounds. I did a lot of research into calling to birds, The study lead me to believe you can call to birds briefly in an attempt to locate or make them move so you can clearly see what it is, however caution is urged when it is nesting season because it might disrupt the nesting season, with that in mind I and decided it was ok to call briefly to the birds and owls that frequent the area. This made locating the owls much easier, although it is not one hundred percent effective, because some days they are not responsive no matter what you do. When I first started calling I was just using the cell phone and its own speaker. It worked fairly well on close birds but failed to get birds further out. So I turned on the blue tooth and bought a wireless speaker. Now when I go out I carry the phone, a wireless speaker and my camera equipment. I use the phone and speaker as necessary. If I hear the owls there is no need to make calls. The other day I went down to the park to photograph the Barred Owls, I walked right over to where I almost always see them roosting but they were not there, so I turned on the speaker and made a few hoots from the app and suddenly they came right in hooting up a storm. They landed on the large branch providing many shots in various poses as they moved around. Care has to be taken as they are up against the bright sky, so some compensation has to be dialed in. Just the other day, I went down to Lake Beverly and immediate went right to their roosting area, I started out by making a hoot call and swiftly there they were. You have to be ready and alert because these owl s fly silently. They can fly in to your hooting and you’ll never even realize that they are there. In the same token you can be photographing them then look away for a second to change a setting on your camera and look back and they will be gone, totally unheard. After taking a few shots at the first location I walked off down the trail quite a ways from them, out to the more open area of the park where there are large oak trees, I setup and made another call to them and they flew right over me up into one of the big oak trees, Every time they move they produce a variety of different poses and shooting situations. After shooting in this location I moved down into the further and of the park. I decided to give another hoot call just to see if they would fly way over here. A few minutes after I made the call one of them flew right by me and went into a thicket. I said to myself “I think I can get a flight shot if I make a quick call”. I made the call and he came flying right at me allow for a couple quick shots. I decided if they are going to follow me I need to go back to the open area of the park so the light would be better for shooting them. About halfway back to the open area, without any calling one of the owls flew by me and landed on a big branch, I swiftly setup and got a few shots of him posing on the branch. I finally got back to the open area got setup and made a short hoot and suddenly here she was landing on a branch above me. Taking a few shot of her above, I was thinking I still want a good flight shot. So I moved away from her into a very open area and got the camera settings ready, focused on the branch where the owl was last seen, made a quick hoot and here she came right out of the tree toward me giving a few flight shots before flying back into the roosting area for the rest of the day. That passing flight really made my day. The Barred Owls were actually following me around the park, wherever I went, they went.
I learned a lot over the years photographing the Barred Owls, how they react to each other, how they react to people and pets, How they react to the gathering of people at the park, at the pool and even at the events they have in the park, making it a remarkable and pleasurable place to go capture some beauties of nature, “The Barred Owls of Lake Beverly”.