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ERCA hosts Owl Prowl at Holiday Beach



by Kyle Reid

The Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) hosted its annual Owl Prowl on the evening of Tuesday, February 5, to educate the public and bring attention to the nocturnal fliers that are native to Amherstburg’s Holiday Beach Conservation Area.

Those who were fortunate enough to get tickets for the evening’s two treks through the woods were first treated to an education session from Kris Ives, who is ERCA’s Education Coordinator. She taught the event attendees about the owls of Ontario, their adaptations, calls, and behaviours.

Following the presentation, tour-goers traveled through the wooded areas of the park, looking and listening for owls. The elusive creatures could be heard returning conversation made with the electronic calls ERCA’s staff created, but remained hidden to the hikers.

“My joke is that the owls are not on our payroll,” Ives said. “But in both hikes, we were able to hear the owls and engage with them in that way.”

The hikers who attended the event were quite happy to enjoy a peaceful night-time walk in the woods. All were excited just to be able to hear owls that were plenty eager to return calls with loud hoots and whistles heard in the distance. Hearing the owls so engaged with the calls is the sign of a successful expedition, Ives said.

“Learning about owls and hiking at night should be exciting and fun,” Ives said. “We think that’s a first level success, sometimes the owls don’t call back.”

And while the Owl Prowl was fun and educational for everyone who attended, Ives discourages the public from going out to look for owls on their own. She said that it is vitally important to only hold these events during appropriate times to avoid disturbing owls while they are nesting or establishing territory.

“There are certain times of the year, only, that we do this to avoid devastation of owl populations,” Ives said.

The purpose of ERCA’s annual Owl Prowl, held for some eight years by Ives’s estimates, is to educate the public about the local owl population. According to Ives, the population is thriving at Holiday Beach. There were 180 sightings of the Northern Saw-whet Owl, the most common owl found at Holiday Beach, in 2018. On Tuesday, ERCA staff called mostly for Saw-whet and Screech Owls, and both species were happy to engage with the calls.

Ives noted that the Owl Prowl events are important to spreading ERCA’s message of environmental conservation and stewardship.

“Owls are trending right now,” Ives said. “It’s a great introduction to messages about habitat and conservation in general, stewardship, and just connecting with nature.”

ERCA will host more Owl Prowl events in the fall. Ives said that those who were late to get tickets to this year’s winter prowl can attend the Point Pelee National Park Owl Prowl from February 15 to February 17.

ERCA’s next major public event is the annual Maple Syrup Festival to be held at the John R. Park Homestead on March 2 and March 3.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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