One of the topics that kept coming up in conversations at Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge the past few days are the short-eared owls that are spending their winter in Cades Cove this year.
The local bird club tallied four during their Christmas Bird Count on Dec 29.
Scientifically know as Asio flammeus, with the specific name "flammeus" being Latin for "flaming, the color of fire," and they do have a warm glow at sunset, short-eared owls aren't here every winter. In fact, more often than not they aren't here. They are an irruptive species that only venture this far south in good numbers when food isn't readily available to the north. Or, so we think. Maybe they just need a change of scenery. And Cades Cove is remarkably scenic.
Birds of open country and grasslands, short-eareds look like large flying moths that are noted for patrolling fields like harriers in search of mice, moles, voles and shrews, with voles being a particular favorite.
Most that I spoke with told me they were fairly reliable in fields off Hyatt Lane. Janet Lee found one Monday last, late afternoon. I have yet to make it to the cove but yesterday I met Tyson Smith. He shared the above photo taken on January 5.
Tyson emails, "Yes, I took it in the field off Hyatt Lane. I have seen two of them at once. They are usually flying morning and evening and sometimes when it is cloudy. January 5 is the only time I have gotten that close to one of them."
For more about Tyson's short-eared encounter and his other beautiful photography, go to: Wild and Wonderful