Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Great Horned Owl

Last night (this morning?) I woke up around 3 AM. This, regrettably, is not an uncommon occurrence, but last night it proved to be abetted by a calling Great Horned Owl. Further listening proved that it was one of a duetting pair. I thought it might be nice to pull a pertinent quote out of the literature but my first attempt (Stone 1894) proved less helpful than expected:

"Resident. Rather common in the wilder parts of the country, but rare in the settled districts."

Then I went to Stone (1908):

"A rather rare resident." Stone went on to cite Babson (1901), which covers my current neighborhood (albeit over 100 years ago), so I figured I'd follow the paper trail. Babson said:

"At present this species is rather uncommon, but not as infrequent as [Barred Owl]. One is occasionally seen in the big woods near Cedar Grove, where an adult was recently shot and is now in the University Collection. During the past winter (1901) Mr. D. Miner Rogers saw one near the Millstone, and although but two nests have been found during the last five years, they undoubtedly breed every spring at Cedar Grove and Sorrel Mountain."

Being a newcomer, I don't know Cedar Grove, but I have a strong suspicion that "Sorrel Mountain" is now known as the Sourlands. Babson's introduction says of Sorrel Mountain: "North of Blawenburg is Sorrel Mountain, similar to Mount Lucas, but higher and more extensive..."

Final resort to Walsh et al. (1999) suggested that Great Horned Owl suffered in earlier times due to persecution. All I can say is that if I can wake up during the middle of the night in the condo/townhouse zone that Plainsboro has become and hear nearby calling Great Horned Owls, that must be some mark of progress.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer -
Yes, Sorrel --> Sour according to Beck's NJ histories. Mount Lucas is remembered in a road name, in Princeton Township; it's now called the Princeton Ridge, and ends in the eponymous Rocky Hill. I have seen Cedar Grove on some map or other and will see if I can track it down. But note how the present-day plethora of cedar groves in abandoned pastures north of Princeton makes that name completely non-distinctive! Persecution isn't necessarily the only explanation for the scarcity of owls that like to nest in large trees, in a landscape that had lost almost all its woods by the end of the 19th C. When Plainsboro Preserve opened, the Plainsboro historical society had an exhibit that included aerial photos of the region over time. In the sixties it was still almost completely open, agricultural land uses.

Anonymous said...

Hi Again,
Cedar Grove is north of Princeton on The Great Road, just north of Princeton Day School. Approximately where Woodfield Reservation, a small township preserve, is located.

Jennifer Hanson said...

Thanks for the info, particularly on Cedar Grove. There's a town in north Jersey near where I used to live called that, but down here I wasn't sure if it was a town name or possibly the name for some spot on campus. It also occurs to me that a historical novel I once read (Bolinvar) refers to "Sor'land" when referring to the mountain that gives the Sourlands its name. I don't know if that term was in usage at some point or whether it was coined by the author (another research project!). I've seen Mt. Lucas on maps.

Your point about the farmland is a good one. It also makes sense with Babson's comment on the Millstone; large trees were probably most likely to persist along watercourses in an intensely farmed landscape.

Most of all, it really threw me to see "Great Horned Owl" and "rare" in the same sentence!