Last month, I paired an IPA from Arizona with a wonderful birding day that was motivated by the sighting of an Eared Quetzal. Spoiler alert: We dipped on the quetzal but cleaned up on other species. I stopped short of telling the full story of the day because the experience Sara (my wife) and I had with our final bird of the day, in the early evening hours, deserved a bit more focus.
Having procured some beers in anticipation of seeing one more target-species, we left Portal. Our final target was a pair of Spotted Owl. We had a tip on the possible location. However, they weren’t completely reliable, as is the case with birding, which is the fun of the chase.
This would be only the second time for us to see this species, if successful. During our first trip to Arizona, in 2018, we had a brief late-night encounter. While driving from southern California to Portal, we were just across the western border of New Mexico, driving south on a two-lane road. Less than 30 minutes from our destination, there it was, in the middle of the road. Slamming on the brakes we came to a stop about 30 feet short of the owl. At the end of a string of expletives came the word, “Owl!” The Spotted Owl quickly picked up its prey and flew off into the night. We rode that lifer-birding-high and adrenaline of the unanticipated stop the rest of the drive to Portal. Learning from that experience, that Spotted Owls are a protected species, we didn’t ever expect to have an opportunity to seek out this bird.
Back to June of 2020, we were nearing our location when we ran into a couple of birders we recognized. We had came to know these two as ‘Josh and Doug’ – names we bestowed upon them after crossing paths at multiple locations over the previous few days. This made it easier to reference them. Later we learned their real names were Jeremy and Mike. Bothers from Michigan who were roughing it by tent camping and birding hard every day.
They were coming from the Spotted Owl location and had good news for us. “Park at the west end of the grounds, get out of the car and look south. They are right there.” We pointed them toward the Olive Warbler and Greater Pewee we just picked up and then got back on our way. Only five more minutes to go.
The description from our new birding friends could not have been better. Before we even came to a stop, Sara had an owl in sight. We quietly exited the car, got the tripod and enjoyed watching not one, but a pair of Spotted Owls.
They were sitting about 10 feet apart, in different sections of a large deciduous tree. One was most visible from our position, so that was our focus. Watching this bird rest for a few minutes would have been more than enough to cap off a great day. But our timing was even better.
First was the pellet regurgitation. Next came the thorough preening, section-by-section. Then a few big stretches. You know, the kind you can feel in your toes (or talons). Each time the owl would stretch its wing, it would stand as tall as it could. Seeing the length of their legs is pretty wild!
After a quick cheers and small bite to eat, we loaded up our gear for the drive back to Tucson. Gotta get a bit a sleep before another day of birding.
After returning home and finishing off the couple of Arizona beers I had brought back to Indiana, I still didn’t have the right fit to pair with this bird and the amazing experience. I decided to forage through my fridge. Searching for something that felt like it was from the southern, desert-like portions of the country. Also, I like to find a darker beer as it seems most fitting with nocturnal birds.
I found a nice milk stout from Terre Haute Brewing Company – El Molè. A sweet beer made with Cerylon cinnamon, cacao nibs and Madagascar vanilla. Also, the southern tough of juajillo and ancho peppers. The flavors of the peppers are subtle and don’t add much spice. A little thin for what I like in a stout, but it wasn’t off-putting enough for me to turn down a second one. Cheers, to your health.
Beer Info –
Brewery – Terre Haute Brewing Company
Location – Terre Haute, IN
Beer – El Molè
Style – Milk Stout
ABV – 5.6%
Untappd Rating – 4/5
URL – www.TerreHauteBrewingCompany.
Bird Photo Info –
Species – Spotted Owl
Nikon D850 / Nikon 200-500 lens
Photo Settings: 1/125s @ F5.6; ISO 640 – 500mm – Aperture Priority
Handheld – No Flash
Location – Cochise County, Arizona
Date – June 10th, 2020