In late February we took a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico to find the newly defined Oaxaca Screech-Owl. This was going to be a real challenge because information about this species is so limited. We figured since we were looking for difficult to find species we would add Fulvous Owl to our search too… since it is not ranged as being in Oaxaca at all.
Though not listed as occurring in Oaxaca we knew that Fulvous Owl had been seen in the mountains to the east of Oaxaca City in recent years and even had a general idea of where to look. To further narrow our search, experience has shown that Fulvous Owl is generally found above 7,000 ft. elevation in Southern Mexico, in dense cloud forests with large trees. It’s a fairly vocal owl and like its cousin the Barred Owl, it is reasonably bold. When planning this trip, we thought that finding Fulvous Owl would be much easier than it turned out to be. Searching such a vast area for a single owl with as much time and information as we had cannot be underestimated. After four full nights of searching the mountains, some minor altercations with the locals, the typical dangers of being on remote dirt roads in Southern Mexico at night, and in unfamiliar locations, our efforts were rewarded with a beautiful pair of Fulvous Owls. That just saved us a difficult trip to Chiapas or Guatemala and what a beautiful owl this is!
Now that the easy part of the trip was done (!) we headed for the coast to search for Oaxaca Screech-Owl. The descriptions of this owl are definitely not consistent. There are no recordings to be found, and to my knowledge, no photos in existence. The research seems to be from museum skins collected in the 1950’s. No researcher or guide we had contact with had ever seen this owl and the locations where specimens were taken so long ago had lost most of their native habitat. No sweat, all we needed to do was find a screech-owl along the south-eastern Pacific coast of Oaxaca (or at least within 50 miles of the coastline) with an unrecognizable vocalization. With a little inside info of where to look from Michael Carmody, a top guide here in the US, we quickly located the Oaxaca Screech-Owl. The problem was that it stayed buried deep in thick thorn forests and was so timid that we spent five nights traveling every back road we could find to get a glimpse of this owl (and every day pre-scouting for proper habitat).