I had heard song sparrows alarm many times before but this was the first time in my bird language career when I noticed a distinctly syncopated rhythm to the alarm calls. Hearing the multiple birds calling in this way created a strange acoustical effect that made it sound like they were both trying to talk over each other.
It caught my attention and I was very curious to figure out what was happening.
As I moved in more closely I slowed down & started walking softly so that I wouldn't disturb whatever scene was taking place. The feeling I got from the whole situation was an intense fear for safety coming from the sparrows. It was as if that fear was coming through the sounds they were making.
As I peered over the edge of the street I suddenly saw the source of their distress as a small bird about the size of a robin popped up to land on a vine maple. It looked me right in the eye and I could see it's hooked beak, large eyes and curious stare clearly in front of me. It was a pygmy owl!
The sparrows responded to the new location of the owl and adjusted their views to account for the zone of safety they had to maintain around it. They seemed really worried... I had seen pygmy owls before(even one in the midst of eating a varied thrush) but never with this much alarmed intensity around them.
What was it about this owl that had stirred up the sparrows so much?
Was it hunting time? Does this owl have a reputation along the creek?
Maybe the alarms had always been there and I just hadn't noticed them.
I watched as the pygmy owl flew down the creek & out of sight only to be chased by the sparrows. It was cool to notice that I could hear the location of its new perch by following the movements of the sparrow alarms.
I listened for a couple more minutes and then the sounds started to die off. The sparrows came back along the creek towards me and went back to their usual maintenance behaviors.
Realizing that the owl had flown off in the opposite direction I continued on my way and left the song sparrows in peace.