Monday, November 5, 2012

2013 owling

Intro

In 2012 I tried to find all fifteen species of Northwestern owls. I failed. I didn't see a boreal owl. With the same goal in mind I tried again.........

12.29.13 The whole family took an afternoon walk through Reed Canyon. I was hoping for a barred owl, but instead chanced upon a roosting screech owl. It was a very brown bird with prominent ear tufts. Perhaps surprisingly, I found it just 100' from the remains of a screech owl killed by a Cooper's hawk earlier in the month.

12.22.13 I hiked down the steep bank from Wilheim Mausoleum to Oaks Bottom. I then started working the trail south-bound for screech owls. Just south of the viewing platform I found a silent screech owl. (I have become increasingly aware that owls frequently fly in to tape, often without calling. Scanning with  a flashlight a few minutes after taping is a great way to locate these silent owls if they are not seen flying in).

 12.21.13 I travelled down to Linn county with the whole family to track down a burrowing owl. We found the owl right away perched by a flooded culvert on Brandon Road, near Halsey.
This was the first time that Tui had seen a burrowing owl.
Eventually the owl squatted to avoid some over zealous photographers:
 Poor neglected Charlie:


12.15.13 On my fifth attempt I located a barred owl first reported to me a week ago by Rhett. I eventually found the owl at the entrance to Reed Canyon, trying to roost in a large cedar. It was being energetically mobbed by several dozen crows and a pair of stellar's jays. Beatiful! Strix owls are just the best.  (On my third attempt I found the sad remains of a Western screech owl who had been eaten by a cooper's hawk).

12.7.13 I drove from Tui's mom's house in Federal Way, WA to Moscow, ID through the night. Apart from the cold, it was a quiet beautiful drive. Just west of Othello, WA I saw a road side barn owl. I arrived at Moscow at sunrise and pulled into the Eastside Market parking lot

(If you have sharp eyes you may see that the temperature at Eastside Market is five degrees that morning). As soon as I arrived I saw the hawk owl in a distant pine tree.  I soon got great views through the scope. A couple of times the owl called it's kestrel-like chatter. I also got to see it fly on several occasions.


Here is a cell phone photo taken through my scope. I was struck how amazingly long the flank feathers were. What an incredible owl!

At one point it had perched on a street sigh on the median of a fairly busy street, and I became quiet worried it would be struck by a passing car if it flew.

Just beautiful. What a beautiful little owl.


11.30.13 The whole family went to LL Stub Stewart State park. At the upper end of the park, where the trail for unfit settlement lookout starts, I was able to elicit an intermittent Northern pygmy owl response. Alas, it wasn't a particularly aggressive bird, and I wasn't able to get a view.

11.24.13 Ziggy and I went on a day time owling road trip to Umatilla. Our first stop was to drive up the Celilo-Wasco Highway. Just east of Welk Road I saw a great-horned owl perched on a roadside utility pole at first light. A little further to the east at the intersection of Locust Grove Road, I found a singing great-horned owl also perched on a roadside utility pole.

At Mc Neary Dam I found a great horned owl roosting in a small ponderosa. This bird was really close and I got amazing views of it's huge eyes.

On the return journey I saw another roadside great-horned owl at dusk about 1 mile east of the Dalles Dam along side the interstate.

11.3.13 I visited Smith and Bybee lakes after dark. Near the entrance I heard a great-horned owl sing. Soon after I heard a barn owl screech a couple of times. It was a strange place to owl. I felt nervous that my car would get broken into or towed. The orange glow form sodium lights was surprisingly bright, even out at the end of the trail.

10.26.13 I returned to Calliope Crossing. About a quarter of a mile west of the crossing I relocated the Northern pygmy owl. I got brief in flight views. A half a mile west of the crossing I taped out a beautiful Great-horned owl. It flew between three perches and sung for several minutes. By slowly fading light I could see it's white throat and ear tufts before a shooting star passed over us.

10.2013 I went to Oak Island road to look for barn owls after dark. I heard one call several times in response to my tape, but it refused to show it's self. It was an amazing night, with a big bright moon, a thin low fog, above which trees and barns floated. All around coyotes yowled and cried, while sandhills bugled.

10.13.13 I walked around Oak's Bottom on a clear breezy night. I was greeted by a chorus of coyotes. I got a single response from a screech owl about 100 yards north of the south entrance to the east trail. I located a perched brown phase screech owl, perched low in a bush. Surprisingly it hard a barb like whisker that protruded 3" from it's right side of its chest. It did not appear like a foreign body such as a porcupine spine or piece of plant. I suspect that it was a barb-less feather that had mutated.

9.8.13 The whole family went to Oak Island Road to look for barn owls at dusk. It was a beautiful night, and although we failed to find barn owls, we did hear a great-horned owl singing at mp2.5.

9.3.13 Charlie, Ziggy and I too a walk along the east side of Oaks Bottoms. I found a roosting screech owl in a small conifer about 100m north of the south gate. (I had seen screech owls roosting in the same conifer in 2011). Just north of the mausoleum, we found the young barred owl. It was actively hunting, which was quite comic, as it was a terrible flier. It crashed through the trees, making lots of noise. It also was very energetic when perching; peering and extending its neck, and sometimes letting it's wings hang loose.

9.2.13 The whole family walked along the east side of Oaks bottoms to look for a barred owl that I had seen 10 days ago. On the return, just north of the mausoleum, we saw it just above the trail at dusk.

9.1.13 I awoke early and after a coffee, Ziggy and I walked over to Malheur headquarters where we soon relocated the great-horned owl roosting above the bathrooms in a cottonwood. I ran into a local birder, Tim, from Burns. He suggested Benson Pond as a good site for Barn Owls. While driving the southern section of the Central Patrol Road, I saw a roosting great-horned owl above the Blitzen. This bird was much grayer than the brown bird at the headquarters.



At Benson Pond, I found at least three more great-horned owls. All were very gray. Two were clearly juvenile birds. They were very tame, and emitted a screech-like yelp. The mosquitoes were fucking horrible!


8.31.13 A banner day! During the night I heard a great-horned owl singing near the tent. Then at first light a pygmy owl sang a very rapid, almost trilling series of toots. I walked the creek side to the west with Ziggy at dawn and saw a red-shouldered hawk and a white-headed woodpecker.  Then we set off on our long drive to Malhuer. Along the way I saw a ferruginous hawk and a few Swainson's. I stopped at Ruh Red Road, but was unable to find any Burrowing owls. Ziggy and I were tormented by thousands of no-see-ums.

Next we headed to the headquarters at Malhuer, where I found a roosting Great-horned owl. This bird was quiet brown. (Being in a desert environment I had expected a paler bird).

After driving the northern section of the central patrol road, we headed to the South entrance road to the Steens. Bob Archer had kindly given me directions to where he had seen long-eareds back in June. The site was 2.5 miles up the road, between a rough track to the south and a gated road to the north. The site was the ridge top to the south of the road. After 20 minutes I had surveyed the few trees on the ridge to no avail. Not even pellets or feathers. Immediately to my west was a dried up water coarse, with junipers on either side. I explored this watercourse, and followed it to the south. I found a few tell tail signs, a stick nest with pellets beneath, three feathers and some white wash on another tree. Eventually we flushed a long eared! I was able to get good in flight views. Eventually we cam to a small pond were Ziggy cooled off.



Back at the car I celebrated with a cold beer. Then we headed back to Ruh Red road. Again we were devoured by insects, and despite our suffered I saw no Burrowing owls. We drove east along Rur Red, and stopped on the bridge over West fork of the Silvies river. It was dusk, and down the channel I could see a ruined farm. Perched on the roof was a singing great-horned owl. I watched the owl for several minutes. It was a beautiful scene. Just up the road, I flushed a burrowing owl. It disappeared into the sage brush. I briefly played a tape, and it returned to the road. I got amazing views as it flew around the car, looking very alert. About a mile from the bridge I flushed a short-eared owl from the roadside. Judging from how dark the bird appeared, I suspect it was a female. Shortly after I saw another great-horned perched on a utility pole. Amazing! I looped back to 205, by way of Embree Bridge lane. I kept my eye out for barn owls, and even checked a few barns, but to no avail. We camped in an abandoned quarry adjacent to Malheur headquarters. In previous years barn owls had lived in the quarry, but it had been excavated substantially over the years and I could not find them this night. None the less, it had been an amazing day. I built a small camp fire, and reflected on my fifteenth and final Northwest owl of 2013.

8.30.13 Ziggy and I left Portland on a hot Friday afternoon. We drove out east Estacada way to beat the holiday traffic and made it to Calliope Crossing near Sister's as the sun was setting.  As soon as I had pitched the tent, we walked east, parallel to the creek. I played a tape for pygmy ow, and about 1/4 mile down the trail, I heard a distant response. The owl flew in to a near by tree, and I eventually saw it flying between two big Pondarosa pines.

After dinner, I tried the riparian area for Long-eared owls. I worked the area west of the crossing, with no luck. I eventually returned to the area where I had seen the pygmy owl. No Long-eared owls responded, but I did hear at least three great-horned owls.

8.23.13 While driving home from work, Rhett called to say he had seen a young barred owl below the mausoleum at Oaks Bottom. I arrived there half an hour later and eventually located the bird by the SW corner of the mausoleum. I got great views of the bird roosting low in a chestnut tree. About an hour later I returned with Tui and Charlie, who both got great views.

8.16.13 The family and Lina Jr and I were driving across Sauvie. About 1/3 mile north of the intersection of Reeder and Gilihan loop road I saw two great-horned owls at dusk perched on utility poles.

8.11.13 Rhett Wilkins and I went to Sauvies Island for a couple of hours of daytime owling. We tried for barn owl at the barns about a mile along Oak Island Road and also at the abandoned farm at the end of the road. We struck out at both sites. Amazingly Rhett was able to find three barn owls roosting in conifers along the road. What was particularly impressive was his ability to find the owls without flushing them. Instead of peering between the branches and flushing the owls as I usually do, Rhett  looked for holes in the dense foliage, that the owls use to fly in and out of the dense conifers. By looking carefully through the holes to the center of the tree, Rhett found three beautiful barn owls. We also checked the nearby slough for roosting great-horned owls, but found non.

8.8.13 I explored Deschutes State park and the canyons of Wasco County looking for long-eared owls. It was a hot and stormy night. It rained lightly on and off, and above me the sky lit up by lightening. The air was heavy with the smell of damp, oily sage. I biked from the entrance if the park up to a small group of threes about 3.5 miles in. My only success was a heard only barn owl about 2 miles down Locust Drive.

8.2.13 Tui, Charlie, Ziggy, Lena and I visited Puget Island. We stayed at the Stockhouse Farm. At dusk, I saw a pair of barn owls flying around. In the neighboring barn, I found 5 almost fledged young barn owls.

7.28.13 I visited Hagg Lake in Washington County after dark to look for long-eared owls. I didn't see and long-eareds, but I did hear a great-horned at the far end of the lake. More details on the site are available at http://thebirdguide.com/washington/site_guides/hagg_lake/hagg_lake.htm .

7.14.13 Based on a sighting of a couple of juvenile long-eared owls by Russ Namitz, I went to J S Burres state park, about 17 miles south east of Wasco. The owls were reported from the first copse of trees northwest of the bridge on the left side of Highway 206. I carefully combed the few trees, and found a dead long-eared owl. I explored the state park until it got dark. At dusk I heard a great horned owl near the park headquarters. At the copse, I tried for long-eared, but got no response. Back at the bridge, a young barn owl calling from a column under the bridge. I got good views of a very dark barn owl. At the intersection of Locust Grove and Highway 206 (a few miles northwest of Wasco), I heard two juvenile barn owls, begging.

7.6.13 Over the fourth of July holiday I had read about a pair of breeding hawk owls in northern Washington. Because I was on call for that week, I had to wait a couple of days before I would get a chance to look for them.

After dropping Tui and Charlie of at her families place in Federal way, Ziggy and I drove through the night to Winthrop. Even at night time, highway 20 was beautiful. I could make our the huge mountains above me as I drove through the North Cascades. I narrowly missed a pair of raccoon on the road, and also saw deer, elk and a coyote. Just east of Panther Creek, in the North Cascades I had a mid sized owl fly overhead. I suspect it was a long-eared owl, but for reasons I can't explain, I didn't want to be distracted from my quest, and didn't bother to stop.

At Winthrop, I took forest road 37 to the northeast, then forest road 39 for 3.8 miles. I arrived a little after dawn at 530. I spent the next 5 hours covering progressively further clearings and roads from the site. Walking off trail was pretty rough. A lot of the ground was uneven and wet.  A major burn years back had downed many lodgepole pines, making walking strenuous.

At one point I thought I head the begging calls of young hawk owls, but I was fooled by a pair of gray jays.

At approximately mp 4.2, along Brown Meadows Creek I saw a distant bird high on a dead pine. It was a hawk owl! Wow. I was able to sneak up on the owl, which was buy hunting. I eventually got really nice views of it as it actively hunted from a perch. Several times it called-a softer version of a kestrels whinnying chatter. To my right, I heard a second bird calling, and soon I had even better views of it hunting.

On my way back to the car, I ran into four car loads of birders and was able to show them one of the hawk owls.

The drive back to Winthrop was mostly coasting down hill, which was good, because I had driven 420 miles since fueling, and the car was running on fumes.

6.30.13 The whole family was walking in Tryon Creek. We heard several Robins calling, which alerted us to a great-horned owl. I got brief views, but he flew away before Tui and Charlie could see it.

6.22.13 We had made our way from Lost Creek down to Elk Lake resort, southwest of Bend. At dusk I left everyone at the cabin, and drove to Virginia Meissner Snow Park. This is the site where I had seen flammulated owls last year. As soon as a played my tape, I got a distant response. I tracked down the bird about 300m into the forest. Soon I had two birds singing in response to my tape. I got very brief views, perhaps a flam or just a bat? I pursued the birds, but this was difficult. Under foot there was a lot of fallen wood, making my progress very noisy. These tiny owls can be real bastards to get a view of. After twenty minutes I decided to give these two owls a break, so sat down to take a rest. I decided to find some new owl to harass, but when an owl called near by, I could not resist trying again. I snook under the singing bird, doing my best to stay on the grass and avoid the noisy fallen wood. I knew I was close when I heard a tiny soft growl above me. Wow, there in my light was a perfect tiny owl. This is the first time I have seen a flam in full color! All previous sightings were in silhouette. No sooner had I sighted the owl, it took off and disappeared into the thick firs. Still I was really happy to get a color view of this fantastic little owl.

6.21.13 The whole family was camped out at Lost Creek camp-ground in Clackamas County. While walking the nature trail to the beaver dam at dusk we heard some Stellar's jays alarm call, followed by a barred owl song. I ran back to the car and grabbed my owling gear. In response to my tape, I got a couple of birds to sing. Typical of many barred owls, they did not fly in to the tape.

6.16.13 I headed out to Lolo Pass, in Clackamas County, at dusk. I left the civic and biked out down a forest road into the mountains. The first area I explored was mostly scrappy forest. I saw lots of nighthawks, but no owls. I eventually made my way to mid-elevation forest. I stopped every half mile to listen for spotted owls. Around mid night I found a beautiful spotted owl. I got decent views, as it was perched low in a tree. The bird sung, which was just amazing. I could hardly believe my luck! What a brilliant bird. It was a long steep bike ride back to the car, but made so much easier having found my bird.

 6.8.13 The three of us continued to check out various nesting platforms for great gray owls. We eventually found an adult bird at Emerald Ponds. (Go 1/2 mile west from the freeway on Road 21, turn left on road 800. About a mile down 800, we turned right on road 802, which we traveled down for 1/2 mile, until we came to a dead tree on the right. We parked and walked to the right, at a diagonal, following the trees for about a 1/4 until we reached two ponds. The owl was 100 yards to the left of the far pond. It was absolutely beautiful!

We then made our way west to Heppner, then traveled south on Highway 207 to the national forest. We camped in the forest off of road 100 and heard a singing flammulated owl that night.

6.7.13 Charlie, Ziggy and I drove to Spring Creek Wildlife Management area in the blue mountains. We drove 3.4 miles west on road 21, then turned left on road 2155, and continued about a mile to road 050 on the right. An 1/8th of a mile up road 050, we found wildlife photographer Scott Carpenter and a barely fledged great gray owl in a low perch. In the adjacent gully an adult owl was waiting.  Amazingly easy.  I chatted with Scott who gave me some good information about owls in the area.

We then drove back towards the freeway and camped by the creek off of road 21. Here we heard a flammulated owl briefly at dusk, and a great-horned owl during the night.

5.20.13 I return to road 58 off of Skyline Road in Mt Hood National forest. One mile down the road from Skyline I taped in a barred owl. The bird perched 50' up in a conifer and sang loudly from an exposed perch. Nearby I heard a triple soft hoot. The notes were similar to a long eared owl, of about half a second duration and the spacing was about half a second. I suspect a long-eared owl. I also asked David Johnson who suggested the same, or great gray owl. The great gray that I heard called at Spring creek sounded very similar (6.7.13)

5.18.13 At the usual camping spot off of Dufur Gap road, Tui, Charlie and I were camping. Charlie woke us at 1am, and soon after we heard a western screech owl singing just above our tent.

5.15.13 I followed up on a report of a pair of long-eared owls near the John Day river. The exact location of the report is 44.862486 -120.409679.  It was a long drive, and then when I got there, I had a hard time figuring out the exact location. Eventually I figured I needed to take the closed dirt track that starts a half a mile after the road closed sign. The track lead to an area of dry pines and juniper. I spent a couple of hours taping for the owls but got no response. On the return drive I flushed a big great-horned owl just east of Maupin.

5.11.13. Tui and I were in the yard at 930pm when we heard a barn owl screech a few times from  a tall tree in the neighbor's yard. We tried to spotlight it, but were unable to.

5.4.13 I set up to visit the burrowing owl project at the Umatilla Chemical Weapons depot.  The project was organized by David Johnson djowl@aol.com as part of the global owl project globalowlproject.com . David kindly allowed me to watch (and lend a hand) with the research on burrowing owls.  I arrived mid afternoon and it was hot, dry and dusty. David arrived soon after with a team of volunteers. They had been installing artificial burrows, which has been a very effective way to support the owls. (Especially since badgers have been extirpated from the depot).

David showed me the results from his research. Remarkably the female birds disperse to California, while the males move north to the Yakima area. He proposed that the females go to access the best food, while the males stay relatively nearby so that they can quickly return to the best territories early each spring.

In the early evening we started setting traps for the owls. For trapping females, a trap is placed at the end of the nest burrow. To trap males, a trap with a mp3 player and speaker playing a male song, is placed in a nearby burrow, or if only one burrow is present, in a decoy burrow. Remarkably this is very effective and we caught 3 out of 4 pairs in two hours. We also saw three other birds when driving around. I got to handle the birds, which was amazing. They are so small in the hand. Overall they were very calm in the hand, and their only protest being occasionally bill clapping. Blood was drawn for most birds, as part of a second project to see if burrowing owl could be a vector for the plague. (They carry the same fleas that transmit the plague).

The north side of the depot was a beautiful grassland complete with singing curlews and coyotes.

4.30.13 Tui and I were at the fire fit in the back yard when we heard a barn owl call multiple times at dusk.

4.6.13 Tui, charlie, Ziggy, Lina and I went to Puget Island, WA. We stayed at Rog's retreat, at Stockhouse farm. Surrounding the cabin was some rough pasture and a lot of small coniferous trees. Charlie and I set about checking the conifers for roosting owls. We flushed a rare Columbia white tailed deer. Soon we found a tree splattered with white-wash and strewn with pellets. Above us a male barn owl emerged from it's roost and flew to an adjacent tree. Nearby we found a second, also male barn owl. Both owls flew into a conifer next to our cabin, so we were able to show the owls to Tui and Lena. 

Tui, Charlie and I then went to explore an adjacent barn. Inside we found an owl box and an owl platform  Perched next to the platform, a beautiful female barn owl. This bird had a remarkably dark back and upper wings. Fortunately the bird did not flush, and we got excellent, but brief views.

Around dusk, our host Bob, came over and we go talking about owls. he mentioned that the barn owls nested in the barn. He also said that great-horned's sometimes call from the cottonwoods behind his house. Later that night while building a fire in the rain  sure enough a great horned started singing. Despite the fairly heavy rain I was able to track the owl down. It was a beautiful, very dark male, with a very conspicuous white throat, perched in a spruce next to a canal.

3.12.13 I owled Tryon Creek, starting at Boone's Ferry Road. It was an uneventful night. I did hear a great-horned owl calling from the usual gully north of the visitor's center.  In the same area I heard a raspy screech, like a barn owl, but not as harsh. I suspect this was a young great-horned begging for food.

3.3.13 I owled Mt Talbert in Clackamas County. Near the summit I heard a distant Saw-whet owl, which did not call a second time. At the far NW corner I heard a great-horned owl calling. On the lower west side I heard a western screech owl. Finally in the far south east corner I heard a great horned owl-probably a second bird given the distance-about 1.5 miles. Disappointingly I was not able to get a look at any of these owls.

2.24.13 Ziggy and I went to Sauvie's island. About 1/4 mile east of Coon Point I saw a barn owl perched along the road side. I was able to stop and get pretty decent views. We tried but failed to see a barred owl that Andy Frank had reported from the blue heron nursery area of the island. We then headed for Tryon where I got a very distant single response from a barred owl at the North end of the park. Unfortunately the bird did not come in. A little north of the visitor's center I heard a loudly calling great-horned owl in the same place that dad and I saw a pair of birds last year.

1.26.13 After reading about a recent sighting of a roosting western screech owl at Oaks Bottom. Ziggy and I went to the northern "Frog Pond". I found the owl roosting in a nearby fir tree. It was a brown phase bird. We clearly interested it, as it elongated it's posture as we approached and raised it's ear-tufts. It also turned its head to follow us as we walked around it.
That afternoon the whole family went to LL "Stub" Stewart State Park. While walking near the cabins we heard a distant saw-whet respond to our pygmy owl tape at dusk. Later after night had fallen, under a brilliant full moon, I heard a saw whet calling near our cabin. I walked towards the bird, and played a tape. Moments later I saw the bird fly in. It appeared narrower-winged than a screech owl-though that may have been the perspective. I got excellent views for two minutes-the white hair-like markings that encircle the face are very curious to me. Are they little whiskers? Or perhaps white center shafts of feathers. Amazing. One of my favorite owls.


1.21.13 Charlie, Ziggy and I went to Sauvie's island to track down a reported spotted owl. We didn't find the barred owl, but did flush a barn owl from a red barn adjacent to the marina on the east side of the island. Just south of the county line on Reeder Road we found a silhouetted great-horned owl perched in an oak. Just east of Coon Point we saw a second great-horned owl perched in a tree. And just west of Coon point a second barn owl flew across the road.

1.19.13 I visited Stanwood WA, in pursuit of Snowy Owls. Just like last winter, the birds were perched along the dike across from Thomle Road. I walked part way across the marshy fields and got pretty decent views of one very white male bird, including some great in flight views. When flying the wings were noticeably pointed for an owl. In total I saw three snowies. I also saw three short-eared owls.
Further north I visited west 90( on Samish Island Road) , where 54 short-eared owls roost. I enjoyed absolutely fantastic views of the hunting short eareds. I heard a lot of calling birds, their call reminded me of the call of a flushed snipe, but a little softer. I waited until dusk, as a long-eared was reported in the area. Despite braving the bitter cold, the long-eared failed to show itself.

1.13.13 Charlie, Ziggy and I walked east along Broughton Beach. At the end of the beach I saw a distant short eared owl flying mid channel over the Colombia. Later, just west of the Sea Scout Base, we flushed a dark-probably female short-eared owl from the rocky bank of the Columbia. On the return we saw a distant Short-eared owl flying high above the river. This bird appeared much lighter and may have been a male.

1.6.13 The whole family went to Hagg Lake. Starting at Scroggins Creek, we walked counter clockwise along the road. It was very quiet and slightly misty. Unfortunately Charlie cried almost the whole walk. At Sain Ck, I got a good response to a pygmy owl tape. Although the bird was very close it was quite elusive. Like many pygmies, it flew about between three trees, and eventually I could pin it down and get a decent view despite the rapidly fading light. When calling it's throat was conspicuously puffed and white-just like a great-horned owl's.
A few minutes later a pair of great horned owls started singing. I taped a couple of times, but it was still very light, and Charlie was tired and upset, so we didn't linger.
Plans

An owling trip on the Shuttleworth Ck Road, E. of Ok Falls, produced a
BOREAL OWL and 2 NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS (CC,m.ob). The Boreal was at the
traditional location at km 23.

The BOREAL OWL was at Rabbit Lake, which is at km 22 on the
Shuttleworth Ck Rd,

A BOREAL OWL
was heard at km 25 on the Shuttleworth Ck Road on the 22nd as well

At about 0445, we were at km 22 of
Shuttleworth Creek Road in spruce habitat,
standing on the road, when the haunting
call of a Boreal owl broke the still air right
beside us

Hagg Lake


Owls
Numerous owls can be found around Hagg Lake throughout the year. Windless, dry nights in April are excellent for hearing these birds. The Stimson lumber mill below the dam operates all night, with hissing steam and owl-like beeping forklifts, so listening for owls at night is best done away from the south end of the lake. Northern Saw-whet Owls are often heard in conifer and mixed woods at the foot of Lee Road, near Stepien Road overlooking the lake, and near Nelson Road. Western Screech-Owls are most frequently heard in the oak groves and deciduous creek bottoms on the east side of the lake, especially near Nelson Road. Great Horned Owls can be heard at Sain Creek and Tanner Creek. Long-eared Owls are rare but regular. Most have been heard near Recreation Area A West, but also recently near Scoggins Creek Picnic Area and Sain Creek Picnic Area. Northern Pygmy-Owls are most-often detected at dawn and dusk near conifer woods in the Scoggins Creek arm of the lake.
http://thebirdguide.com/washington/site_guides/hagg_lake/hagg%20lake%2012.jpg

Saturday, July 28, 2012

2014 Philippines Trip Report



Philippines January -February 2014

I travelled to the Philippines in 2002 and 2010 on general birding trips. On these trips I saw Eastern grass owl, Palawan, lowland Luzon, Mantanani and Giant scops owls, spotted wood owl and Luzon and chocolate hawk-owls. The purpose of this trip was to look for other Philippine owls that I had missed on the last two trips.

Jan 18th Tui's family dropped me off at PDX. I feel guilty leaving 6 month pregnant Tui with Charlie for 3 weeks, especially for putting myself in harm's way, when my family is so vulnerable. Once I step onto the plane, these concerns fade. It's a beautiful sunny afternoon. At SFO its a beautiful spring-like afternoon. PAL is using an old 747 to fly to Manila-I always have a hard time believing these giant planes can fly.

Jan 19th was lost to the international date line. This is still weird to me.

Jan 20th. After a couple of hours sleep I arrive in Manila around 3am. My plan for today is to go to Subic, and area of lowland forest to look for the rare and magnificent Philippine eagle-owl. Manila feels familiar and comfortable to me. It's busy despite the hour.

I catch a cab to the Victory Liner terminal on Rizal Ave.  The lady security guard at the bus terminal grills me about my marital situation and intentions at Subic. (As a former US naval base its still a popular place for sex tourists). For excellent birding information on Subic I used http://www.birding2asia.com/W2W/Philippines/Subic.html . My bus drops me off at Olangapo, and from there I take a cab to the Crown Peak Hotel in Subic. I kill some time catching up on sleep and prepping for the night. That afternoon I explore the forest along the road to the hospital and down to the bay. The forest at Subic is great and I run into a group of macaques and some huge roosts of flying foxes.

After a meal I sleep some more. My alarm goes off at 6pm, and I have to struggle to rouse my sorry self. Outside I feel better, it's a beautiful sunset and a warm breeze flows off the South China Sea. I hear an owl, that sounded like a Chocolate Boobook, but I can't get it to respond to my tape. Along the road to the hospital I find four Luzon hawk-owls without taping-just by the street lights. I also hear several more! I also hear a couple of lowland Luzon scops-owls and finally tape one in for a great view along the waterfall trail near the hospital. I love the crazy white eye-brows that flow into the ear-tufts. Its an amazing looking owl. And twice the size of the hawk-owls. Along the trail I find a beautiful 9' python.

Back at the hotel grounds in response to my tape I hear a distant eagle-owl far below to the south east. It does not fly in, so I make the long walk down towards the Mangrove Trail. I never did hear another call. It was getting late, and I was tired and thirsty, but I persevered, and a few kilometers later I came to a road on the left that parallels a creek. On it's right is a large gated building. A dog barked and a security guard buzzed me with his flashlight, but I continued down the side road. At the end of the building a big owl flew from a street light into an open tree. I was able to spotlight it-a Philippine eagle owl! My most wanted owl in the Philippines! I got within 20 meters and got great looks at its massive golden eyes, big gray bill, streaked flanks, big feet, short tail, and dark flight feathers. Wow! What a brilliant owl.

I pressed on down the road looking for Chocolate boobook. At the end of the road another guy with a flashlight started spotlighting me. I made a hasty u-turn and snook back to the coast road. I played tapes along the road back to the hotel but got no responses. After 30km of walking I was exhausted by the time (4am) I got back to the hotel. I fell into a fitful sleep filled with dreams. Every time I woke I remember-I have seen it!

Jan 21st I wake at 10am. I decide that I would like to go for Chocolate boobook tonight-a bird I have seen before, but it would be new for the trip. After a heavy Filipino breakfast, I head out to Olangapo. Before heading to the Mountain Woods Resort where the boobook had been reported, I check the bus schedule and to my dismay see that the last bus to Manila leaves at 730pm. This does not give me time to look for the boobook, so I catch the next bus back to Manila.

I arrive in Pasay, which at rush hour is a bit intense with dusty street whores and shoeless waifs wandering around in traffic. I grab some street food, and (struggle) to find a hotel that's not a brothel. I sleep early and well after last night's efforts.

January 22nd I am up at 230am. After a hot shower, I feel ready to take on the world. I catch a cheep cab to the airport. The terminal feels so familiar after spending so many hours there on my 2010 trip with Shaun.  By deftly hiding my second bag, I am able to dodge the weight restrictions on the flight to Basco in the Batanes. (The Batanes are a group of remote island halfway to Taiwan. They are home to Elegant scops-owl. The form that occurs on the Batanes may be split into a Philippine endemic, the Calayan Scops-owl. Either way it was a new owl for me). The flight started beautifully, ascending above Manila's orange dusty dawn. As we flew into Basco the flight got progressively rougher. I fucking hate those kind of flights, and by the time we were in final approach, plunging haphazardly towards the ground, I was sick with fear. Moments before we violently bounced down the runway, some old guy gets up to take a piss! Everyone shouted at him to take a seat. What a fucking relief to be alive.
I stayed at Shanedels Inn. Despite a couple of recommendations, the place was chaotic. In front of the hotel, a big surf ate away at the cliff beneath Shanedels, and pounded the hulk of a collapsed freighter that had died by the wharf. I had a  tough time finding something good to eat in town. Eventually I found a tiny cafe that served tinier plates of pancit. I asked for the tourist office, where they purportedly had maps. I was told that it was closed. When will it open? "Later". I make do with Google maps and figure out a route into the forest that hopefully avoids the strong winds which have me worried that they will ruin the owling tonight. I head out to the west side of Mt Iraya and eventually find some reasonable forest. It's really windy here, so the key to finding a good owling site, is to find forested gullys.

Back in town I ate some salted barbecue pork belly. Cold and pretty much devoid of meat, its hard to stomach. I laze around in waiting for the day to end. At 5pm I set out back along the same route going north west of town towards Mt Iraya. Part of the route goes through an incredibly windy gap to a shoreline road that runs past the relentlessly pounding ocean. At a small bridge in the low point of the road I turn right and go inland following a dry river bed. At my third attempt a largish scops owl flies in and perches obviously. I get a great view of an Elegant (Calayan) scops-owl-yellow eyes, small ear tufts, weakly marked underparts, brownish chest fading to an ochre-yellow belly. The bird made a double note call, given at 20 second intervals. (The same quality as George Wager's recordings: http://www.xeno-canto.org/53943 from Calayan, but with a wider interval). The bird also made both a soft bark and a short quiet bark. A half a kilometer upstream I hear a second bird. A kilometer higher up the main track I hear a third bird. Eventually a barking dog convinces me to turn around. On the way back I try taping in the hedgerows and gardens, but find nothing. Given the wind, I feel lucky to have found the owl so easily.

Jan 25th. Despite my best efforts to sleep in I wake at 5am. Surprisingly I am greeted by a calm day and blue skies follow. The ocean looks beautiful. I watch a plucky little open boat depart for the neighboring island of Itbayat.

Breakfast is pretty horrific-fried canned sausage and fried bread. I try and walk it off by exploring the woods around the airport, then decide to hire a motor bike to better explore the island. The ride was pretty fun-I explore the whole island. I had coffee at Honesty Coffee House-where there is no shopkeeper-just an honesty box. A celebration of the honesty of the local people. On the east coast the scenery is really wild-mostly treeless with grazing animals and wild bluffs pounded by big waves. I stopped here and there, but mostly it was fun just to ride. At one point I left the bike, and when I returned it had blown over in the wind-breaking off a mirror. Towards the end of the ride I scoped out some owling locations near Basco.

Back in Basco, I replaced the mirror for 195 pesos. After that I killed time walking and emailing. Tui had found an online recommendation for six to eight Panciteria, which was indeed a much better place to eat.

At dusk I walked along the western side of the airport. It was a beautiful scene, the people of Basco using the airfield as a park, taking an evening walk or bike ride, girls and boys flirting with the setting sun. After dark, I owled alongside the airport, but to no avail. I then checked the Contracosta road for owls, but found none. A bit defeated, I had a drink back in my room and called it an early night.

Jan 24th I awoke to another beautiful dawn at Basco. I packed, had a coffee and watched the ocean. The bill was irregular, which is always irritating to deal with. "Fake Casio calculator" was the explanation!

As I thought about my schedule, I realized I was going to have a hard time reaching Mt Polis tonight. (Mt Polis is in Northern Luzon and is a reliable location for Luzon scops-owl). This wasn't helped by having to check my tent poles-because they were considered a potential weapon. At least the flight to Manila was sweet and smooth. I grab a cab to the Quezon Victory Liner station. It's a long hot ride and the cabbie complains about the lousy governance of the Philippines. It's a long wait for the next bus (to Solano). A woman selling soft drinks eagerly inquires about my marital status-when I need a second drink, I decide to head round the corner to Seven Eleven, where drinks come without propositions. It's a long slow ride to Solano, and I don't arrive until 9pm. It's too late to make it to Mount Polis, so I stay at the AMPM hotel. I feel a bit deflated not to be owling tonight and wish for my own wheels.

Jan 25th I am up early at 4am, and after a shower feel ready to face the world. I only have to wait ten minutes for a Jeepney to head off to Lagawe. As we ascend the cordillera the sky turns orange, then is briefly obscured by mist, then returns brilliant blue. It's wonderfully chilly. At Lagawe I have a minute for a coffee and a scrawny thigh of fried chicken.

Its a short slow ride to Banaue. there I have a quick meal, check email, then charter a motor trike to Mt Polis. Fortunately I can remember the way-because my driver starts me in the wrong direction. Christian Artuso had been owling here in 2012 and recommended Hannah's Coffee House as a place to stay at Mt Polis. (This is way better than camping). I was put up in an upstairs bedroom at Hannah's, and I was also shown the trail system that starts at a large Virgin Mary Statue. The trail system wasn't bad-at least 2km though mossy forest interspersed with small fields. I saw a couple of Luzon Racket tails which was a new bird for me.

Back at Hannah's I refueled on noodles and coffee. I then made my way north on the main road towards Bontoc. When taking a roadside piss, I splash on a coiled black snake that is tied by it's mouth to a stake. I can't tell if it's caught in a trap, or has eaten a smaller snared animal. Regardless it's disturbing!
By now is hot and sunny, which is a welcome reprieve from the earlier cold and mist. At a small water feature a couple of kilometers down the road I find a Luzon jungle-flycatcher. There isn't much along the road that inspires me to owl here at night, although the open pine forests below offer the promise of a new habitat from the cloud forest along the peaks and ridges. On the way back to the summit I get a ride from a couple of friendly guys in a van. After a Coke and a quick rest I check out the main road to the south of the pass, where I don't find much good habitat and soon give up.

Back at the summit around dusk I eat some good beef stew, have another Coke and am then ready for the night. I head back along the trail that starts at the Virgin statue For three hours I walk the trail slowly and tape regularly. I hear a couple of intriguing sounds, but nothing materializes into an owl.  Then back at the beginning of the forest near the pass I get a response. Walking quietly towards the owl, taping as I go, a small owl flies over me. Soon I track it down, and get a great view of a Luzon scops-owl perched above the trail. I am able to see its yellow eyes, big ear-tufts, whitish supercillium, white throat, whitish belly and pale grayish -white toes. The overall color of the upper parts and chest are brown, and it's size medium small for a scops. While looking at it, it swooped down and landed into bush right next to me, then took off and grabbed a vine, from which it momentarily hung before flying off into a larger tree. Once in the tree it continued calling only this time instead of uttering a single note, it made a two note call. Excellent! This was a really wanted bird for me, having looked for it and missed it in 2002 and 2010. What an exciting owl.

I was back at Hannah's at 930pm and her place was locked as she said it would be. I tried banging on the door, and throwing gravel at the window, but got no answer. Oh well time for a Red Horse beer! I convinced a shop keeper to open up their closed store and sell me a celebratory beverage. Then back to Hannah's. After banging the door about as loudly as humanly possible I decided to get creative. I eventually climbed up some scaffolding up to a balcony on the third floor. When I knocked on the door from the balcony the very confused lady came out and let me in from the balcony.

Jan 26th I slept fitfully, too excited by last night. At 4am I was wide awake, but with nowhere to go, I lay in bed and waited for both the sun and my hostess to arise. It was an incredible sunrise over cloud-filled valleys and terraced green slopes. Above me towered Mount Polis and a perfect sky fading from orange to blue.

After a robust breakfast I began walking down the mountain, and made it 11km, before picking up a bus that took me all the way to Bagabay. From here I only have to wait a minute for a Manila-bound bus. Tedious movies ensue on a surprisingly slow journey which lands me in Cubao at 10pm. I can't face Manila at this hour, so take a cab to the airport. I spend a surprising comfortable, brief night asleep on the airport floor.

Jan 27th I am up at 230am, and check in for my very early flight to Davao. I manage to dodge the weight restrictions for carry on again. And I get to sleep a little on the short flight. I am relived to see that Davao is hot and sunny-a week ago I had seen photos of a very flooded Davao, and had been worried that this leg of the trip would be impossible because of the flooding. My plan is to travel to Mt Apo, where both Minadanao scops-owl and Mindanao hawk-owls have been reported. I take a cab to the bus terminal and the a bus out to Kidapawan (the jumping off point for Mount Apo). Without coffee I have a pounding headache, exacerbated by an ever more intense need to piss. I am much relived to take care of these needs once I arrive. Then I go to the tourist office to arrange permits for climbing Mt Apo. This is the world's friendliest tourist office-they serve me coffee, share a pizza lunch with me and sort out my permit and guide: Arnel. Arnel and I then take off to buy groceries, rum (for the cold) and fuel. Then we take a motorbike to the trail head. I start down the trail, past some hot springs and sulfur vents while Arnel picks up Durwin, our porter. We crossed a river six times, using bamboo bridges or by wading against the swift current. After a couple of hours we reach a fork in the trail and set up camp. I am not too sure of the elevation-perhaps 1300m here. Before dinner I climb the steep trail that climbs away from the river-apart from it's steepness, its a decent trail that passes through nice forest. I return at dusk and we eat a huge dinner-whenever I camp with Filipino people, it seems like an excuse to indulge in a lot of food. Arnel is really good cook, and its hard to stop eating.

After dinner it takes a while to convince Arnel to let me go out owling-go tomorrow, go when you see a moon, when its stopped raining etc. Despite his concerns that I will get lost, I take off. We agree I will return in two hours, and after three hours of very wet steep owling (for both scops and hawk-owls) I return to a worried Arnel. Back at the camp, I have a quick drink, before Arnel and Durwin polish off the rest of the bottle. Fueled by rum, I crawl into a wet tent and sleep and shiver the whole night through.

Jan 28th I awaken at first light to discover Durwin has left for civilization to pick up another bottle of rum! I have a coffee and eat and a talk with Arnel. To kill time I wander upstream and find a Goodfellow's jungle-flycatcher just past the campground. What a fabulous little bird. Then I pack my sodden gear and start the very steep hike. After 90 minutes, I am surprised to come to the next camp site, called Ko-ong which is at 1700m or so. The site is a small damp meadow, by a creek, that's populated by frogs and litter. I plan to owl above the site tonight for Mindanao Scops-owl.

We spend a lot of the middle of the day resting and eating. I try and dry out my gear when the sun briefly appears. I do a little exploring to figure out the trail ahead. Then eat again, before taking off at 4pm, up a ridiculously steep trail towards Lake Vernao. On the way up, the sky clears and reveals Mt Apo above. Inspired by the view, I start climbing quickly, and soon reach Lake Verano, and climb beyond to the treeline at about 2400m. By now its cold and dusk, so I wait for the skies to darken and the owls to come out. As I wait I see Whiteheads swiftlets and hear Bukidnon woodcock. Its pretty magical place-cold and isolated. It's a fantastic starry night, and I have high hopes, but after three hours of painstaking owling down an incredibly steep trail, I have nothing to show for my efforts. Not yet defeated I eat a big diner, then head back down the trail towards the first camp. Still no owl! At 11pm I crawl into my bag, wet and muddy to sleep.

Jan 29th At 230am I get up, and with rare discipline retrace my steps up the trail to Lake Verano, then take a right and descend steeply down a new trail. After an hour it starts to pour so I try and rush back to camp, but its all but impossible to rush on the terrain. Thoroughly soaked, I retreat into my now soaking sleeping bag and try to sleep.

At 7am, the sun awakens me. After a coffee I feel good again. Well, until I think about the scops-owl. We enjoy a breakfast of champions-pilchards and rice, then return to the trailhead. Once back in civilisation, Arnel discovers his daughter is sick with a fever. We head into Kidpanwan, where he meets with his family and takes her to the hospital. Durwin helps me out, taking me to an Internet cafe, then a restaurant, and finally to visit an old friend of Arnel's, where we wait. The friend is a decaying sort of guy, friendly but like wet cardboard or an spoiled fruit-some one you would avoid if possible. I spend the afternoon talking with Arnel's friend and washing my gear. After a few hours Arnel returns, his daughter was admitted, but he's certain she will be fine. We pack and then ride out to Barangay Perez, in Kidapawan's watershed. Here at 800m, I plan to look for Everette's scops-owl and Mindanao hawk-owl. We meet with a porter, Lorenzo, and head out to a his farm that's 3/4km above the barangay's basketball court. There is a small hut on his farm, where we stay. I am told the NPA (insurgents) are active in the area, though there is little concern about them-folks in the community seem to hold them in high esteem and show no fear of them. When we arrive, its absolutely dark. Lorenzo points out some trails, which end up being a maze of little paths through his fruit trees. I am a bit disappointed, as I had asked for access to the forest. I return and implore Arnel to help me get into the forest. Lorenzo sends me out on another trail, that's wet and muddy. It does not lead into the forest, but at least runs along the edge of it. Still no owls, and by 10pm I return to the hut. There the guys are excited, because they can hear a distant owl. I head out again with Lorenzo, and am shocked as I get closer to realize it's a Mindanao scops-owl, a rare bird at such a low elevation. My holy grail!

The owl is by a gully and the terrain is fucking horrendous-a steep viney forested slope broken up between bits of cliff. The owls calling from some very high trees, the view of them is obscured by a middle story of tree ferns. All the plants sting or have thorns. I slip and fall a lot. The owl is wholly indifferent to my tape. When I try and spotlight it, it moves on to another location, and resumes singing. I slip and fall, climb and fall, slip and climb and slide chasing that owl. And eventually give up. It's midnight and I am tired and defeated by this owl. I lie in my bag and listen to it call. Later its joined by a calling giant scops-owl. I try and ignore them both and feel terrible about myself. It's after midnight and despite the rum, I am cold. Everything is wet and muddy.

Jan 30th At 430am I wake up the guys. They all chain smoke as we pack up. Then we make our way back to the village. Lorenzo awakens a driver, who takes us down towards Kidpanwan. Alas we get a flat, and have to wait a while, then walk before picking up a second bike to take us the rest of the way into town. I say goodbye to Arnel, then catch a van to Davao.

I am at the airport early. My wet feet stink, and my clothes are caked with mud so I try and sneak into the baby-changing room to wash off. The janitor spots me, and sends me into her closet and lends me a brush and soap. It's not ideal, as her coworkers come by to watch and pepper me with questions. Still I clean off the worst of the mud. Up in the lounge I dry out my wretched feet.

I contemplate my missed owls and realize I will be back someday.

The flight to Cebu is uneventful. I take a taxi to the Supercat terminal, for the 330pm service to Tagbilaran, Bohol. The boat has AC, and it's nice to feel dry again. I arrive at Tagbilaran's bus terminal at dusk and discover that I have missed to last bus that runs to Rajah Sikatuna National Park. A cool guy with a bike offers to take me. On the map, it's just 40km, but because of a big earthquake a lot of bridges are down and we have to weave across the island on small roads to find a passable route. It's a beautiful night for a ride. Coincidentally the driver's wife lives by the park entrance, so we pay her a surprise visit-she looks so happy to see her man.

I've visited Rajah Sikatuna in 2002, and it's great to be back. It's a lovely forested park with great trails than run through little limestone hills. I actually hear my first Everette's scops-owl when paying the driver. I soon get an in flight view of a calling bird along the entrance road. The calls were consistently like George Wager's recordings on Xeno-canto http://www.xeno-canto.org/53972 . Triumphant, I head back and find the park guard who sets me up a mattress in the education building. I then return to the forest and owl for a few more hours to try and get a good view of a perched owl. I end up hearing several more scops-owls and a Luzon hawk-owl, but see none. The forest floor is infested with huge millipedes, which momentarily look like coiled snakes to my tired eyes.

Jan 31st What a schedule! To try for the 8am ferry to Dumaguette, I get up at 430 and hike out of the park. At the bus stop I watch the transition from night to day, returning bats, stray dogs and joggers go by. The bus to Tagbilaran is pretty swift, and I make it to the dock by 745am.......only to be told that there is a category one typhoon coming, and that no boats will be sailing. I am surprised, it's a lovely day. My first thought is to weather the storm. I ask around and the consensus is that it won't be severe. I wait and think about my state-I have sores all over my arm and hand from a poisonous plant, I have a couple of hideous boils growing on my thigh and I smell terrible. By 11am the typhoon has been upgraded to a category two, so no ferries will sail today, and likely none for a couple of days. I find a filthy green concrete hotel, that looks stout enough to withstand a storm. I wash my sorry self and horrendous clothes, then head out to find the internet. After some research, I realize I can fly to Manila, so rush over to the PAL office and buy a ticket. More rushing around and I am soon at the terminal.

During the short flight I work hard to rewrite my itinerary for the rest of the trip. I decide to start at Mindoro (home of two endemic owls, the Mindoro scops-owl and Mindoro hawk-owl); then head south east from there as time allows. Once I arrive in Manila, I hit the ATM because these changes will be spendy, then take a cab to Pasay and board a express bus to Batangas. From there I catch a 9pm Starlight ferry to Calapan on Mindoro. I sleep for the entire ride on the wonderfully warm smokey boat.

I end up at a decent hotel by the wharf at Calapan, where I can dry off in the AC.

Feb 1st I take a bike down the street to Apak Outdoor shop to arrange a trek to Mt Halcon, home of the Mindoro scops owl. The owner Richard recommends I wait a day for the upcoming typhoon to pass, and suggests Talipanan Beach as a location I can to find lowland forest and look for Mindoro hawk-owl.

I take a van to Puerto Galera, and a bike up to Talipanan Beech where I find a room at a modest resort. A local kid shows me the trail to Mt Talipanan. The trail passes some falls, and after exploring the slopes, which were steep and though crappy scrubby forest, I return and slip by the falls on some wet bedrock. I am not badly hurt, but my knee is bloodied and pants are torn. That afternoon I worry about the weather and about our climb on Halcon being cancelled. (All day the weather is pretty bad).

By mid afternoon I set out looking for better forest. I hike up to Ponderosa Golf resort, which is a steep windy climb. At the resort I find a trail to the left than runs through excellent forest to a quarry. I reach the quarry shortly before dusk, but have to wait a couple of hours for the worst of the rain to die down. Then I work back down the track, taping for Mindoro hawk-owl as I go. Despite the rain and wind I get a response after 15 minutes. An owl flies overhead a couple of times, and eventually I spotlight wet owl on a perch. What a relief after a fucked up couple of days. The owl looked bigger than a Luzon hawk-owl, and was warm brown above, with dense barring on the head and neck, the breast and belly were orange-brown with fine dark brown bars. Eyes are yellow. The call is like a less intense version of barn owl's screech, given in paired notes. Brilliant! Moments later it starts to pour and the wind gusts and bends the trees. Fireflies blow by overhead like sparks in the wind. An owl in a typhoon. Brilliant!

It's along walk and then bike ride back to the resort. I celebrate with a fish dinner and a couple of Red Horse beers. I call Richard from a borrowed phone, who informs me that the NPA and Filipino army clashed on Mt Halcon and he can't get a permit to take me there.

Back at my room I discover that leeches have gotten to me and riverlets of blood run from my bites soaking my woolen socks crimson.

Feb 2nd I get up at 445am and walk towards Puerto Galera, hoping for a passing ride. It's a beautiful night-the typhoon has passed and it's calm and starry. I feel disappointed not to be climbing Mt Halcon today. Eventually I catch a ride with a passing cycle. At Puerto Galera I pick up a van for Calapan, where I change and get another van for Roxas. I want to sleep, but its impossible as the van drives so erratically, and there really isn't space for my big self in the cramped van.

Roxas is a humid busy little port. I eat chicken and rice while swatting away lazy flies. There are no boats running to Tablas today, so I take a ferry to Caticlan. (Tablas is home to Romblon hawk-owl, my next target. Caticlan is an alternate gateway to Tablas). The ship is big and rusty, but being on the open water with the breeze is just great. During the crossing we are accompanied by a school of dolphins. When we arrive at Caticlan, there is a ship at the docks and another waiting ahead of us. Its a long four hours we have to wait before disembarking. I felt so trapped by the situation I pondered jumping in the warm sea and swimming ashore. Common sense prevails! I am forced to endure the ships toilet again and again. A urinal soap is confusing placed by the sink, and I try to wash my hands with it. The door to the stall has no latch, instead I have to tie it closed with the world's filthiest rag.

Once ashore, I find a hotel room. I can't find Internet or beer, so settle down for some crap TV and an early night.

Feb 3rd I get up early and find the man with a tiny table who sells tickets to Tablas. The pump boat does not leave till mid morning, and arrives at Tablas at noon. I hire a motor bike to take me across the island to San Augustin. There I check into the Hotel August. The friendly owner knows about the special birds of Tablas. I find the Internet in town and eat a fish diner. I hire another bike to take me out to the village of Dubduban. I then start hiking up a ridge that leads to the mountainous interior of Tablas. I follow the trail for an hour before it ends at a small clearing high above town. By now it's 5pm. At the clearing I see Tablas fantail and Streak-breasted bulbul. I wait around until dark, then start taping for Romblon hawk-owl. I immediately get a response far below in thick forest. The owls don't fly in, so I try to descend towards them. Alas the forest is too dense, and reluctantly I give up. As I hike back along the trail I hear about 8 hawk-owls. They have a really diverse vocabulary, as well as the typical series of notes, they have a roaring growl, and a single note call. I am really disappointed that I can't get one to come into view. A terrible pessimism sets in-it's been an increasingly hard trip and this is such a frustrating night. The whole thing seems hopeless if the owls won't fly in. I arrive back in town after 10pm, eat some junk food and set my alarm for 1am.

Feb 4th I awake at 1am, and feel surprisingly OK. On my way out to Dubduban, I tape out a pair of Mantanani Scops-owls, and get a fair view of them. At the end of the road, by the falls, I get a response from pair of Romblon hawk-owls. The birds are in an area of palms and tall trees. They have loud calls, and I am continually surprised how far away they are. I eventually see one owl fly from one tree into the dense canopy of another, but fail to get a full color view of a perched bird. To this end, I persevere for a long time. The owls move about and call, but I am never able to nail them in my spotlight. I make it back to my hotel at 4am, which gives me time to clean up and catch my 430am motorcycle to the ferry at Santa Fe at the far end of Tablas. The bike ride is beautiful, riding through misty fields and smoke filled villages. The little pump boat starts on time, but a couple of miles out into the sea the motor dies. The guys replace a fan belt and an hour later, but dies after a few minutes. No one has minutes on their phone, so they text for help. Another pump boat passes, but it's too far away to recognize our distress. I try and sleep, but its boiling under the blue tarp that covers us. The guy in front of me moves his plastic chair, and inadvertently breaks through the deck of the boat with a leg of the chair. The boat is truly a piece of junk! After another hour the motor is started and soon we are in Caticlan.

Once in town I inquire about a flight to Cebu, but they only have expensive standby tickets for sale. I decide instead to make my way to Negros by land and sea. (Negros is home to the Negros scops owl). The first step of the journey is a five hour cramped van ride across Panay to Iloilo. I just make the last ferry to Bacalod. I arrive there at 7pm, and decided to try to get to Mt Canloan that night to look for Negros scops-owl. This involves a tricycle ride to the bus depot, a bus ride to La Carlota and another tricycle up to Guintubdan. I make it to Guintubdan by 10pm. It's a sort of small hill station on the slopes of Mt Canloan.

I am able to camp at Guintubdan Visitor Center, which is a steal. Plus it's a beautiful night with a quarter moon, orange from the burning of the cane fields. After setting up camp, I sneak past the security guard and explore the road looking for good forest. A couple of hundred yards up the road, I find a Luzon hawk owl singing in a tree. I continue up the road, taking the first, then second left, past Raphael Sales Nature park. Near where the road starts to descend I hear a calling Negros scops-owl. Soon I have a great view. It's clearly smaller than a Lowland Luzon scops, but with similar white eye brows that lead up into its ear-tufts. The cheeks and neck are bright rufous, contrasting with the white breast and belly. The breast and belly show only faint blackish fine bars. The eyes are orange-brown. Excellent! What a great find. I am so glad I made the effort to get out here tonight. By the time I make it to my tent, I am tired and thirsty but very content.

Feb 5th I get up at 430am, and pack up my tent, then walk off the mountain, down to the cane fields far below. Eventually I find a tricycle, who takes me the rest of the way to La Carlota. From there I take a bus into Bacalod. Once in town I find an ATM and an internet cafe. Then it's a short jeepney ride to the bus terminal, and a four hour bus journey to San Carlos. Once at San Carlos I wait a couple of hours, then catch a short ferry over to Cebu. Once in Cebu, I take a jeepney to Balambam. By now it's dusk and I am anxious to make it over to Tabunan, in time to look for Cebu hawk-owls. I soon find a motorcycle taxi to take me to Tabunan. It's an amazingly hilly dramatic ride, made even better by a beautiful calm night. The rider knows the way, and once in the village of Tabunan, I have no trouble tracking down Oking, the local forest ranger and bird guide. We both remember each other from my visit in 2010. Oking is incredibly hospitable and well organized. Within half an hour of arriving unannounced at his home, we are on the trail owling.

Soon we have a Cebu hawk-owl flying overhead. Minutes later we see three more Cebu hawk-owls surround us. Each calls vigorously from exposed perches! Finally we see a fifth bird, really close, low in a small tree. The owls are bigger than Luzon hawk-owl, with yellow eyes and a conspicuous white throat. The chest and belly is rufous-brown and strongly barred with darker bars. Upper parts are brown and flight feathers are dark with lighter spots or bars. The underwing covers are white with chocolate bars. The calls are diverse and energetic. Frequently they would perch out in the open and hold their wings open, like a mantling hawk, creating the impression of a much bigger bird. They were very active, calling vigorously and moving around the canopy as they called.

Back at Okings, I filled out his log book, then we made arrangements for his son to take me up to the main highway. Once at the highway Oking's son tells me it isn't safe to leave me here. Despite my protests, he insists on taking me to Cebu City, which is an hour away. Once at Cebu I find an internet cafe, and settle down to buy airline tickets to Camiguin and back to Manila. Alas the security features on my credit card prevent me from making a purchase. I end up taking a cab to the airport, where I am able to directly buy a flight to Cagayan del Oro and another back to Manila. By midnight I am all done, and find a place to sleep on the floor, until I have to check in for my flight.

Feb 6th I slept like a log on the airport floor. My flight was smooth, we even arrive early and are forced to circle the runway until its light enough to land! Its a long ride into town. Once there I feast on siao paos and coffee, then take a bus out to Balingasag. From there, I catch a ferry to the small volcanic island of Camiguin. From the harbour I rent a motorbike and head out to Mambojao. I find a hotel and wash everything. Its been a while and it feels good to be clean again.

After a good Filipino lunch and email, I ride around looking for good forest. I eventually make my way to Itum, a village high above town at a pass between two volcanoes. Where the road disintegrates to a track, I park my bike, and continue on by foot. After a few kilometers the habitat deteriorated, so I rest up and wait for darkness to come. I saw a couple of camiguin sur yellowish bulbuls. Just as it becomes dark, the wind picks up and it starts to pour. Undefeated I make my way back towards the bike, stopping and taping for Camiguin hawk-owl whenever the rain lets up. Eventually lying on my back, and staring at the sky I see a hawk-owl fly overhead and into thick trees, where it sings. I try and approach the owl, but am blocked by a small cliff. I try taping some more, but eventually the owl stops singing. Close to my bike, at the top of the pass, I get another response, but fail to see that owl. It's wet and windy, so I decide to retreat, eat some food and then look for more sheltered forest. After a Coke and quarter chicken, I spend a few hours working the forested gullys and small woodlots. I ride up hills, then descend slowly on the bike, without the motor running, stopping every 200m to tape. By 1130pm I have run out of energy and give up on getting a full color view of Camiguin hawk-owl.

Feb 7th I stumble out of bed at 3am, hop on the bike and ride down to the pier, where I pick up a 4am ferry back to Balingasag on Mindanao. It's pouring by the time I reach Balingasag, which does not bode well for my plans to go owling on Mt Dulang Dulang tonight. (Mt Dulang Dulang is a rarely visited birding site, that is home to Mindanao scops-owl, the bird I had frustratingly failed to see at Mt Apo).

At Cagayan del Oro I hit the ATM again because this constant travelling is expensive. Then I take a bus to Malaybalay, a market town set in the mountainous tablelands of Mindanao. My appetite for one final effort is much diminished by the terrible weather. At Malaybalay, I transfer to the Philippine's slowest bus, which crawls along to Songco. From there a friendly guy points me in the direction of Binahon Farm in Barangay Bol-ogon. See http://www.birding2asia.com/W2W/Philippines/Dulang-dulang.html for more information. (The owner Henry Binahon is a progressive agricultural entrepreneur). It's great to finally arrive and spread out my gear to dry. I sleep a little and eat a good lunch and have coffee. I am now feeling much better about tackling this last attempt at finding Mindanao scops-owl. So even though its pouring outside, I make the steep hike up to the treeline. From the end of the track I take a wrong turn and end up at a small river. I back track and find the correct trail to Mt Dulang Dulang, which is a sharp left about 100m before the end of the track. By now it's 6pm, and nearly dark. Miraculously the rain lets up and a beautiful moon peers through the canopy. The trail is just beautiful, it climbs not too steeply through gorgeous mountain forest. I climb higher and higher, taping for Mindanao scops owl as I go. Just past a camp ground the wind picks up and I decide to turn around. It's a long walk back to the track, from there I resume taping as I walk back towards Binahon. Just before I leave the forest, I get a quiet response! I tape again and again. But hear nothing else. Then I turn on my headtorch, and right in front of my face, a tiny Mindanao scops-owl flushes, and flies into a tangle of vines and eventually out of view. Redemption! It's a small dark brown owl with extensive blackish markings on it's back, with long partially feathered thighs and pale feet.

It's a long steep walk back down to the farm. My knees burn and I slip on the steep clay road. Still nothing can diminish my enthusiasm. When I arrive at the farm, I am relived that the employees are not waiting up for me. (I found Filipino people often worried about my late night adventures).

Feb 8th I get up at 445am and stumble out of bed. This morning's target is giant scops-owl, a bird that I saw in 2002 on nearby Mt Katanglad. It's been reported on the farm, so I walk around and tape for it. Unfortunately I don't get a response. Soon it's too light to owl and I retreat back to my room for a little more sleep.

I am roused by a knock on the door to let me know that I have a huge breakfast to eat. It's a completely overwhelming meal of fish, pork and noodles, rich and salad. I barely make a dent in the food, and settle down to nice coffee instead. After breakfast I don't have much to do-basically I am waiting for it to get dark, so that I can go out and look for giant scops-owls. I try my best to catch up on sleep. In the middle of the day, Henry shows up. We talk about his farm, and ideas about farming. He is an interesting guy, who convinces me that progressive agricultural policies could transform the lives of millions of poor Filipino farmers. Eventually Henry returns to Malaybalay. I sleep for most of the afternoon. I get up just on time to make the steep hike up to the treeline by nightfall. From there I plan to return downhill and tape for giant scops owl in the small woodlots as I go. For an hour I do this, and don't get any response., Then it starts to rain torrentially, and I end up running back down the farm. The rain continues all evening. I eat another big dinner, then try to sleep, which isn't easy.

Feb 9th I get up at 345am and pack. Then I walk down towards Malaybalay, taping as I go. After 2km, I tape out a giant scops-owl. I get great views of it perched in an open tree. It strikes me more as a little eagle owl than a giant scops owl-having a massive bill. What a great way to finish the trip.

I continue walking towards Malaybalay, until it gets light, then I pick up a motorcycle to the next village, and then a bus to Malaybalay. I take another bus onto Cagayan del Oro, where I am pickpocketed out of 850 pesos! (It's been two decades since this last happened to me). The flight to Manila works out great, as does the transpacific flight to SFO. There is a big winter storm in the pacific northwest, and I don't make it home until 2am after a snowy cab ride home.

What a great trip. It's my third to the Philippines. It is always hard birding in the Philippines, with little habitat remaining and the birds being under intense pressure from hunters. It seems like every site involves a lot of hiking, usually up some really big mountains. Still the owls are amazing and Filipino people are wonderful, warm, helpful and great company. I ended up seeing 10 out of 12 owls that would have been lifers. I also saw four other owls that I had seen before. Many thanks to Rob, Christian, Bram, Adrian, Mike, Arne and Stijn for their invaluable advice.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bolivia and Argentina 2012 Trip Report

Intro

Last year I owled Peru and had a fantastic trip. I didn't try for one of my most wanted owls; cloud-forest screech-owl because I could not find a good recording prior to my trip. I was beginning to obsess over this gorgeous and rarely seen denizen of the east slope of the Andes. Last year I was able to finally get a good recording of this most wanted species. With the recording in hand I put together a trip to find this bird and as many other new south American owls as possible. This is what happened.....

September 22nd. I said goodbye to Charlie and Tui at the car, then entered the world of airports and planes. Early morning departure on Alaskan Airlines to SFO. SFO was characteristically chaotic. We were delayed an hour for the American flight bound for Dallas. Consequently when I arrived at my gate in Dallas for the Buenos Aires flight, the plane was already boarded. I slept for most of the red-eye to Buenos Aires, despite a dull persistent head ache. As with all the flights I have taken to Latin America, I am one of just a couple of Americans, everyone else is going home.

September 23rd. I arrive Buenos Aires at 8 am. Airport tax is 160 dollars! I take a cab across the city, to Jorge Newberry, the domestic airport. I fly to Salta, on LAN. Which is great. I get to see the huge salt lakes from the sky. Argentina is truly a vast country like Canada or Australia. Once in Salta, I take a cab to a motor cycle rental place (Moto Alquiler Salta). It takes quite a while to complete all the paperwork. My iron pony for the next few days is a Yamaha XTC 250. Getting on the bike, and successfully driving it off into traffic is a bit of a performance, in front of the owners, but goes OK. Once on the road I ride to San Lorenzo, a beautiful little resort community in the foothills to the west of town. It's 80 degrees and sunny, a perfect day to ride.

After checking into Hostal Selva Montana, in San Lorenzo I decide to make the best use of the daylight and look for Tucamen Pygmy-owls.  Having no site, I drive through town, to some hills east of Salta. I bird the scrubby forest for an hour or so, but have no luck. Tamales for diner!  It's a beautiful return ride back to San Lorenzo at sunset. At Huiaco reserve in San Lorenzo, I meet both Mauricio who organized my visit and Ricardo my guide.  Huiaco is a watershed reserve set in Yungas. While Ricardo stables some horses, I hear a Yungas Pymy owl. Ricardo then takes me around the reserve in an old Nissan Patrol. Within minutes we enjoy good views of a singing Hoy's screech-owl. Eventually a second bird arrives! Both call, confirming their ID. They show very small ear tufts. The area under the eyes, and above the bill is dark. The eye-brows are pale, but not white, below the belly is boldly marked with thick, cross hatched vertical stripes, One bird is especially brown on the upper breast, the other less so. Their wings almost reach the end of the tail. The bill is pale and eyes are yellow. lovely! 500 m away we hear another Hoy's and a distant Striped owl. We try for the striped, but have no luck. I also try for tropical screech-owl at the gate, but have no response. We also see a Eurasian hare, possum and scissor-tailed nightjar. Ricardo was an excellent guide and really nice guy.

September 24th After a night of turbulent dreams, I am up at 7 am. There is a good breakfast, but it's hard to gorge, as I am too excited.  The good coffee is a blessing though.  I ride out through Salta, across town and to the Chaco to the south east. The bike is free on the toll roads, which is great. It's also fairly fast, so I ride at 120 kph, but I am sure it would go faster. Once I get to the Chaco the fuel gauge plummets, and I start to worry, but its for naught, as a big gas station appears on the horizon. What a relief! Once in Juaquin V Gonzales, I find a tasty sandwich and water. I then head to Ricardo's site for Tucuman Pygmy-Owl. (I go east trough town to the arch that says "bienvenidos",  turn here to the northeast along a wide dirt road for 8 km. I then take a track to the east that goes past a ranch on your left and through a gate at 200 m. I saw the pygmy-owl 1 km down this track.) The owl was very responsive to taping, calling for at least 5 minutes. It's song corresponded to the recording on the tape. The bird was a red morph, it's upper-parts were unmarked, except for some very fine whitish streaking on the forehead, crown and sides of the face, false eyes, whitish marks on the scapulars and about six reddish-buff tail bands. Eyes and bill were yellow. The breast was conspicuously white, with two upper central dark spots. Otherwise streaked below. Fairly large for a Glaucidium. After exposure to the sun for a couple of minutes the owl started panting and drew its plumage in, appearing long and slender, but big headed, like a falconet.

I drove back to JVG to look for a phone or the internet, but fining neither, I set of for Quebrachal and Tolloche. I scout for Chaco owl habitat, and am a bit disappointed to find a lot of agriculture, and just remnants of forest, and very little that does not look like second growth. Lacking an exact location I ride around and fret for most of the afternoon. Near Tolloche, I find a place to hide the bike, and wait with the ants and bees. I'd like to nap, but it's too hot, so I wait and think. At dusk, I set out North along a track. I hear Tucamen pygmy owls, and tape another in for a look-also a red morph. Once it's dark I hear many tropical screech-owls, and tape one in for a fly-by view. I also find a good sized tarantula. After 6 kms, I encounter a farm and a barking dog, so retreat. On the way back, I hear a big noise, like a train, or the ocean, and within seconds am engulfed in a sandstorm. The last mile is miserable with blowing sand and dust it's hard to breath, and owling is impossible. Surprisingly the weather doesn't pass, so I am stuck with it. I ride back towards Quebrachal, unable to escape the wind, I find a place to camp, and settle in for a miserable sleep.

September 25th. What a fitful night. I set the alarm for midnight, 2 am and 4 am; hoping for the pampero winds to let up. Each time I awaken it's cold and windy. I reluctantly arise at 8 am, and set off on a cold ride into Quebrachal. There I call Mauricio for advice about the weather and the Chaco owl. Mauricio concedes that he does not know, but he will ask Ricardo, and that I can call back later in the day for follow up. I drink Nescafe and panecito. I decide not to wait it out here, because of the wind, and instead to make the long ride to Tolombon, a second site for Chaco owl, recommended by Diego Monteleone. Tolombon is nestled against the Andes, and is hopefully less windy.

The ride is very cold, windy 422 km. I cut across the mountains south of Salta, through a dramatic gorge. The country here is like Arizona, rugged, dry with spectacular red, green and blue rocks. Fortunately the bike handles well on dirt roads, because the way through he gorge is steep, rough and involves fording some creeks. At La Vina, I stop for an amazing meal of beef stew and polenta, which warms my soul. Just before Cafayate, I pass through a second amazing gorge, carved from red sandstone. At Cafayate I find email, then head south to Tolombon.

I have four hours to scope out the area around Tolombon, so do a thorough reconnaissance walk. This serves me well, as the forest is disturbed, some being burnt, whilst other areas are mostly cleared for cattle and horses, leaving a park-like open woodland. The only store is pretty limited, so dinner is apple drink and candy bars.

As soon as darkness falls, the wind picks up. It seams hopeless at first, as the wind shakes the trees and drowns out my recording. My first site is in a hedge of tall trees, set among farms and vineyards  It does not look promising, and I get no response. I then cross a vineyard and work an area of thicker forest, bisected by a dry stream. This wood was full of horses and cattle, which made for a lot of commotion as I made my way through. It was a lot less windy in this thicker forest. After forty minutes, I got a response. The Chaco owl was very close, and the song much quieter than expected. Seconds later I was watching a beautiful singing Chaco owl. What a magnificent creature. It was smaller than I had expected-perhaps a male? It was also surprisingly similar to a black and white owl, except that it's thighs and the pale spots on the primaries were lightly washed in cinnamon-buff. The wings were noticeably longer than the tail. A marvelous owl. I can hardly believe it. (To reach the site is 1.1 km south of Tolombon's church, here a dry creek crosses the road. Follow the creek down steam to the east for 1 km, into the thick dry woods). It's a long sandy walk back to the bike. I camp in the sand. It's cold out, but I sleep soundly.

September 26th. I steal away at first light like a thief. It's beautiful the sky is palest blue, tinged gold; between leaden clouds. To the east a heavy fog pours over the mountain and descends down barren slopes towards the valley, before ending abruptly among cacti and red rocks. Cafayate is quiet, so I abandon hopes of finding breakfast, and ride North. The bike's saddle is cheap and unyielding  and I am cold and sore for the whole ride. At La Vina I stop for coffee and panecito. 20 km south of Salta I see a burrowing owl by the roadside. Once in Salta I track down the bike rental shop. No one's home, so I find a 'phone, call and meet the owner back at the shop. Again it takes ages to get the paperwork resolved.

I taxi to Salta's bus terminal, eat a delicious hot sandwich and fries. I catch a mid afternoon bus for La Quiaca on the Bolivian border. Somewhat surprisingly they play "the Descendants" and " Extremely loud and incredibly close" on the buses TV. I arrive in La Quiaca at 1030 pm, and find a cheep but crappy hospedaje. At 3500 m, I sleep badly.

September 27th. I awaken at 6 am and go find coffee, then taxi a couple of kilometers to the frontier. Everyone here looks indigenous. The crossing is confusing, but eventually with he help of the guards I figure it out. I pay $135 for a Bolivian visa. Surprisingly I am allowed to wander into Bolivia without the visa, in order to pick up a photocopy of my passport, which is a prerequisite to getting the visa. The border guard who sells me the visa refuses almost all of my US currency because of wear and tear to the notes, as does the currency exchange place. It's alarming to think that most of my currency is useless in Bolivia.

I find some great street food, then a crappy looking bus to Potosi. The road to Potosi, is surprisingly good, and the bus makes decent progress across the altiplano.

My arrival in Potosi is ominous. It's cold, high and windy. There is a blockade by truckers, so all the passengers walk the last 4 km into town. Once in town, people are setting up road blocks with truck tires and large rocks. I find internet in town, and enjoy hearing from Tui. When I get to the terminal, it's closed, but there are buses everywhere. There are no La Paz buses, but I do find one bound for Oruro. It's a long apprehensive wait for the bus to depart. Strangely the blockade only affects the south side of town, and we leave on time, our departure uninterrupted. I awaken a little after midnight in Oruro.

September 28th. In Oruro, I find another bus for La Paz, and continue my North-bound journey through the night. I arrive in La Paz in the early hours of the morning. The driver is kind and lets us sleep on the bus until day break. I grab coffee at the terminal, and take a cab to the street corner where the Chulumani-bound buses depart. While waiting for the bus to leave, I find sopapillas and drink delicious api morado.

The ride to Chulumani is long, slow and dramatic. We cross a snowy pass above the city, before descending along a spectacular gorge through the Yungas. At times the drop off to the side of the bus is intense, and it's a struggle to not be overcome with vertigo. Far below in the riverbed are carcasses of unlucky buses and trucks. Chulumani is a subtropical dusty market town surrounded by coca-growing farms. I buy some cheese empenadas and then take a cab to the Apa Apa hotel. Once at the hotel, an employee points out the Cumbre de Apa Apa, which is 1000 m above the hotel. Frustratingly he recommends that I return to Chulumani. It's long hot walk uphill, back into town. Here I ask around for half an hour, until I find a cab driver who is willing to take me to the Cumbre to Apa Apa.

The Cumbre itself is a nice patch of Yungas forest around 2500 m elevation. The exact site that Frank Rheindt had the Cloud-forest screech owl is 100 m down the trail that leads to the right (when coming from town), at the top of the pass. As I arrive at 4 pm, I explore the trail that Frank recommends, and another that starts on the opposite side of the road and follows the ridge to the left. I never find Lago Negro that the local people speak of. It must be further down one of these trails. I await the night, very aware that this is the most wanted bird of my trip, and seeing it is key to a successful trip.

With the night comes a beautiful full moon. How perfect. I can travel the forested trails without a flashlight-this type of owling always feels more stealthy and enjoyable, than having to rely on a flashlight to find my way. Almost immediately at Frank's site, I hear a quite A song.(I also hear a louder chatter, which may have just been from a disturbed roosting songbird, or an owl). The owls does not approach me, so I carefully follow it down a steep bamboo filled ravine. It's a shit place to try and stalk an owl, very steep, and it's impossible to crawl silently through the mess of vegetation  After half an hour, it's evident that the bird is maintaining a distance from me, the noisy intruder. I give up, and decide to try the trail that runs to the left of the road.

This trail runs through more open stunted forest. 4-500 m down the trail I get a response from a near-by owl. Very soon, I get a silhouette view of a flying bird against the bight moonlit sky. This bird is different from the other, much more aggressive. It's song is slightly different to Franks recording, lacking it's wavering slightly ethereal quality. Instead the notes are flatter, more even and hollow sounding. I soon get a great view of a perched cloud-forest screech owl! It has a spotted, black and white appearance. Eyes are brown, ear tufts short. Much of the facial disc is brown, conspicuously rimmed with black. Below the bird has dark center-shaft streaks, separated by white glob-like spots, giving a very unique spotted appearance. The bird was medium sized for a Megascops. Once it uttered a B song, which is listed as unknown in Konig. This began with three loud well separated notes, followed by a long series of notes, similar to the A song. Wow, what a prize! It's 8 pm, and time for a beautiful 15 km walk under the moon back to the hotel.

Several cars pass me, and some stop, but those that do explain that they don't have room for me. That's OK though, because I see a pair of Rufous-banded owls. I also hear two owls calling a pair of deep-noted calls. I am sure that these are Magellan horned-owl, even though the song structure is not the same as the recording I have, because the quality of the notes is the same. Lower down I hear several Tropical screech owls while walking through fields of coca.

It's almost midnight when I arrive at the hotel. They explain "el jefe estaba preocupado". They cook me hamburger and fries-which I demolish with gusto.

September 29th. I wake early despite the long hike yesterday. I wash, eat and pack, then start the long hike back into town. Luckily I catch a ride for most of the way. In town I find a La Paz bound bus, and am soon on my way. An English speaking flight engineer sits next to me, so I get to speak English for a few hours.

In La Paz, I catch a Coroico-bound share taxi. It's snowing as we cross the pass above town. In Coroico I am lucky enough to connect with a Yucumo bound bus. I am really surprised that it takes 12 hours to get to Yucumo, a small town on the edge of the Amazon, which according to the map is about 200 km from Coroico. I spend much of the night looking for clues in the landscape that we have reached Yucumo. Early in the journey we follow a gorge for several hours. All vehicles travel on the left (wrong side), giving the driver on the exposed side, the best chance of controlling their vehicles next to the precipitous cliff below. A couple of times I felt waves of nausea and panic as we backed up, around a corner, causing the back of the bus, behind the axle, to hang over the abyss. At one point we enter a tunnel that curves so sharply, that two guys with flashlights guide our bus through. It seemed impossible that we would squeeze through without scraping the walls and the ceiling, but thanks to our pilots, we do.

September 30th. I arrive in Yucomo at first light. Obviously it's too late to owl the Serrania Pilon, above town. I find a cheep hotel and crash for a few hours. I awaken mid morning and make my plans. After washing, finding internet and feeding, I return to the Serrania Pilon, an isolated group of hills, 20 km east of town. In the struggle to leave leave the bus, heaving my bag over sleeping passengers  I lose my water bottle.  There are no stores or clean looking springs on the mountain, so I am going to be thirsty.

I stash my bag along a track that leads up to some radio towers. I then walk 5 km back towards La Paz. Twice I get a response from probably Subtropical pygmy-owl. Both times the birds are very distant, and don't come in, so it's hard to be certain. As night falls, I switch to trying for Mottled owl. Traffic picks up at this time, which really disturbs the owling. About 1.5 km from the radio tower track, I get a good response from a Rufescent screech-owl. I eventually get prolonged views of a brown morph bird. This is great, as my only other experience with this bird, was very brief views in Northern Peru. I got to see its whitish hind-crown, brown tones, brown eyes, green-gray bill, fine cross hatched streaks on the breast and typical song. In all I heard five unsolicited Rufescent screech-owls along the next 1.5 km of road. I also heard a pair of Band-bellied owls along the transmission tower road. As has been my past experience with Band-bellieds, they did not come into a tape. I camped along the radio tower road. It was a beautiful breezy night, with a bright moon.

October 1st. Having had no water since yesterday at noon, I awaken with a raging thirst. Retracing my steps, I try the two sites, where I thought I heard Subtropical pygmy yesterday. No luck. Confusingly a trogon is attracted to my taping. Now really thirsty, I start to try and flag down a ride. I end up walking several kilometers more, as traffic is very light. I get another possible distant Subtropical, but again, it does not come close enough to be certain. Eventually a yellow Volvo truck picks me up. I am pretty exhausted from dehydration  The driver was exceptionally talkative, which makes it challenging for me to hold a conversation in my state, and with my weak Spanish.

Back in Yucumo, I catch a share taxi, which speeds along the flat Amazonian road, reaching Rurre in just 3 hours. At Rurre, I call Ruth, and she picks me up just minutes later. I meet Ricardo, the guide, and a local guide who used to work as a hunter. Bennett (from Birds Bolivia), had sent Ricardo my target list, and Ricardo has a definite plan. Which is good, because our task won't be easy. We drive for over two hours in a flash Landcruiser to Sadiri Lodge.

After an excellent meal, we leave in the late afternoon, and continue west on foot towards San Jose. In the open clearing, about 2 km down the road we get a response from a Subtropical pygmy-owl! Unfortunately it calls only sporadically, and from afar. Soon it's totally dark and the owl has`fallen silent. We make a plan to return to this site before dawn to try again.

Continuing down the hill we find a Band-bellied owl, which we flush from a perch above a small steam-perhaps it was fishing, or hunting frogs? We get great views. I am surprised that the bird appears quite small, perhaps it's a male bird? At the same time we hear a Rio Napo Screech-owl, but are unable to lure it out of the dense gully that it is singing from.

A little lower down, about 5 km from the lodge we hear a Southern tawny-bellied screech-owl. Frustratingly this bird, and another we hear near by don't respond to taping. However a third bird, is very aggressive, and we enjoy amazing views of this strange little owl. The song was a very prolonged series of slow notes. It had a dusty white circle describing the upper back of the head, brown eyes, the bill was dark gray and ear-tufts small. The breast was brown-gray with fine dark streaks. The belly lacked tawny hues, but the thighs were tawny. The back was similar to the breast, but darker and grayer. It was quite a large screech owl, whose overall effect was of a dark, plain gray-brown owl.

On the long hike back up to the lodge, we hear one or two Black-banded owls (around km 4), and another Band-bellied owl by the cabin.We arrive at the cabins at 130 am, and make plans for a predawn departure for the Subtropical.

October 2nd. Though I set my alarm for 450 am, Ricardo arrives at my door at 430 am. I am asleep on my feet as we trundle back to the Subtropical site. Despite our efforts all we find are a pair of blackish nightjars. Ricardo had the forethought to have the Landcruiser pick us up, saving us the walk back up to the lodge. The drive was quite wild, over small land slides and a couple of home-made plank bridges.

Breakfast, then bed, where I sleep 'till noon. I talk with Ricardo about his life as a hunter. He has seen many jaguar, and was stalked by one, once while plucking a currasow. He recommends the best defense against a jaguar, is to keep a tree, between you and the big cat, and to remain on the opposite side of the trunk to the jaguar! We also talk about the bushmaster, and he described a guy from his village who was bittern by one of these snakes. He survived, but only after hiking home for three days, while bleeding from the eyes, nose and nail beds.

We make a plan to descend to the lowlands mid afternoon to look for Amazonian pygmy-owl. The work the same area in the night for Mottled owl. On the drive to the lowlands, Ricardo spots a roosting long-tailed potoo. The drive is rough, and we get stuck between some deep ruts. The guys jack up the Landcruiser to get us going again. Once we reach the lowlands, we walk the trail. At our first attempt, we get a clear response, and soon I find it perched on a leafless tree. Soon it's joined by a mate. Only one bird sings-probably the smaller looking male. For a while they engage in mutual preening. What amazing dumpy little owls! They have gray crowns, spotted white, brown backs, the front is streaked on both the flanks and center, creating two parallel mostly whitish areas on the breast. The tails are very short, as are the pointy wings. Three white tail bands are visible. Eyes and feet are yellow. Eventually the female regurgitates a blackish pellet, then leaves.

We leave and continue walking towards San Jose. Ricardo flushes a spectacled owl. Eventually we locate the owl, and even tape it, spurring it to sing. As it sings, it holds it's wings low and loose. What a marvelous denizen of the rainforest. It's plumage recalls tropical raptors such as collared forest falcon or laughing falcon. Perhaps a shared adaption?  I am surprised to see that its primaries are barred.  We eventually come out at a large river crossing, 12 km from the lodge. We eat dinner, while being attacked by ants and mosquitoes.

A couple of downtrodden local guys show up. They explain that they lost there cattle in the forest. Ricardo and I then back track along the dark road, to a bridge 10 km from the lodge. Here he recently saw a Mottled owl. We pass some large jaguar tracks over the recently made Landcruiser tracks! At the bridge we find the jaguar's tracks going in the other direction, up ahead of us. I soon forget the cat, when we get a response to our Mottle owl taping. However after a couple of minutes it stops responding and twenty minutes later we give up and continue towards the lodge.

Ricardo takes off for a bathroom break. I await him, trying not to think of cats. The he yells "jaguar", I look back in his direction, and see he's spotlighted a pair of eyes, travelling down the road towards us. I run back to Ricardo, then spotlight the eyes, which continue to come towards us. Soon it's apparent it's not a big cat, the animal turns, and reveals itself to be a (rare) short-eared dog.

Back at the river, we make plans with he driver, then cross the river and try the forest towards San Jose. The forest is different here, with lots of standing water, palms, and a more open feel. we hear a couple of Crested owls, and two crested potoos, one of which, Ricardo spot lights, then hear an occelated poorwill, followed by many Southern tawny-bellied screech-owls! We reach another river crossing, where we meet another guy looking for the lost cattle. Ricardo is wary of the lost cattle, explaining that they are semi-wild and somewhat dangerous. About a half way between the two river crossings, and 13 km from  the lodge Ricardo hears a spontaneously calling Mottled owl. (The call is a series of up to five soft hoots, lacking the growling quality of some recordings). In response to playback, the owl retreats deeper into the forest, but continues calling. I turn the volume way down, and then the owl returns closer, but stays doggedly out of sight. We decide to enter the forest, and creep desperately, and nosily through the under-story. Soon Ricardo finds a beautiful Mottled owl, perched low. It continues to sing, and we enjoy prolonged views. It's a medium sized, dark slender owl, with brown eyes, and a dark face, rimmed with white. The breast is very dark, with black streaks and bars. The belly is lighter with dark streaks. The back is blackish brown. Wow! Eventually we reluctantly return to the Landcruiser, where we hear a paraque.

The drive back is typically dramatic, taking over an hour. We get stuck once in a deep muddy rut. The driver's assistant is very energetic, despite the late hour, getting out and guiding the driver over the difficult terrain  In bed by 130 am.

October 3rd. Having planned to look for the Subtropical pygmy in the late afternoon, I spend the morning trying to sleep in, then loafing around. We begin our search by heading down to the same open area where we heard one call two days ago. After 45 minutes we give up and try a ridge trail that starts at the pass, but goes away from the lodge.

Again Ricardo took off for a bathroom break at a key moment. A distant Subtropical answers my taping. (I am at a clearing overlooking a small landslide about 500 m along the ridge trail). Soon the bird has moved in much closer. Ricardo returns, and we follow the bird into the forest. I glimpse a small stocky bird fly into a tree above us, and soon we hear the pygmy owl calling from the same area. Darkness is fast approaching, so we change tactics and go back to the clearing and tape from there. We get repeated brief views of the Subtropical pygmy-owl as it moves between exposed perches in the clearing. Apart from the obvious three note song, I observe its very small size (similar to Amazonian Pygmy-owl), very clearly spotted crown (more boldly marked than Amazonian) and a very short tail. Wow we can hardly believe our luck. This was always going to be a tough bird to find. Triumphant, we head back to the lodge and enjoy a great meal.

That night I can't sleep, due to diarrhea and a fever. Outside the cabin I hear Band-bellied  and Crested owls, plus Southern tawny-bellied and Rio Napo screech-owls. I get a view of one of the Band-bellied's as it calls from the sub-canopy.

October 4th. After a long mostly sleepless night I try coca tea for my stomach. We take the Landcruiser back to Rurre, where I find an ATM that works and an internet cafe.

I catch a share taxi to San Borja, and arrive at dusk. It's too late to proceed to Trinidad, so I find a room for 15 Bolivianos. After paying I discover that the room is an airless shit hole, with no means to lock the door. I end up walking away and finding a normal priced room, with a lock and other amenities.

October 5th. Miner birds awaken me before dawn. I catch an 8 am ride to Trinidad. The road is quite muddy, and progress fairly slow. We reach the Rio Mamore' which we cross in a wooded raft. Its am amazing scene, with vultures, rotting riverboats moored to the muddy banks, cocoa-colored water, all baking under a relentless sun. Trinidad is just a few kilometers down the road.

It's a six hour wait for the Santa Cruz bound bus. I use the internet, eat and wait. The bus to Santa Cruz is pretty nice, and soon I fall asleep.

October 6th. I arrive in Santa Cruz at 430 am. I find a hotel next to the terminal and sleep for a few hours. I while away the day by getting a haircut, eating and watching TV. By mid afternoon I am ready to explore Lomas de Arena. This site has Barn owl and Ferruginous pygmy-owl-both of which would be new for the trip. I take a taxi to the entrance. I have barely entered the gate, when a guy kindly picks me up in a pickup truck and runs me to the far side of the reserve, where the famous sand dunes are. Unfortunately when I arrive a strong wind picks up. I try for the Ferruginous pygmy owl, but to no avail. I do see an adult, and then juvenile Burrowing owl. Such a charismatic owl.

Upon leaving the reserve and entering the outer barrios of Santa Cruz, I am a little nervous. It's night, and not a great neighborhood. I look for a cab, but all the cabbies are drinking. Eventually I do find a bus. A few kilometers up the road, we get caught up in some congestion  Eventually the source is clear, there is a dead man at the road side. We gawk. He looks shot, rather than hit by a car. This is something my cabbie confirms tomorrow.

I eat a good greasy dinner and wash it down with a beer.

October 7th. I awaken at 4 am. The Aerolineas Argentina flight to Buenos Aires is uneventful. I make my American flight from Buenos Aires.

October 8th. I have to run across Dalles Fort Worth to make my San Francisco bound flight. (It left two minutes after I board . SFO is a zoo, and the Alaska connection from SFO is delayed, but I make it home.