Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012 owling

In 2012 I tried to find all fifteen species of north western owls. Here's what I saw that year around Portland and further afield in the Pacific Northwest.

12.30.12 The whole family explored the Willamette Valley. At Willamette Mission State Park, I heard a pygmy owl tooting. While approaching the calling bird I flushed a huge barred owl-presumably a female. Magnificent. We all enjoyed really close views of the bird perched in an open tree. Although the pygmy owl called intermittently  I was never able to get a a view of the bird, and it soon fell silent.

12.28.12 I walked around Reed Canyon on one of the first really cold nights of the winter. I got a response to a screech owl tape from across the canyon. Once on the other side I got a very loud, but only single response. I soon found the bird with a flashlight, and was able to view it from just a couple of feet away. I could see from it's upper parts that it was a brown phase. I eventually switched of the light, and watched the bird in silhouette, for some time against a moonlit sky. Periodically the bird would extend it's neck, and change shape dramatically. It was both peaceful and exciting to spend time with the owl this way, in the absence of artificial lights.

12.25.12 the whole family drove up to Ballad to check out a couple of snowy owls reported in a residential area above the bluff overlooking the sound. It was a rainy cold morning, so we chose to drive in ever-expanding circle and scan for the owls. Soon we found a darkly barred young bird, perched atop of a tiled roof. We enjoyed the bird for several minutes. Eventually a pair of crows mobbed the owl. At times I could see small ears on the owl-similar to pygmy owls, which are not normally eared, but can appear so when excited.

 12.22.12 The whole family walked along Reed Collage Place. I played a tape for Western Screech Owl. I never heard a response, but when we got back to the car, which was parked in front of Duniway school,  I saw a screech owl perched on an utility wire. We got good views of the owl, Charlie included.  I had brought an old incandescent surefire flashlight, which created a very different view of the owl from the LED Eagle tech  The incandescent bulb cast a much warmer light, and the owl looked like a brown morph. Using the bright LED, the owl looked extremely gray, appearing like a gray morph bird.

12.9.12 Ziggy and I took a short, snowy walk on Tumala Mountain Road, east of Estacada. I played a tape for Northern Pygmy Owl, and soon got a response. The owl came in really close, and soon changed its response from a tooting call, to a whinnying trill. Unfortunately my taping was drowned out by some nearby target shooting, and the owl fell silent before I could see it.

12.1.12 The whole family, dad include visited Tryon Creek for a later afternoon walk. We heard a singing great-horned owl. Dad and I hiked in to investigate.  Eventually the owl fell silent. A little later, after walking along the trail, we heard to bird singing again. This time, by crossing a steep gully, I was able to get below the owl and see it, and it's mate silhouetted against the sky. I was a fantastic view. The dueted for several minutes, perching almost horizontally, and cocking their tails as they sung. I returned with dad, who really enjoyed his first view of a great-horned owl.

11.12.12 I took Charlie and Ziggy to Broughton Beach. Ziggy flushed at least two short-eared owls-a male and female. We enjoyed great views as they floated overhead. A female was the first owl that Charlie saw-"lulu".

11.10.12 The family went to Windy Mountain on the Washington side of the gorge. The summit was really dramatic, with amazing Indian ruins, a fly by golden eagle (how symbolic), and a very cold snake. On the descent we heard a pygmy owl call in response to my tape. Soon we got great views of a pygmy owl, which descended well below the canopy to investigate the "intruder".

11.9.12 The family went to a cabin at Underwood, WA for the weekend.While walking Ziggy after dark I hear a barn owl screech. I tried taping the bird, but got no response.

11.4.12 Below the mausoleum at Oaks Bottom, I taped out a western screech owl.The bird responded from very low in the undergrowth.By crawling through some bushes I got great views of a gray morph bird.

10.12.12 Ziggy and I are walking at the Crooked River Ranch, when I hear a barn owl. The next day the whole family is at Cove Palisades State Park, and we find a puddle of long-eared owl feathers!

9.15.12 Another attempt at Boreal Owl! I hiked into Forest lake at Mount Rainier. I waited about an hour at the lake for darkness to descend. A snipe fed along the lake shore, as large bats hawked above. I hiked back to Sunrise, but had no responses. At the parking lot I had a flyby great-horned owl. (I also saw a great horned owl as I left the parking lot several hours later). I then walked down to the camp site by the small lake. On the return trail a small owl flew in to my tape. (I was alerted to its presence by the sound of its claws on the branch). I was elated for a moment, as I thought I had a Boreal. This bird was a screech owl however. Still I was able to get within three feet, and so enjoyed beautiful views.  This is my first screech owl in an alpine environment.

9.5.12 The gang of four went out to the Sandy river near Troutdale airport. We lit a small fire on the banks of the river. On our return to the car we found a great-horned owl perched on top of a light in the sewage treatment plant.

9.2.12 Tui, Charlie, Ziggy and I set off at MP4 on Larch Mountain. We hiked to the clearcut at the end of the dirt road. Immediately we heard an unsolicited pygmy owl call during the middle of the day. Unfortunately we were unable to get the bird to respond to a tape. When we returned to the civic, we were appalled to find both driver's side windows smashed. Fortunately we had removed everything of value from the car.

8.25.12 I set off at dusk to explore Oak Island Road on Sauvie Island. I parked around MP 2.25, and walked the rest of the way. At the end of the sealed road I heard a distant barn owl. As the gravel road crosses the dike, I heard a great-horned owl in response to my tape. I checked out the old farm buildings to the east of the parking lot at the end of the road. Surprisingly I could locate no barn owls there. (Prime nesting habitat). Walking along the east side of Oak Island loop, a male barn owl hovered briefly overhead in response to my screech-owl tape. Beautiful! A quarter of a mile up the trail, an unsolicited female barn owl floated past me. (The three quarters moon, made finding flying owls easy). Back on the west side of Oak Island trail I heard a distant barn owl scream, way off to the west. Walking back to the car, at the first sharp corner to the left, once on the sealed road, I saw a barn owl cross low over the road. I played a tape, and three barn owls (at least two were males), circled overhead!

On the return drive, I saw a great-horned owl, perched on a utility pole by Bybee Howell House.

8.18.12 Ziggy and I arrived at Barlow Pass. We followed the Pacific Crest Trail north for 4 miles, taping for Pygmy owl as dusk fell. We turned around at the Timberline trail, and headed back down. At 1.5 miles from Hwy 35, I saw two long-winged owls pass overhead, in response to a tape. The birds were silent. My first thought was that they were predatory barred owls. After scouting around for a few minutes, I caught a bird in flight in the flashlight-a long-eared owl! I played a recording of long-eared owl and the bird returned, hovering briefly above me.  In the distance a juvenile bird called. A little further down the trail, Ziggy bit a western toad, which caused him some distress, vomiting and gave him a terrific appetite.

8.12.12 Charlie, Ziggy and I walked along the dirt road that leaves Larch Mountain Road at MP 4. At the terminus of the road we heard a pygmy owl tooting rapidly in response to our tape. Despite our best efforts we were unable to get a view of the bird-perhaps due to the blazing sun and eighty degree temperatures.  We did get to enjoy at least three nighthawks over the clear-cut.

 8.11.12 I awoke to hear the scream of a barn owl, while camping near Friend Road.

8.10.12 Tui and I had just set up camp near Friend Road, south west of Dufor. We heard great horned owls calling in the distance. The next morning we found a large gray downy plume, which appeared to be from a large young owl.

8.9.12 At 1 am Tui awoke me. She head heard a great horned owl calling in the distance, through our open bedroom door. We listened to it calling a couple of times.

7.23.12 I visited Wapato Lake on Sauvie's Island. Almost as soon as I arrived I heard a singing great-horned owl, deep in the woods. I got close to the bird, then decided to try the tape. Despite have heard that great-horneds are not tape responsive, the bird flew in over me, perched near by, flared it's ear-tufts and sung vigorously at me. Great. A second great-horned also came in, but remained out of view.

Just south of the dog kennels I heard a faint screeching. Walking towards the noise, I flushed a barn owl. It was carry prey from it's long, hanging legs. The barn owl flew back to a distant barn, and was met by intense screeching of young barn owls.

I tried for screech owl in the riverside cotton woods, but to no avail. Near the small blind, I did get a soft response. Soon a screech owl flew over head and perched in dense thicket of hazel. I got great views of a singing screech owl.

7.14.12 While visiting Tui's family in Federal Way, I visited Sunrise, on the shoulder of Mount Rainer. I hiked around for four beautiful hours looking for boreal owl. Alas, nothing but shooting stars and snow. On the return, in light rain I found a beautiful female barn owl at Enumclaw, perch on a wire. Perhaps a young bird, it tolerated being spotlit, allowing great binocular views.

7.12.12 Ziggy and I drove over to Westmoreland Golf Course.We walked the side of the golf course, taping for screech owls.Eventually we ended up on Reed College Place and Lambert. I got an immediate response here. The elms here are very tall, and I only glimpsed one bird in flight. It sounded like their were about four birds responding to the tape-perhaps I was at the site here two territories met, or perhaps some juvenile birds were responding to the tape.

7.1.12 Ziggy and I drove out Estacada way to Shellrock campground. We arrived well before dark, to a beautiful rising moon. Lat time I had visited Shellrock, the creek was fast flowing and crossing it on a series of tangle of fallen logs was tricky. Tonight the water level was very low, and we crossed easily where the old bridge had been removed. We hiked to the end of the trail. Perhaps because of the full moon, common nighthawks were particularly noisy and active.  On the walk back we heard no owls. 

We continued up the road, looking for Highrock campground, which according to the Cascade Birding trail also has spotted owls. We never found the campground. Nonetheless we drove around and tried for spotted owls at any likely looking patch of forest. We did find a steep-sided narrow track, still muddy from last month's snow melt. Getting through the mud, and turning around on this very narrow road was touch and go. The mist and dampness only added to the air of expectancy and apprehensaion. 

1am looking sleepy

Returning back forest road 58, we passed quite a lot of decent habitat, so progress was slow as we stopped every third of a mile or so, to try for spotted owls. Before we reached Skyline road, we stopped. We heard a couple of snipe singing beautifully. And a barn-owl-like screech. Soon, three large owls flew across the road. I guessed that they were barred owls. A quick search revealed a very curious barred owl staring down at me. 

We found some flat, old growth forest, probably 4000' above sea level. Here I heard a similar barn (or barred) owl like call, as I had heard at the previous stop.  I had to get down on my hands and knees to crawl through he thicket of vine maple that lined the forest road. Once inside, the forest opened up, and I was able to make my way easily. The begging calls of the young owls, sounded a little quieter, more hollow and softer than the young barreds at the previous stop. After a couple of minutes spotlighting I got to see a juvenile spotted owl. It had a couple of patches of down, but otherwise was clearly a spotted owl, being smaller, darker, browner than the barred owl, with pale spots and no longitudinal streaking on the underside on the underside. I saw two other birds briefly. My best guess is there were at least two juveniles.

6.23.12 Ziggy and I drove through the night down towards Malheur in search of burrowing owls. On Highway 205, we saw two great horned owls and a great close up of a female barn owl along the road side. We arrived at Ruh-Red road around 2 am, and slept in the car for a couple of hours. We awoke around 430, cold and stiff. I took Ziggy out for a brief walk in the half light of dawn. When returning to the car, I heard a burrowing owl's alarm call. Ahead of me, right where Paul had suggested (on the 6th fence post), was a perched owl. We got in the car, and I pulled up closer to the owl, and waited for the light to improve. I soon enjoyed great views of this charismatic little owl. When a tractor drove by, it retreated into it's burrow, so just the crown was visible. By now it was 530am, and we had to get home. Despite the heavy rain we were back by 10:20.

6.22.12 Despite an ever deteriorating forecast Ziggy and I left town around 5pm and drove south-east to Bend on Highway 26. From Bend we took the Cascade Lakes Highway southwest to Virginia Messner Snow Park. We walk about 1/2 mile in before hearing a deep hooting at dusk. It was still quite light, and I initially thought I was hearing a long-eared owl calling. When I got a little closer, I could hear the double note quality that some flamm calls have. I started taping, and a few minutes later I had brief views of a flamm flying back and forth. Soon after it started raining heavily, and I moved on down the road. I tried for saw-whet and heard a brief screech response of an irritated saw-whet owl.  I tried a couple of spots off of the highway further down the mountain, but to no avail. Eager to get a better look at a flamm, I returned to the snow park, and birder the track, that follows the highway. I soon taped in a responsive flamm.  Unfortunately despite a lot of taping I could never get a decent view.

6.17.12 Fathers day. We returned to Portland. en route stopping at Umatilla Army depot to look for burrowing owls. We were never able to get near the depot and soon gave up.  A few mile down the freeway Charlie started to cry. We pulled out at the three Mile Canyon exit and stopped under the railroad bridge. Next to the car was a human turn and some shit stained panties. And also pellets. I searched the bridge and found two juvenile owls, one plainly darker than the other. a dead owlet and an adult. Wonderful!

6.16.15 Tui , Charlie and I birded the gully behind the campsite. At one point I heard three deep hoots which sounded like a great gray-deeper shorter and more forceful than a dusky grouse. Despite a lot of searching we could not locate an owl. We tried a couple of other territories.  At one point we heard a frantic yowling and I thought Ziggy was being attacked. I ran through the forest towards the calls, with Charlie strapped to my back,. I half expected to find a mountain lion killing Ziggy, but instead I found Ziggy intact. The calls were coyotes, which continues up the ridge for some time. We gave up around noon and headed for La Grande. Following Evanich's directions-from 1990 we checked out an area for burrowing owls, but came up short. Next we visited a bank swallow colony which supposedly housed an occasional barn owl. Equipped with a flash-light and sunglasses for protection I examined a large cavity, with pellets at the entrance. Sure enough, 2' away was a beautiful barn owl staring back at me.

We set up a new camp site, and then checked out an area off road 700. I found a day old fawn, but no owls. We then returned to our original campsite.While driving up a rough track, Tui spotted an adult bird in a tree. Sharp eyes! We got out of the car and enjoyed this amazing owl for a while. It preened and shook= it's feathers, then stretched it's wings before finally flying to a nearby tree. Down hill we could hear a young bird begging, and after a while were able to locate a 3/4 size juvenile cloaked in a mix of down and full feathers. Wow, what a great find.

6.15.12 Tui, Charlie and I drove out to Spring Creek. At dusk I saw a great horned owl perched on a utility pole from the Interstate 84 at mile marker 189. We camped 1/4 mile up road 050 (off of road 2155, which is off of road 21), shortly before midnight we heard a great horned owl calling from inside our very cold tent. This was a bit dispiriting because this was supposed to be a great-gray territory, and horneds predate grays.  

5.26.12 Tui, Charlie, Ziggy and I, went to the Sandy River delta. It was a sad morning, I had just called home and spoken to the nurse who was caring for mam. She explained that mam was dying. After a despondent beginning, we began having a good walk. Tui heard some robins scolding in a cottonwood tree. We went over to look for an owl. Tui found a dark, male (?) great horned owl. She was quite thrilled to be the first to see him. (Per a long-standing bet, she got a piece of cheese cake later in the day).

5.5.12 Whilst looking for spotted owl at McDonald state forest with Ziggy, I heard a great-horned owl calling persistently around 130am.

4.28.12 Tui and I heard a spotted owl call briefly at dusk, near Oakridge.

4.25.12 Tui and I head a barn owl from our bedroom around 11pm.

4.23.12, while looking for owls at Rippenbrook ranger station, I saw a barred owl standing on the lawn by the Ranger Station. It was 2am at the time, but the bird was illuminated by a street light. The owl appeared extremely long legged, and looked almost stone-curlew like.

4.16.12 While looking for spotted owls on Memloose road in Clackamas county. I heard a barred owl about 1/4 mile above the river.

4.9.12 Charlie, Tui and I were walking from Woodstock back home, when I heard a screech owl call one block east of Reed Parkway on Toleman. After briefly imitating it's call, the owl flew away from the top of a tall deciduous tree.

2.26.12 Charlie, Tui, Ziggy and I went owling along the side of Oaks Bottom. We found a screech owl that was very responsive, just north of the mausoleum. Simultaneously we heard a barn owl above us near the houses on the bluff.

2.11.12 a busy day. Charlie, Ziggy and I walked Broughton Beach. It was really busy, there was a polar bear plunge going on by the boat ramp. We walked out east of the Sea Scout base before we flushed a beautiful male short-eared owl. He flew out towards Washington, then returned back to Oregon. At one point he made contact with the river. It was unclear if he saw a food item or was trying to drink. (He was not forced into water by strong winds or mobbing birds).
We drove east to Wyatt Road. I checked the barn that had housed a barn owl last year, but no luck this time.
Up the road at Locust Grove Rd, Charlie and I slowly checked the pines. We flushed one or two barn owls an also heard a soft double hoot. Suspecting a long-eared or great horned, we went around again for a second round. Sure enough we had a brief but fabulous view of an amazingly skinny and upright long eared owl, with blazing orange eyes and rufous cheeks. Moments later he flushed along with a second bird that appeared larger.
Pressing my look, we drove to Cape Meares, looking for spotted owls. Alas no luck, the site was quite small, probably too small to support a permanent population.

2.10.12 Ziggy, Charlie and I walked around Oaks Bottom, on a mild damp night. I got a response to a tape of a western screech owl below the mausoleum. I saw one bird well and heard another near by.

2.3.12 I hiked through Tryon Creek State Park on a clear night with a bright moon. I got a response from three saw whet owls. The owls were calling from high in the canopy, and would not come close to my tape. I also heard one or two great-horned owls. Eventually on the North Horse Loop Trail, I got a a responsive bird that called and flew rapidly in a low canopy. I got decent illuminated view with the bins.

1.28.12 I hiked into MP 4 on Larch mountain. At the final clearing I soon found a pygmy owl. The bird was remarkably tame, and I was able to get to within 20' of it. The bird was very gray, with a hint of brown just below the false "eyes". The bird did not respond to a tape. Unfortunately, when I got back to the civic it had been broken into. A window was smashed and a diaper bag full of baby supplies stolen.  It was a cold drive home, made all the more bitter by flecks of broken glass being blown into our (Ziggy, Charlie and my faces).

1.16.12 Charlie, Ziggy and I went to Ramsey Lake. We checked the row of pines, between the lake and the railroad track. Almost immediately we flushed a great-horned owl-probably a male, it appeared relatively small. despite checking hundreds of trees no other owls were seen. We then returned to the same patch of forest as yesterday, but were unable to locate any pygmy owls.

1.15.12 Charlie, Ziggy and I returned to the valley between Cornelius Pass and McNamee Road to look for pygmy owls. We had a bird briefly respond to a tape, but were unable to see it.

1.14.12 the four of us drove out to Spokane County, WA, to chase a northern hawk owl. (We stayed the night at Kennewick, WA). Within a few minutes we had distant views of the owl, sat in the top of a pine, being mobbed by ravens. I hiked out to the trees, and after 45 minutes of searching, found the hawk owl, perched just above me. I had great views in the 'scope. I went back to get Tui. As we returned the owl flew to a distant locust tree. It's flight was direct, but buoyant, and reminded me of a Clarke's nutcracker. We were able to hike to withing 100yards of the bird, allowing Tui, reasonable scope views. Whilst looking for the hawk owl, I flushed a roosting barred owl from a thicket.

1.8.12 The four of us drove up from Long Beach WA, where we were spending the weekend at a beach hotel, up to Ocean shores. We spent a couple of blustery hours out on Damon Point watching six beautiful snowy owls. We were able to compare a smaller male with a much larger female. We also saw a couple of birds fly, and could observe their relatively pointed wings and rapid flight.

1.2.12 Tui and I followed up an a report of a barred owl roosting in Reed Canyon a coupe of days ago. After just a coupe of minutes Tui spotted a beautiful awake barred owl about sixty feet up in a Doug fir. The bird was not tape responsive, but would watch us as we walked around the tree.