Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 Canada


In 2012 I tried to find all fifteen species of north western owls. I failed. I didn't see a boreal owl. with the same goal in mind I ventured to BC to look for boreal owls. The rest of my quest to see all the northwestern owls in 2013 can be found at

3.23.13 I left Portland late morning and drove east through the Columbia gorge to Biggs, then north through Yakima, Soap Lake, Omak and then across the border. At Skaha lake I saw a forest fire burning in the twilight on the far side of the water. At Oakanagon Falls, just south of Penticton, I turned east along Weyerhaeuser Road, and climbed high into the plateau above town. As I climbed ponderosa pines gave way to lodgepoles pines and spruce.  Weyerhaeuser Rd eventually turns into Shuttleworth creek road. I parked the car at kilometer marker 22, adjacent to Rabbit Lake. At this time of year the forest is totally snowbound. The road however is plowed to allow year-round forestry in the area.

It was bloody freezing out, and despite layering a lot of clothes, I was immediately cold as soon as I started owling. I stratergized that I would tape every 300m for a minute, then wait three minutes. I also stopped every 100m and listened. Their was a three quarter moon, and mostly clear skies. The relatively flat terrain  cold and small pines, created a very boreal environment. For much of the walk I could hear coyotes, whose cries were amazingly vivid. The lakes was named for the snowshoe hares, that inhabit the area. Everywhere their tracks criss crossed the snowy road. I found one in an alder thicket. Perhaps because of the cold, and because this was my first serious attempt to find boreal owls in the spring I felt really excited. This was heightened by the hauntingly beautiful night and sense of being on a very difficult mission.

After a couple of hours an owl flew in a couple of minutes after I had done taping. In the spotlight I enjoyed great views of a beautiful barred owl. I assume it had flown in with the intention of eating the "boreal owl" that it had just heard. The gray stix owls are just absolutely beautiful, and barred are definitely one of my favorite owls.

As I walked down the road, and way from the hungry barred owl, I heard two barred owls dueting. I also heard Canada geese calling that night.

At kilometer 29.3 a minute after taping I heard a very distant song in response to my taping.  I approached closer and taped a little more, but it fell silent. A few minutes later I saw the silhouette of the owl fly by. Eager to see the bird properly I taped some more. A few minutes later I heard the bird's wings brush against the tree. Soon I found the bird about 20' away. I got absolutely fantastic views for several minutes as it flew between perches. He never sung again, but very actively bobbed and tilted it's head to get a view of the intruder. Amazing. It had been 11 long years since I have seen a boreal owl!

Just as I stopped enjoying the boreal, I heard a distant engine. A minute later I was able to hitch a ride back to the car with a local couple in a pick-up. The driver was really surprised to find me out here, after midnight, and really enthusiastic to help me, and share in my good fortune. I had to ride in the bed of the truck, which was fucking freezing. The driver said he would drive extra slow, which to me seemed really fast, I thought that my face was going to freeze off with the wind chill. The white civic was practically hidden against the snow, and my heart missed a beat as we slid to a stop to avoid hitting it.

3.24.13 I raced off the plateau down to Okanagon Falls, where I had reception and could text Tui about my good luck. I drove back into the States, until exhaustion took over at 2am. I pulled off the road just north of Omak. At my camp site I heard a family of great-horned owls calling across the valley. I set off on foot, the bright moon overhead, and frost underfoot, but failed to see them as they were high on a wooded cliff.

It was a short cold night and I slept only sporadically until first light around 6am. It was a long drive back to Portland, uneventful and made more so by the lack of good radio. Still what an amazing weekend!

Sun rise on the long drive home
Many thanks to Russell Cannings ( or and Chris Charlesworth ( or, both local birders for their excellent advice.