I live in Portland Oregon with my wife Tui and son Charlie, and dog Ziggy. This was the year that my second son, George was born. This entry details my owling exploits for 2014 around Portland and further afield in the Pacific Northwest.
January 1st 2014
Motivated by lots of good online reports I headed out to south eastern Washington. It was a rough night, I had a killer headache and low grade fever. I pulled off the road a couple of times to sleep, which helped a little. My first stop was to look for pygmy owls along the south fork of Russell Creek Road south east of Walla Walla. This site was kindly recommended me by Mike Denny. It was a beautiful sun rise above the fog of the flat-lands below. Unfortunately I could not lure in any pygmy owls.
I headed out to Fish Hook park on the Snake River. The drive was really slick, with freezing fog and unsalted roads, the Civic slid through a couple of four way stops. Ice accumulated all over the Civic.
At Fish Hook I soon found an amazing saw-whet owl roosting very low in a Juniper. Ah aegolius owls are the best! I also found the remains of a couple of barn and a great horned owl.
My next stop was Charbonneau Park, where I flushed a big female great horned owl from a spruce. I also found a very delicate male barn owl roosting high in a pine tree.
I drove down to Nine Canyon Road to look for three snowy owls which had been reported a few days ago. Unfortunately the fog was thick on the plateau and I soon gave this up as a waste of time.
I drove out to Levey park and found another beautiful all had saw whet roosting low in a spruce. Above it, in the same spruce was a barn owl. Nearby I found a beautiful pair of great horneds.
Interestingly all the owls were in conifers, and all had large quantities of pellets and white wash below the roosting birds.
My final stop was at Sacajawea park, where I found evidence of a couple of roost sites, but no actual owls.
January 12th. Charlie and I took a neighborhood bike ride and stumbled across a gang of raucous crows at SE30th ave and Crystal Springs blvd. Suspecting that they were harassing a predator, we stopped and searched. Sure enough we found a roosting barred owl in a tree. What a great surprise!
January 14th. I played hooky from work one afternoon and took off with Rhett to check out some local owls. At a railroad bridge in Beaverton we found a roosting female barn owl. There was a vast quantity of pellets under her perch suggesting this is a long-term site for her.
I also was lucky enough to be shown a wonderful roosting saw whet, about 25' up in a conifer-a complete needle in a haystack.
Mar 1st Dad and I drove down to Tangent to look for a roost of Short-eared owls reported by Bill Bradford. We the intersection of McLagan and Seward. Although it had rained all day the evening was wonderfully dry with enough sun to cast our shadows long across a yellow stubble field. We watched dozens of bald eagles assembling in some tall cottonwoods. Suddenly, just after sunset the owls appeared. In all about a dozen hyper active short-eareds emerged. Once airborne some hunted low like harriers. Many flew quite high and hovered, then plunged down to the grown. A few barked, while others chased each other. It was a beautiful sight.
Mar 8th Dad and I drove out to the Old Dalles Road, near Hood River. Just south of the turn off to the Verizon communication tower we found a very responsive pygmy owl. We were able to enjoy great views of this charismatic little owl as it called back at us from the tops of spruce trees.
Mar 16th Charlie and I took a walk along Oaks Bottom. It was a wonderful blustery sunny afternoon. About 300m south of the mausoleum, I found a screech owl roosting at the entrance to a hole in an ash tree. The hole was about 15m high. I noticed the birds upper eye lids were distinctly pinkish-something I have never noticed on a western screech. We ran into a party of birders who were carrying a high powered scope. This was great, as we all enjoyed (Charlie included), frame-filling views.
Mar 18th Charlie and I returned to Oaks for another look at the roosting screech owl. Sure enough it was in the same place.
Mar 19th I could not resist coming back for another view of the roosting screech owl at Oaks. This time I found a second bird, barely visible as it was recessed deep in a cavity. Great! I wonder if they are nesting? Seems like one bird would be on eggs? Perhaps it's too early in the season?
Mar 20th Again I return to find a pair of western screech owls at their same roost at Oaks Bottoms. I am amazed just how brown these birds are-in a bright spotlight they appear much grayer. Even their chests are quite brown.
Mar 21st And again I returned to Oaks to looks at the screech owls. This time I brought Phine to see her first owl and Tui and Charlie. The owl showed well. While we were 'scoping it a red tailed hawk soared low overhead and the more exposed screech owl deftly retreated down the hole and out of sight.
Mar 22nd Again I returned to Oaks to look for the screech owls. They were in their usual roosting place. Several walkers stopped to ask me what I was looking at, so it was fun to show people the owls. I was also able to find one of the owls from the overlook.
Later that day, Phine, Tui Charlie and I went to Milne Road in Washington county to look for a short-eared owl that's been reported there. We could not find the short-eared, but was fortunate enough to get good views of a great-horned owl, that flew into a small pine, where it was mobbed by a northern harrier. It was one of those wonderful rich dark northwestern great-horned owls.
Mar 23rd I returned to Oaks Bottom overlook to view the pair of roosting screech owls from high above.
Mar 24th I returned to Milne road in Washington County to look for short-eared owls. It was a beautiful calm night, with banks of leaden clouds to the west. I saw one or two great-horned owls, far across the fields at dusk. They were hunting, shrike-like from exposed perches.
Once it was quite dark, I returned north-bound on Milne road. Luckily a short-eared owl crossed in front of the civic's lights.
Mar 25th After a heavy down pour, Ziggy and I went to Oaks Bottom overlook to check on the screech owls. The rain must have driven the more exposed owl deep into it's hole. The head of the second owl, that's better protected was visible from above through a hole.
Mar 26th between heavy showers Ziggy and I rode out to Oaks Bottom overlook to check on the screech owls. I was able to easily see the more prominent owl.
Mar 29th Ziggy and I rode out to Oaks Bottom overlook to check on the screech owls. I was able to easily see the more prominent owl.
Mar 30th. A banner day. Mid afternoon I drove out to Hood River. Near the small quarry along Old Dalles Road, I taped in a northern pygmy owl. After a steep hike through mixed pine and oak forest I got great views of a singing pygmy. What a beautiful bird.
I then drove east along the interstate. At the Rowena exit I passed a crowd gathered around a motorcyclist who looked like he had run off the road and died. (Later I found out he had been running from the police and had crashed badly, but had survived).
I drove up Fulton Canyon and then a third of a mile down Welk Road, where I stopped at a dilapidated barn where I had seen barn owl in the past. Sure enough I found a very pale bird-presumably a male barn owl. Just beautiful.
About a mile before Locust Drive, I found a large nest in an open tree on the east side of the road. I stopped to check it out and found great-horned owl was sat on the nest. What a great day.
I pressed east through Wasco and on towards Cottonwood Canyon state park. As highway 206 would it's way down towards the John Day river, I sopped to check out small groups of trees for Long-eared owls. At the last copice before the bridge I flushed an amazing long-eared owl from a dense willow. In flight it was a very gray bird with some rust tones. The bird appeared relatively small-perhaps it was a male. The bird perched nearby and I was able to enjoy great views. The cheeks were orange-but fairly lightly colored. What was especially striking were the unmarked, feathered rufous-orange thighs.
Down at the bridge over the John Day I checked the nest boxes for barn owls, but had no look. With white-throated swifts flying overhead, and a beautiful sky, the setting was perfect. I felt elated, having seen such great owls, and sad, that this is such a beautiful and lonely place and I would be leaving soon. I thought about my friend Carl, who died earlier this month. Carl loved this place.
I enjoyed a long and beautiful drive back to Portland, set to a great spring sunset. By the great horned owl nest I found a second bird-this one much paler than the first. Eager to see just how many owls I could find tonight. I checked on the Oaks Bottom screech owls. After a few moments of taping two birds perched right next to me. They sang. It was perfect, way to lovely to intrude with a flashlight.
On to Tryon Creek I tried for both saw-whet owl and barred owl. All I could find was a calling saw whet in response to my taping it uttered a wonderful quavering call-reminiscent of a boreal owl. Alas my luck had turned, and I was not able to see it.
I tried for Barred Owl at Reed Canyon, but to no avail. By now it was close to midnight, and I decided to call it a night.
Apr 5th Ziggy and I made our way out to the Oaks Bottom screech owls. I got a decent view of one of the owls at its usual perch.
Apr 5th I travelled out to Silver Falls State Park to look for great gray owls. I was unable to see or hear any grays. None the less it was a beautiful evening.
Just outside the park I found a large herd of female elk. The forest was thick with sooty grouse singing from high in the trees. I also heard a pygmy owl singing over quite a large area-it moved around over about a quarter mile.
Apr 7th Andy Frank suggested that I go to Vanport Wetlands to look at a great-horned owl nest. It was a warm beautiful night. I took Charlie, Tui and Lena. Lena re-purposed an abandoned grocery store cart and used it to carry Charlie.
We were able to enjoy scope views of a large downy juvenile. A dog walker explained that he had been seeing them at this nest for ten years!
April 12th I returned to the Clackamas Spotted owl site, where I had found a spotted owl last summer. Getting to the site wasn't easy. I left the civic at the gate and rode up the forest road. Almost immediately I encountered snow, and soon the road was completely covered.
It was a lovely warm evening, and the snow was really soft, which made for slow going. After an hour of pushing the bike through the wet snow, I decided to abandon my bike in the forest and hike the balance of the way to the spotted owl site.
While bombing down the hill I heard a big crash from a vine maple thicket. I skidded to a halt and got to see a giant black bear lumbering down slope from me!
A little further down the road I stopped to watch a roadside ruffed grouse. I heard a pygmy owl call spontaneously above me. I tired taping and it flew across the road. Alas I was never able to get a view of the owl.
Out at the spotted owl site I heard nothing. I tried a series of places for the next mile, but got nothing. Still it was a fantastic place and a beautiful night with a three quarters moon.
It was a long ride back up the hill, followed by a really hard slog up the last last mile of snow to the top of the pass, then another mile down hill through the snow. I was really beat by the time I made it back to the civic.
Apr 13th on a warm evening, I biked and Ziggy ran over to Oaks Bottom overlook. I got good views of one of the screech owls sleeping or sunning itself.
The whole family and Lena returned to Vanport to check out the great-horned owl's nest. Near to the nest tree we found a dark beautiful adult owl. In the nest two juveniles practiced wing flapping. I expect that they will be leaving the nest very soon.
Apr 20th George was born on the 17th! I was home from the hospital for a couple of hours to exercise Ziggy. I rode my bike out to Oak's Bottom overlook, where I got a nice view of the roosting screech owl.
Apr 21st. I took Charlie out to Oak's Bottom overlook where I got a good view of the roosting screech owl. A couple overheard us talking about the owl, and came over for a look.
April 29th. At dusk the whole family, George included went to Vanport to look for the nesting great-horned owls. We found a juv (still partly downy) and an adult perched side by side quite low in a tree. The adult moved away from us into a distant tree. Meanwhile the juv nervously bobbed its head side to side.
May 1st. Tui, George, Ziggy and I went to Tryon Creek to investigate a family of barred owls reported by Jack Williamson.
We found a roosting barred owl near the intersection of West Horse loop and Cedar trail. At the trail intersection we were shown the cavity where the owls had nested by a group of students. They also pointed out a large owlet 20' from the nest and another adult roosting nearby. Tui eventually found a third adult nearby-this bird was fantastic as it was perched low in a tree and really close to the trail.
At Sunset the whole family returned to Tryon to watch the family of barred owls again. The birds were really active and we got to hear their wonderful song. We also saw the adult birds hunt from low perches dropping down to the ground several times. The light was far better at this time of day and the views were wonderful.
May 3rd. Again the whole family went to Tryon to look for the barred owls. This time we only saw one adult, but still got good views of it perched next to the trunk of a fir tree. We were able to show the birds to several passing hikers.
May 4th. While Tui and George slept, Charlie and I returned to Tryon to look for the barred owls. Between heavy showers we got great views of two roosting barred owls in the same large Doug Fir. We were also able to point out the owls to several passing hikers.
May 6th. In search of screech owls I tried a couple of locations in Eastmoreland, but turned up nothing. At Tideman Johnson, I was taping for screech owl when a barn owl flew in with-in 20'! I am curious if the barn owl was interested in eating the "screech owl".
Determined to find a screech I returned to the Oaks Bottom site. (I had been checking the Ash tree nearly every day, but had not seen a roosting bird in the tree for over two weeks. I am assuming that they are nesting and that's why they are not in their usual location). Almost immediately I heard a screech from a barn owl flying over the marsh.
May 7th. The whole family returned to Vanport around sunset to look for Great-horned owls. Sure enough we found a roosting bird in the cottonwoods. Soon it started flying between perches and then over the golf course. The bird was relatively small and appeared to be an adult male-though the light was poor, so I am not certain.
Both at this site and the barred owls I have notice that these big obvious owls were not being mobbed. Perhaps the local birds and resident owls establish a detente? Also I still have not heard these birds sing-despite multiple visits at dusk-these may be by chance-or perhaps at this sensitive time with recently fledged young owls, the adults are reluctant to draw attention to the nesting area?
May 11th. While visiting Tui's family in Federal Way, I decided to explore the Gray Wolf River in the Olympics in search of spotted owls. It was a wonderful hike that followed the river through some nice old growth.
At the end of the trail I waited until it got dark, then returned through the forest searching for spotted owls, and warily watching for bear. I saw neither. On the night drive back to Federal Way I found a beautiful barn owl just south of Bremerton, hunting along the road, and a second alongside I5 just north of Tacoma.
May 13th. Tui, Ziggy, George and I escaped the heat and went to Tryon Creek about midday to check on the barred owls. We were able to get good views of one roosting barred owl. Interestingly all the adult birds we have found roosting here have been perched close to the trunk of coniferous trees.
May 15th, Tui, George, Charlie and I went to check out a back yard screech owl reported by my friend Andy. We waited beneath an old cavity filled birch tree. We got to hear the owl sing for several minutes from a distant tall conifer-after sunset, but while it was still quite light. Perhaps because of all the commotion and noise coming from Charlie we never got to see the owl.
May 17th. The whole family went to Sauvie's island. I checked out the row of cyprus trees along Oak Island Road where I had found a roosting bird in 2003 with John and where Rhett had shown me three roosting barn owls late last summer. Sure enough I found a beautiful roosting barn owl. It looked like a male bird-very pale and quite small. Lovely.
May 19th. Tui, George and I went to the Metro property off of SW McNamee Road. We hiked up to a lovely small grove of old growth forest where we located a singing pygmy owl. Eventually we were able to enjoy brilliant views of him singing in a small maple tree.
May 22nd. Tui, George, Ziggy and I went to Oaks. I was determined to relocate the screech owls that I had been seeing very regularly up to a month ago. Sure enough, near the original roost tree I heard a robin chucking at a tree stump. With some investigation I found a roosting brown screech owl at the top of a broken off tree stump. When we returned, half an hour later the owl (and Robin) was gone. Hopefully this turns out to be a reliable site.
After dark I headed out to Tryon to look for baby owls. Having heard baby saw-whet owls previously in May, I planned on checking out parts of the park where I had seen or heard adult saw-whets in the past. Around the head quarters I hard a possible distant juvenile saw-whet. The call was very faint and it soon fell silent. I also could hear the barred owls across the valley. They were primarily making a four note call, repeated once. Further west I was able to hear a little bill chattering-presumably an agitated adult saw-whet followed by a nearby hiss of a baby saw-whet. I tried to spotlight the juvenile, but failed, having not accurately pinpointed the call, and having some very thick conifers to deal with. Despite not being able to see any owls, it was a wonderful warm night and it was great to try a new technique.
May 24th. Tui, George, Ziggy and I returned to Tryon to look for roosting saw-whet babies. We found tons of owl crap under several trees, but no saw-whets. Down by the creek we heard occasional two and three note barred owl calls from the far side of the park.
At sunset Charlie, Ziggy and I walked around Oaks to check out the relocated screech owl that was using the tree stump a couple of days ago. Sure enough the bird was still there. Perhaps because it was getting late, the bird was much more exposed than last time, and I got beautiful views of the whole owl. With the evening light, the bird looked amazingly bright and rufous-toned. Even the cheeks looked a little rufous-reminding me of a long-eared.
May 26th. I went out fairly early in the morning to Tryon to look for saw-whets. Almost as soon as I entered the park, I heard scolding robins. I tracked them down and briefly saw a great-horned owl fly out from a big maple.
I returned to the site where I had recently heard a young saw-whet. Within a couple of minutes a found a lovely adult bird in a very secluded roosting site.
Later in the day the whole family returned and Tui got to see her first saw-whet. This time the bird had orientated itself parallel to the branch it was perched on, making it even harder to see.
May 27th. Following AndyFrank's advice, Tui, George and I headed up to Leif Erickson to track down a pygmy owl. Well before we reached the site, we heard a distant pygmy owl tooting. Despite taping and doing our best to get close to the bird, (not easy with George swaddled to my chest,) we were unable to located the bird.
A mile and a half up Leif Erickson we were able to locate the bird that Andy had reported yesterday. This time we got decent views of it perched high in a conifer. Interesting the call of this bird was much more widely spaced and more prolonged than a regular pygmy owl. The effect of the call was to sound like it was emitted from a larger owl.
May 31st. I closed out the month at 11.57pm, when a great-horned owl flew over the Civic while I was departing from Phine's house in Federal Way, WA. This was a great start to my trip out to Eastern Washington to look for burrowing owls
Jun 1st. It was a great drive out from Federal Way to Hanford. Despite not having slept, it was an easy drive and I was just excited to be on the road. I reached Hanford at 3am. I had to wait a bit before first light. Once the sky had lightened I ventured out in search of burrowing owls. I worked the area between mile posts 10 and 12 going west along Hwy 240 west of Richland. I chose this area because Charlotte Reep email@example.com who had worked on the burrowing owls kindly recommended it to me.
After 3 hours of scanning and a little taping I decided to try a different site. Using http://ner
p.pnnl.gov /projects_ f&w/burrow ingowls.as p I decided to move to a site at mile post 15. Eventually I got scope views of a distant burrowing owl about 1/8 mile east of mile post 15 on the south side of the road.
From here my next destination was George, WA for a family of barn-nesting screech owls. Screech owls are apparently quite rare here. I was curious to see screech owls out in the desert and see if they look the same as Western Oregon's screech owls. I also have never seen screech owls in a barn, so was curious. Thanks to Matt Yawney for posting about the owls and Robert Olson, who was kind enough to let me view the owls on his property. Sure enough there were 5 large juveniles perched together in Robert's barn. We also saw one adult in another part of the room that was calling (bouncing ball song).
My last stop was to visit Cle Elum high school, where a family of great horned owls had nested at the top of a broken totem pole. Within a couple of minutes of arriving I found two beautiful juveniles in a pine next to the totem pole and an adjacent adult watching overhead. I kept a wary eye on the owls, especially after eyeing their huge talons. Interestingly the adult was almost motionless, while the juvs moved around to face me as a walked below them.
June 3rd. A great day. Back in Portland, Tui, George, Ziggy and I headed off for a late morning walk at Tryon. At the usual site I was able to locate a saw-whet owl at head height. This bird was about 15' from where I had found one last week.
What a lovely little owl! Next we walked around the park to get some exercise. Near the great-horned owl nest site sharp-eyed Tui found a juvenile great-horned owl perched next to the trunk of a large Doug fir. Soon we found a second juvenile perched a little higher up in the same tree. These birds were big, fluffy, buffy birds like those I saw a couple of days ago at Cle Elum.
Jun 7th. The whole family went to Tryon in the evening to look for Barred owls. Near the nest site, I heard a scolding robin, and sure enough, after following the call for a hundred yards through the forest I found a Barred owl roosting close to the trunk of a Doug fir-approximately 30' above the ground. A squeak was all it took to get this handsome owl to turn around and face me. Lovely!
Jun 8th. The whole family went to Sauvie's Island. On the way to the beach, we checked on Oak Island road. At the line of Cyprus trees, I found a roosting barn owl. The bird was quite large and dark-breasted, so it was likely a female bird.
Jun 10th. I returned to Leif Erikson trail to look for pygmy owls. I got a response to my tape at the first creek-about an eighth of a mile up the trail. The bird did not seem particularly aggressive, and soon moved on before I could locate it.
At mile post 1.5-1.75 I was unable to elicit a response.
Jun14th. I took an overnight trip out to the John Day area to look for flammulated owls. I tried for pygmy owl at the Old Dalles Highwaynear Hood River. Gusty winds and bright sun, thwart my efforts with the pygmies. I also missed the barn owl at the Welk Road barn. And the great-horneds that had nested just up the road. Near Cottonwood Canyon, the only sign of the long-eared was a couple of egg shells beneath the nest.
Ten miles down the road I felt a tick behind my ear. This distracted me so that I ended up with my right wheels in the gravel at 65mph! Fortunately I regained control of the Civ.
My look began to turn about 10 miles before Fossil, where I found a beautiful pale great-horned owl roosting in an old barn. I assume by it's relatively small size that it was a male bird.
I met up with Tom Winters in the uplands south of John Day. Tom had kindly offered to take me out to look for flams. I had arrived early and we used the time to check for a local great-gray owl, which we failed to find. At dusk we headed out to look for flams. At the first stop a flam came in, and flew excitedly above us, but stayed high in tall pines. We were able to brief, spotlighted views as it flew. Like the Mt Bachelor bird, it was very active and sang almost continuously.
At the next two stops we head spontaniously singing flams, but they did not come into our tape.
At the final stop, there was a mix of both mature conifers and small trees on a steep slope. Tom mentioned that the small trees were helpful, as the flams sometimes perch in them, enabling great views. Sure enough, a bird responded and within a couple of minutes, we found a singing owl at close quarters in a small tree. We enjoyed amazing views of the flam, by far the best I have ever seen.
Satisfied we returned to Tom's place. Tom had suggested a nearby site for saw-whet, so I drove from Star Campground towards Lookout Mountain, and turned right at the T. Six tenths of a mile down that road I quickly got a response to my tape. Soon a saw-whet flew by my face. It took a lot of cat and mouse before I got a good view of a silent saw-whet perched in a small conifer. Prior to this, the bird had both sung and screeched at me multiple times. This bird was very interesting to me, as it was first summer saw whet I had found in Eastern Oregon. I was also interested in how responsive it was-Portland area birds are quite indifferent to the tape in June.
Jun15th. I camped with Ziggy by the saw whet site.
After coffee, I tried for Pygmy owl at various elevations, but with no success.
I spotted the same barn dwelling great-horned owl from the car in Gilliam county that I saw yesterday. I also tried for the Cottonwood Canyon long-eared owl to no avail.
Jun 19th. I pursuit of pygmy owls the whole family went to Forest Park after dinner. We parked at the far end of Leif Erickson Road, by Germantown Road. Once we were out of range of the motorcycles and cars tearing up the asphalt on Germantown, I played a tape for the pygmy. Immediately I got a response! It wasn't going to be so easy to see one of these tiny owls. High above the canopy were some tall Doug Firs. It seemed like to pygmy owl remained out of sight by perching high in the Doug Firs. Add in a mischievous three year old, a deaf pointer mix and plenty of mosquitoes and it began to look like I was not going to see this owl.
Eventually I coaxed the owl to fly across Germantown road, where I got brief in flight views. Nice!
June 21st. For my birthday, Tui had booked a cabin for a couple of nights at Emigrant Springs State Park. I had strategically picked the location because its close to Spring Creek, which is a great site for great gray owls. The whole family was packed into the Civic for the long hot drive to the Blue Mountains.
Once we had set up at the cabin, and had eaten dinner, I set off down to Spring Creek with Ziggy. I was a bit nervous about my chances, as both Laura Navarrete and Trent Bray had both warned me that the great-grays had not nested at their usual locations. It was a rough drive down FR 800.
I came up blank at the Green Pond site off of FR 800. Then I worked my way west to a steep forested slope about 1/3 mile from Green Pond. My spirits were buoyed by a great gray feather lodged in a tree. Next I heard a pair of scolding robins. I climbed as quickly as I could back up slope and there it was! A beautiful juvenile great gray. Wow! What a lovely bird. Thrilled I returned to the Civic and bounced down the road back to the cabin. Many thanks to both Laura and Trent for their excellent advice.
I spent the next day owling on and off, mostly checking for roosting day time owls during family activities. Alas all I saw was bark!
June 23rd. On the way home we made a brief pit stop at Three Mile Canyon. Under the railroad bridge I found one large nearly fledged barn owl, and one small dead chick. (None had nested last year, but two years ago there were several chicks).
July 4th. America's holiday was being celebrated with surprising of enthusiasm in Sellwood.
Literally between fireworks lighting up the sky, a screech owl flew over the overlook and into the neighborhood.
July 5th. The whole family went to Tryon in the evening. Near the nest of the barred owl we heard the begging calls of the young owls. Soon an adult barred owl flew across the gully below us. It was closely followed by three juveniles. Though the juveniles had been fledged for about 8 weeks they were remarkably uncoordinated. The noise and chaos with which the family moved through the forest reminded me of a family of toucans moving through the canopy. Eventually one juvenile flew into a tree just 12' above Charlie and me! We got amazing views.
July 10th. I night hiked 14 miles in South Hood River county. There was a good full moon to owl by. Everything was good. It was a warm night, and as I passed the talus and rock outcrops I could feel the saved up heat radiate of the stone.
A couple of deer scared me pretty good. I was lucky enough to hear a spotted owl. Alas I didn't get a view, but it was still fabulous and special.
Also special was the first light-just gorgeous:
July 27th. I went to Eastern Hood River county in search of spotted owls. At my first stop, I had a spotted owl call! The bird was really near. Alas it only called once. The bird was on a steep slope in dense forest, which made it impractical to walk around under the canopy and spotlight the owl.
I revisited the site a couple of times through the night but was greeted only by silence and shooting stars.
I worked the whole area, but had no other encounters. At one point I caught a pair of widely spaced eyes low in some tall grass. For a moment I thought a cougar was stalking me. Fortunately it was just a fawn.
Aug 3rd. I ventured to Hart Cove, at Cascade Head Preserve. After a hot August day the drive across the northwest Willamette Valley at dusk was perfect. The entrance road to the trailhead was foggy and damp.
At the parking lot I heard two barred owls duetting far below me. What a great start! Despite this I had no owl encounters along the rest of the Hart Cove Trail. The hike was perfect all the same. The magnificent old growth was dripping with moisture. All the plants smelled good. Along the way I heard sea lions bark from the beach far below! I also heard what I think were baby marbled murrelets calling from the trees.
Something heavy and unseen moved on through the heavy undergrowth, a Roosevelt elk perhaps?
Undeterred I decided to continue my spotted owl quest along the entrance road. At my first stop I heard young owls begging. The young of both barred and spotted owls sound the same to my ears. I scrambled through thickets of salmonberry which tore off my head torch, then slid down a steep soft clay bank. Above me shrouded in mist a young owl called. My flashlight lit up the mist, shockingly bright, like a blizzard in the brights. My eyes adjusted and there it was, high in a maple, staring back at me. A barred owl, not a spotted, but how can I be disappointed? It's just so beautiful.
And then it lifted of its perch, and made a long fast pass over me, covered a hundred feet in a blink. I flinched as it landed just above me. Again, it dropped, and this time it stuck my back. The impact was so, so soft, and no claws were drawn against me. Surprised, I grabbed the owl, which had ended up under me, and threw it into the air, which it took to, and flew clumsily into the salmonberries. I got a good look at it resting there. Presumably as shocked as I was. A young bird for sure, with this spring's fine down still sparse among the grown-up owl feathers.
I retreated back up the bank and through the thicket, wary of getting hit properly, but the owl kept it's distance. A little high on adrenaline, I took the entrance road a little to fast and came real close to hitting a young buck on the way out!
Aug 9th. While visiting Tui's family in Federal Way I decided to try for Spotted owl at Mount Rainier. I heard two or three pygmy owls near Mowich Lake. It was a beautiful night.
Soon a big August moon rose high in the sky. Despite the moon's illumination, I was unable to find any spotted owls.
8.16.14 I decided to follow up on a report of a possible spotted owl that was flushed last week along Mazama trail on the northwest side of Mt Hood.
Immediately before the trailhead I saw two mid-sized owls fly over the car. After a couple of minutes of listening I heard a female long-eared owl bark! I hiked up the Mazama trail for a mile and a half, but found no sign of spotted owl. The habitat looked promising though. It was a beautiful night, moonless, at first. I saw three shooting stars, and wished on each for just one spotted owl. The gatekeeper of Mazama trail:
Just below the trailhead I saw a long-eared owl in the headlights flying parallel to the road.
Back along highway 26, between Sandy and Gresham, I got good views of a roadside coyote.
Aug 24th. I decided to explore South Western Wasco county in search of spotted owls. It was a gorgeous night, a shower had just passed, but the stars were bright and perfect. It has At one location I heard a young strix begging call. I was really eager to locate the bird, as it looked like perfect habitat for a spotted owl. However the bird only called intermittently. Just as I was about to give up, a pair of spotted owls duetted. As I was making my way towards them, a pair of barred owls started duetting. The spotted owls fell silent and reluctantly I withdrew.
I had discovered a new way home via Damascus, which payed off well, as I got a nice view of a pale-faced barn owl on a utility wire.
Sep 1st. I follow up some ebird reports of spotted owls. My trip takes me up the Clackamas River, then onto Skyline road, north to highway 26, then back west to Portland. The two sites I check out don't seem promising, and I hear no owls. I listen a lot along Skyline, but hear nothing.
The night is not a bust. The sky is lovely, and I see three shooting stars. Along the Clackamas, I see a roadside skunk, and near Zigzag a Coyote. Coming back into town, along the Clackamas Expressway a screech owl flew in front of the car.
Sep 13th. While visiting Tui's family in Federal Way, I visited Sunrise on the east shoulder of Mount Rainier in search of owls. I arrived just after dusk, on a wonderful warm evening.
Soon after it got dark, I heard a Boreal owl sing briefly. The bird then came close and made a couple of calls- a harsh squeal and a more hollow bark. I briefly saw the bird fly by, but it was a terrible view. While pursuing the Boreal in small trees in a meadow, I had a long-eared hover briefly overhead before it realized I wasn't a tasty small owl. (This is the third time I have encountered long-eareds this way).
Determined to get a better view of a boreal, I headed another half mile down the trail. I heard another boreal far away, and had to hike up to some ridge-top spruces. There I found a wonderful fluffy boreal owl. How gorgeous!
Determined to make the best of my apparent luck, I worked the lower part of the entrance road for spotted owls. Low down, near the White River I heard a juvenile strix call. It called very intermittently, and was not able to locate it on the very steep terrain.
(I contacted Mount Rainier National Park about the Strix. A helpful biologist told me it was likely a barred owl, as there was a territory in the area).
Sep 22nd. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, George and I ventured to Oaks Bottom. We quickly found two separate screech owls, both roosting in sites they were using last spring. It was great to relocate them.
That night I ventured to Kinzel Lake, a mountain lake near Government camp. The road in was rough, making for a slow arduous drive. From the primitive campground it took a while to locate the unsigned trail down to the Salmon River Trail. The trail wound through some great old growth forest, then followed a sparsely forested slope, before descending, zig-zag fashion through middle-aged forest to the Salmon River Trail far below.
The hike was intensely visceral. The breeze brought smoke from the Pit 36 fire. It began to rain lightly and far away lightening briefly lit up the clouds. In the dense thickets of vine maple, unseen animals moved loudly. I felt claustrophobic, this was increasingly interrupted by barely controlled fear.
It was a long hike back up to the car. It was hot, and I felt thirsty. All weekend I had been sick, and the hike was a lot harder than I had expected. 1 soon stripped off my shirt, smelling foul, and feeling just slightly feverish. It was a very long hike back to the car.
If there were Spotted Owls along the trail, they were silent that night.
Sep 27th. The whole family walked around Oaks Bottom. At the usual roost site in an ash tree we found a lovely screech owl sleeping in the warm Indian sun.
That night after putting the kids to bed, I drove out to southern Wasco county. I visited the same site that I heard spotted and barred owls last August. Again I heard a young strix calling/ Later in some more open forest I heard a great horned owl call twice.
It was a lovely crisp starry night.
Back along highway 26 I had a female roadside barn owl at the Damascus turn off.
Oct 2nd. Rhett and I visited Tryon after work. We were blessed to have a warm moonlit evening. With a lot to catch up on we were still able to hear a distant barred owl calling.
Oct 4th. The whole family decided to explore the South Willamette Valley. It had been unseasonably warm for a couple of weeks, and today we enjoyed 84 degrees, sunshine and ice-cream.
I had heard about a spotted owl that nested in Benton County and decided to check it out. I spent about an hour during the afternoon searching for roosting owls. I flushed several black-tailed deer from bramble thickets and was sidetracked by a party of scolding stellar's jays, but found no owls.
On our drive to Eugene we found a beautiful bobcat sunning itself on a grassy hillside. In town we stayed in a converted garage off of brewery row. The yard smelled of abandoned apples, rotting in the grass and overripe grapes.
After diner, I left my family and returned to the spotted owl site. I was greeted by a pair of singing great-horned owls. I figured this was a bad sign, as great-horneds occasionally eat spotted owls. Within a couple of minutes I heard a spotted owl sing. Barely able to contain my excitement I crept through the moonlit forest in the direction of the singing owl. Then I heard (another?) spotted owl make a contact call repeatedly. Using the moon light I quickly got under the bird as it called from a fir. Moments later I had it beautifully illuminated. What a lovely, lovely owl. So chocolately and vulnerable. Just the best owl in Oregon.
On the return to Eugene I visited some riparian ash forest. I was surprised to hear a spontaneously singing saw-whet. Twenty minutes later I tracked him down and got excellent views of him low in a dog wood.
In similar habitat I also heard another great-horned owl. A little further down the road I tried taping for a screech-owl. Instead a big owl flew in. I turned on my flashlight and a male barred owl was perched in the tree. It moved it's head intently from side to side, looking for a tasty screech owl no doubt. Lovely bird.
The road at night.....
Oct 5th. George, Ziggy and I visited Oak's Bottom and quickly found a roosting screech owl sunning itself high in an ash tree.
10.13.14 I ventured into the coast range in Polk County in search of spotted owls. I soon heard a pair of barred owls singing far below me in a forested ravine. Travelling back through the same area a half hour later I caught sight of a beautiful barred owl in my headlights. I was able to spotlight it and get a great view.
On the far side of the same hill I was able to solicit a saw whet owl. It made a couple of calls; a whine and (per the Macaulay "Voices of North American Owl) "fall calls. Both were very similar to the calls of Boreal owls heard (and seen well) on Mount Rainier last month.
Back at the valley bottom I searched along a back road for screech owls in some patchy ash forest. Instead I heard a pair of great-horned owls. I also heard a female squawk call which reminded me of the barking call of a long-eared owl.
Driving home I glimpsed something on a roadside sign. I made a couple of deft maneuvers and got to spotlight a lovely female barn owl.This was by the federal prison in Sheridan, Yamhill County. It was my hundredth county owl!
Oct 18th and 19th
John and I decided to work the Blue Mountains near Tollgate in search of boreal owls. This would be a state bird for me and a lifer for John. This wasn’t our first effort for the owl here. We visited in 2007 and spent a long, cold, fruitless October night working Skyline Road.
This time would be different. I was really excited for our adventure. It had been 5 years since John and I had embarked on a long journey together. The Indian summer would be perfect for owling tonight. Late in the day we worked our way out to a site near Jubilee Lake where Trent Bray had found boreals last year.
At dusk we decided to take a walk along the road. Almost immediately a cow and calf elk crossed the road just in front of us. Moments later we heard a diesel truck pull up on the far side of the elk. I had barely spoken what I feared, when a big shot tore through by us. John and I stared at each other, checking for bullet holes. I took cover and yelled at the shooter not to fire on us. We heard an “OK”, and then another big shot moments later.
We retreated up the road to the Outback and laughed nervously at our luck. Eventually we figured that the hunter had gotten an elk, and it would be safe to speak to him. After all we still wanted to owl the road, without getting shot at again. In the middle of the gravel road was a kid with blood-soaked arms finalizing an efficient piece of elk butchery. The kid was friendly, allaying my fears and stereotypes of those in the forest with the big guns. I explained our plans and he assured me he would be gone in a few minutes.
Back at the Subaru we started taping. The kid in old red dodge flatbed carrying the gutted calf rumbled up to us, then killed the engine. “You guys got a side arm? There are wolves and cougars out here.”
At the next stop a wheeze in John’s breath fooled me into thinking I heard a distant boreal call. Otherwise despite two dozen stops along the whole drive north to the state line we heard nothing but singing elk. I saw a dozen shooting stars, one blazed a brilliant colored tail over us. On every one I wished a boreal owl.
Back at Jubilee Lake we headed east on a loop. At our next stop east of where the calf elk died we heard a saw whet owl. I played a tape, and we had a flutter of an owl moving between the trees, but no real view.
At this point we were pretty much out of gas, and the loop ended up being far, far longer than I had miscalculated from the map. With the gas light on E, a tense silence fell upon us. I drove carefully back to highway 204. From there we freewheeled almost the whole 20 miles off of the Blue Mountains to Highway 11 on the plains far below. From there we set the cruise control and made our way at an undignified slow speed all the way to Pendleton. After gassing up, the rest of the drive was an exercise in staying awake.
Nov 13th. I got the day off work because of a minor ice storm. Ziggy and I braved the cold and wet. First we ventured to Oaks Bottom in search of screech owls, but came up short. Then I visited Reed Canyon, where Rhett had reported a barred owl in late October. I soon found a lovely bird at the Western end of the canyon.
Nov 13th. I got the day off work because of a minor ice storm. Ziggy and I braved the cold and wet. First we ventured to Oaks Bottom in search of screech owls, but came up short. Then I visited Reed Canyon, where Rhett had reported a barred owl in late October. I soon found a lovely bird at the Western end of the canyon.
The owl continually shook, shedding it's feathers of icy rain drops. Against a red-barked pine the big gray owl looked exquisite.
Nov 22nd. The family had stayed at Phinie and Lena's place in Federal Way. My alarm woke me at 3am. I managed to slip out of our big crowded bed without waking anyone. My plan is to drive through the night across to Brewster for a Northern Hawk Owl that's been hunting in an orchard for over a week. I am feeling pretty anxious about this one. Yesterday Snoqualmie Pass was intermittently closed due to snow fall. I don't have chains for the civic and don't want to get ticketed for venturing onto the pass without them.
Snowqualie ends up being just slushy, and I get by without a problem. Blewett Pass was a lot steeper, higher and snowier. Still I get through just fine. After Wenachee the sky begins to pale, and I start to drive faster, determined not to waste the morning behind the wheel.
Once I leave the highway at Brewster the roads are all icy. Up in the orchards on the flats, where the owl has been hunting, the roads are covered in 10" of powder. It's a lovely morning, blue and bright. I walk Ziggy along the orchard roads. After a couple of hours I find a birder scoping the owl. I get a momentary look, then it disappears among the apple trees. The birder turns out to be a Portland guy, Stefan Schlick. Stefan and I last met at a Mackay's bunting in British Columbia ten years ago. Eventually the owl returns, and we are able to get better and better views. What an amazing and strange owl. Stefan tells me that they have been breeding for several years in burns to the west of here, so it is possible that it's local and not an arctic migrant.
The drive back is fine. I decide to cross the Cascades at Highway 20, which turns out to be a blessing, as Snoqalimie was again intermittently closed this afternoon. I get to pick up a couple of really nice hitchhikers, avid snowboarders who work at the resort at Steven's Pass. Largely unencumbered by experience, their youthful enthusiasm was infectious.
Nov 27th. I had heard about three short-eared owls at Broughton Beach a few days ago. Today is Thanksgiving, so I had time to venture out and look for them. It was a warm blustery day. I brought George and Ziggy and we walked up the beach to the Sea Scout base. We flushed a roosting short-eared owl near the end of the beach. It was a really pale bird, almost frosted looking.
Nov 29th. The whole family went to Reed Canyon in search of the resident Barred Owl. At the west end of the Canyon we saw a couple of walkers taking photos of what turned out to be a very tame and cooperative barred owl.
Dec ?. The whole family returned to Reed Canyon. Once we entered the canyon we could hear angry crows ahead. Just before the footbridge that spans the canyon I found a lovely barred owl being harassed by a gang of crows. The crows soon left and we were able to enjoy this lovely owl in peace.
Reports of a snowy owl at Fern Ridge Reservoir had been enticing me for a couple of days. Today at lunch, I read a report of the bird been seen this morning with in ten minutes I had hit the road. It was a swift drive down the interstate to a pull out by the side of the lake. Almost immediately I found a pale blob out on the mud. I ventured around the lake side for a better view, and didn't relocate the bird. Then returned and got a slightly better and more convincing view. I then ventured on foot towards the owl. My luck improved when I met a birder with a fancy scope and not so fancy eyes. I located the owl for him, and with the good scope could see the owls eyes and beak, plus extensive barring on its wings. Wonderful! My 15th and final Northwest owl in 2015. And my first inland snowy owl.
Dec 7th. I returned with George and Ziggy to Reed Canyon. I quickly found the barred owl roosting in a conifer by looking for whitewash. I got a really nice view of the owl preening in it's shady dormitory.
Dec 13th. The family had just returned via Burlingame, from a walk, when I opened my email and saw that John had emailed me about a Burlingame snowy owl. This was a big deal for me. About seven years ago I had missed a long-staying snowy owl in Multnomah County while I was out of the country birding. I raced back up the hill to find a wonderful juvenile snowy owl perched on a roof top. The owl was being mobbed by crows, and would periodically respond with a violent gesture. What an awesome owl!
I ran into Andy who sent me the following wonderful photo:
Dec 21st. George, Ziggy and I walked over to Reed Canyon. Almost immediately we heard several crows. This lead me to find the barred owl low in a conifer. I was able to get really great views.
Dec 27th. Tui and the boys had stayed on in Federal Way after Christmas. I had to return home to work the day after. This gave me a Saturday morning for owling. I decided to take a second stab at a Burrowing owl that had been reported for over a month at Yaquina Head. (The whole family had made a trek out there two weeks ago. That day the bird must have been holed up out of sight).
I got up hours before dawn and drove through the darkness to the coast. The road to the lighthouse was gated, so I parked by highway 101 and leashed up Ziggy.
I made a pathetic attempt to jog out to the quarry. In my big blue boots and old rain coat I quickly gave up and walked the balance. Sure enough the wonderful little owl was where it was supposed to be, half way up the face of the quarry. I was struck how large billed this burrowing owl looked. More a predator than a clown. Still when a red-tail drifted overhead, the vigilant little owl cowered.