Sunday, October 2, 2016

Chile 2016

Tui and I decided to take a trip to Chile. It seemed like a great place to travel because it had some new owls (two or three depending on taxonomy), but not so many that I could not be a good husband and participate with Tui. Dad had kindly agreed to come watch the boys while we were away. My target owls were:
Rufous legged owl and Austral pygmy-owl, both lifers. A possible split is field owl, which is the Southern South American race/species of short-eared owl. I was also interested to see barn owls, as this species has been heavily split. I also wanted to get a better a look at Magellanic owl. This is a bird I had seen in silhouette at a stake out near Lima. However I had not seen the bird in color, nor had I heard it sing. Finally the last target was burrowing owl, a bird I had seen many times, but none-the-less a great little owl.

Sep 16th. Dad drives us to PDX. After we had check in Tui drops her purse with $500 cash and her credit card. After a tense twenty minutes it shows up at Lost and Found. We fly to Houston, then onward for a red-eye to Santiago. It is a good flight and I am able to sleep.

Sep 17th. I wake at first light as we fly over Northern Chile. Our final decent into Santiago is through thick cloud, with water streaking over the windows. It takes ages to get through immigration. At the far side of customs we meet our guide: Esteban Martinez ( ). Esteban is a non professional guide (his main gig is environmental consultanting). He proves to be a hard working and conscientious guide, who ensures we both have a great trip.
We pick up a flashy silver Peugeot rental. In no time we hit the road and drive by wind-blow trash and creek-side shanty communities under a blanket of cold gray skies. An hour later we reach Batuco-a wetland surround by cactus clad hills and farms. The sun has burnt off the clouds, it is warm, and to the East the Andes rise high above. We spend a couple of hours working the tall pasture trying to flush a field owl, but all we find are a family of three burrowing owls. It is a great place for birds, and the field were full of lapwings, Andean geese and other birds. Tui flushes a nesting teal and startles herself. I am a little worried about field owl-from ebird I know it is the hardest owl to find in central Chile.
After exhausting the best looking grassland we head out to Olmue, our destination for the next five nights. We stop along the way for mote (a peach and corn drink) and some amazing olives in Til-til. We arrive in Olmue, (a market town and gateway to Parc Nacional Campana) and find our cabin-a pretty cool place in a lemon orchard. Esteban and I visit the park entrance to ask permission to enter the park after hours. Marko the boss, gives us the OK. The three of us go out and eat regular Chilean food, which is hearty and delicious.
It's late, 11pm, by the time we drop Tui back off at the cabin. I am itching to get out into the field and look for rufous legged owl. We head out to El Granizo, which is a secondary entrance to the park. (It's the night before independence day, and the rangers warned us the campground at El Canon Grande, the main entrance, is noisy and full of people). Despite the late hour we are met by a friendly ranger, who talks at great length about the owls. I can barley suppress my impatience to get out into the forest. Eventually the talkative ranger wishes us good luck and we are released. We head up a rough jeep road under a bright moon. A few minutes later and we hear the rufous legged owl sing. (It's known locally as concon, which as an approximation of it's song). It's by far my most wanted owl in Chile. Esteban imitates its song, and soon we have three owls above us. I get brief views of two in flight, but before we can spotlight them they move off. Esteban calls out to them, and we soon track them down to the creek-side forest. Its thick dry stuff, and impossible to walk through quietly. After ten minutes of calling to the owls they fall silent. We wait for a while, contemplating what to do next. My eyes skyward, I see a curious owl fly in to a dead snag next to us. We get beautiful view of it in the torchlight. Lovely! It's tawny-owl sized with dark eyes. Its upper parts is a warm-brown, heavily barred white. The underparts are light buffy, heavily barred a mid-brown. The thighs and facial disk are both rufous.
We hike a little more, mostly because the owl was so easy it seems wrong to just go back to bed. Far above us a distant Magellanic horned owl sings from the rocky hills. He is too far to track down. We also hear a second group of concons singing but don't chase them. It's about 1am when we return to the cabin. I set my alarm for 5am, when we agree to return to the park look for Austral Pygmy owl.

Sep 18th. With my watch buried below layers of heavy blankets I sleep through my alarm. I wake at 730am to the sound of lapwings. I knock on Esteban's door, and soon we were drive up to Canon Grande. (Esteban had kindly scoped out the park a month ago a reported that he heard 5-10 singing Austral pygmy owls before dawn). We hike through the campground into some patchy forest. Nothing is calling so Esteban imitated a pygmy owl. Compared to other pygmy owls, Australs have a very hurried and high pitched song. Moments later from high on the hill side one responds! It is an extremely steep scramble through some thickety patches of forest before I finally catch up with a singing owl bombarded by an angry hummingbird. I had not expected much because Mikkola's "Owls of the world" shows some photos of uninspiring gray-phase birds. However this is a beautiful brown-phase bird, with rich colors. Its quite a large pygmy owl, with typical yellow eyes and an occipital face. Its tail is barred with about 10 buffy bars. Brilliant-what a great start to the trip. We return to the cabin and sleep until late morning. When I finally get up, Tui has made a delicious breakfast out of last night's left overs.
We decide to head to Valparaiso for some non-birding time. Valparaiso is a wonderful city. It's a sort of antipodean San Francisco, but with less yuppies.  We check out the hills, ride a funicular, eat ceviche and check out some really great counter-culture murals.

By late afternoon, we are back on an owling agenda. We visit a small private reserve about 6 km north of Con Con, a coastal town north of Valparaiso. The owner explains they have barn owl nesting in a palm, in their yard. We are shown the tree, but the bird is well hidden. They also report Magellanic owl roosting in some pines on the dunes, and field owl hunting on the saltmarshes. All this is very exciting-my three remaining targets all occur in this idyllic coastal reserve.  We walk out to a railroad track that overlooks the saltmarshes and watch the sun set over the Pacific. It's a gorgeous evening. Alas the field owl fails to show. (It has not been reported for a few months, so it's by no means a sure thing). After dark we go to the pines and tape for the Magellanic. We get no response at all. A little deflated we walk by to the headquarters and flush a barn owl from a fence. Minutes later we get brilliant views of a delicate, pale male perched on the side of a palm. We talk with the owner of the reserve for a while, drinking hot tea by a small bonfire.
Its getting late, so we grab a half dozen empanadas in Con Con and feast on them while steaming up the windows of the Peugeot. Back at the cabin Esteban and I agree to return to the reserve to try again for the field and Magellanic owls.

Sep 19th. With difficulty I rouse myself at 5am, wake Esteban and drive back down to the coast. We parked at the reserve headquarters, catching a barn owl in the headlamps. It is completely dark when we arrive so we check out the pines in the dunes for Magellanic owl. Despite taping and lots of careful listening we heard nothing. I suspect perhaps the big owl is someplace else. We hear an Austral Pygmy owl. We try for a minute to find it, but the pine it's in was absolutely covered in pygmy-owl sized cones, and in the gloaming we could not make it out.
As the skies lighten we make our way to the grasslands in search of the field owl. It was just a lovely cold dawn. The sky was perfect, and the we smell the ocean and hear the Dominican gulls squabble. Despite our vigilance from the top of a tall dune we can't find the field owl. I'm starting to worry about this one. There are few reports in the area on ebird. Recently there have been reports from Concepcion, but its a long (8 hour drive) and I doubt Tui would be thrilled to visit Chile's gritty city.
We spend the rest of the day with Tui, checking out Quintero-a small seaside town just up the coast. We eat our fill of fish from the ocean, while watching giant petrels and skuas. It is about six by the time we catch our bearings and realize that we better set off for Las Palmas de Ocoa on the north side of Parc Nacional La Campana. (The rangers at the park had explained to Esteban that this was a good site for Magellanic owl). It is a slow drive through small towns. Then the car runs low on gas, every few minutes the alarm chimes a warning. Tui isn't too impressed with my choice to press on, but the sun had set and I was eager to reprise this morning's performance with a good owl sighting.
The rangers are super helpful, directing us to a specific grove of palms. I drive up the bumpy dirt track as a fast as our low slung Peugeot allows, then sprint through the twilight down a short nature trail. At the end of the trail the two big owls sing their Chilean name "Tucuquere". Beautiful birds, singing from their palms surrounded by high rocky hills. I pursue the nearest bird up a rocky hillside. It's a thick mess of thorns and lose rocks. At the top, just 25' away, the big owl sings softly in silhouette from a small thorn tree. Back in the palms, Tui, Esteban and I spotlight it's mate as it flies over.
Tui and I are really struck by the place, it was so beautiful and perfect.

Back at the entrance we are given a half price deal on admission thanks to our short visit. It's a tense drive to the nearest gas station. We make it back to the cabin late.

Sep 20th We wake at a civilized hour and pack. Tui had booked a different cabin in town for our last two nights at Olmue. We drop off our gear at the new cabin, then drive Esteban back to Santiago. On the way into town we stop at Puente Negro, a site near Batuco, where field owl has occurred many times, (but no recent reports on ebird). It was noon, so we don't stop and look for the owl. I make plans to return at dawn.
We say goodbye to Esteban in a parking structure down town. He is a great guide, and we both really enjoyed his company. Tui and I then head for a fish market where we find ceviche and pisco sours. That afternoon we visit the Museo Chileo de Art Precolmbino. Tui really appreciates the cafe's offerings:

It's amazing to think of all the millions of people who have lived on this continent for thousands of years and all how their beliefs and are mostly forgotten. We also walk Cerro Santa Lucia for great views of Santiago. We easily make our way out of Santiago. I was hoping for roadside views of owls as we drove home, but we see nothing. Our new cabin was nothing special-most fixtures are broken (like the toilet, some of the power, the hot water) and the bedding is damp. Still we are tired and I sleep soundly.

Sep 21st. I wake at 530am and scramble into the Peugeot. The drive to Puente Negro involves a big pass between Olmue and Til-til. The Peugeot is brilliant-it was clad with huge tires set on stiff springs. I drive it through the hairpin bends as fast as I dare and the car grips tenacious like a cat. I reach Puente Negro in good time. It's situated on a straightway on a well used road that crosses some wet pastures. I have to park a half kilometer from the best area and walk back along the busy road, pressing myself against the crash barriers as the rush hour commuters speed by in the darkness. I make it to the viewing area just in time to see the field owl flyover the road. In the first light of dawn I see it's clearly a field owl, with a streaked (not barred chest), and relatively long thin wings and a buoyant flight-unlike a Magellanic owl. The owl flies to the north, gaining height, and finally disappearing. I wait until the sun rises, but don't see another. Wow, what a great find!

I find a classic rock station on the car's radio and listen triumphantly to Soundgarden and Nirvana on the drive back to Olmue.
Tui is pretty happy about my find. Having seen all the owls we are now free to do non-owling things for the rest of the trip. Despite having paid for another night, we ditch the damp cabin. We drive up to La Serena that day, We get to walk the center of town that evening and enjoy a rooftop beer from our hotel.

Sep 22nd. We drive up to La Vicuna, a beautiful little mountain town.

There we visit the museum of Gabriela Mistral, That afternoon we visit Pisco Aba, a piscura were we get to see how pisco is made, and drink a little too. From there we pick up a young hitchhiker, Martin, and drive further into the mountains, stopping at Pisco Elqui, an even cuter mountain town. There we eat great Chilean food while watching the sun set on the snow covered peaks high above.

Sep 23rd. I get up at 5am and drive up the valley in search of owls. The area I explore isn't that great-there are a lot of cars on the road, and noise from the river does not help. I do hear a singing Austral Pygmy owl. It's near a farm, and though I get close I never see it, feeling inhibited to trespass through the farm yard.

Tui and I drive up to Cochiguaz, where we walk along a mountain stream.

Later we visit Guayacan Brewery, where I get to drink unbelievably good beer while listening to Bob Dylan.

That evening we take an astronomy tour, under an enormous southern night sky. This really is an amazing place.

Sep 24th. I awaken a little sad, knowing this is our last day in Chile. We make our way back south, stopping for lunch at Termas de Socos, a small hot springs resort set in an oasis. It's grounds are beautiful and full of birds. We soak in a tub, but it's nothing to special-sort of like taking a bath in an 1920s bathroom. The food is pretty amazing though. The rest of our journey to Santiago and flight home all go just fine.

Sep 25th. We meet my dad and our boys at the MAX station by our home. The boys are well, and Dad did a great job caring for them.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Oman 2016

"Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet
We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it"

In 2014 a coworker, Kathleen, emailed me a link about the discovery of a new species of owl in Oman. "Had I had heard all about it?" I hadn't, but a little research revealed it was a Hume's-like Strix owl. I immediately started day dreaming and in early 2016 bought a ticket from Seatac to Dubai. An owling trip to the Emirates and Oman had 7 potential new owls for me: Pharaoh eagle-owl, Arabian eagle-owl, pallid scops-owl, Arabian scops-owl, Omani owl, Hume's owl and Lillith's owl.

A lot of people helped me with this trip, especially Rene Pop, Magnus Robb, Jens Eriksen, Tommy Pedersen, Shaun Coyle and Dave Ward.

March 17th. Although I had originally planned on flying up to Seatac, by the time I priced tickets from Portland they were $400 for the 160 mile trip so I decided to drive. After a day's work, I put the boys to bed and have a coffee on the couch with my wife Tui. "You pack light". "Yep, I know". We say goodbye, and I set off on a cold, mostly clear night. A gibbous waxing moon followed my little white car north along the freeway.

The drive to Seatac went well and I pull into long-term parking just after midnight.

March 18th. It took just a few minutes to catch the bus to the terminal. There I scope out a nice bench to sleep on. I unpack my bag to get my sleeping bag. FUCK. My owling gear was at home! 30 more seconds of frantic digging confirmed the worst. I quickly execute the math. There was time, barring traffic problems, to make the drive home and pick it up. It was 1am and I have a 930am flight. It's painful to wait for the long-term parking bus to pick me up, and then lumber slowly through the terminals back to the car.

Once at the Civic, I bolt onto the freeway and drive eighty. Past suburbs full of sleeping people, farms, and forests, all the way into my driveway. Tui's surprised and confused. I am literally home for twenty seconds, then hit the road again. this time fighting sleep, all the way back to Seatac, arriving at the terminal before sunup. At the gate I sleep profoundly for an hour, then board the big plane. It's 14 hours to Dubai, and I sleep for most of them.

Arriving at Dubai is smooth. At Hertz I collect my RAV4, Maureen at the desk warns I might not be able to get it across the border to Oman, because I don't have the original registration. It takes me a couple of hours to reach the border. I fixate on this problem, but it's redundant as the border crossing is easy for me.

Once in Oman, its about 350 fast kilometers to Rustaq, a small town at the foothills of the Al Hajar Mountains. From there I drive into a large, high-walled wadi, where the Omani owl has been reported. By now it's 730pm, and recently dark.  It had rained last week, and there was lots of standing water and the air was thick with little mosquitoes.I do my best to ignore them. While sorting out my owling gear I hear a distant pallid scops-owl. I track one down and enjoy a great view in a gnarled elb tree. They are common here. They have a surprisingly deep monotonous call. It's yellow eyed, with ear tufts and dark streaks on it's underparts, most strongly marked on it's chest. The bird's gray, lacking brown tones.

I start to explore the wadi. High on the cliffs goats, bleat sounding like calling owls. I do hear Omani owls a few times, but always high above me, calling very sporadically. I fret they are incubating, a time that owls can be elusive. This place is tough, the walls of the wadi tower hundreds of meters above me, and above them mountains for thousands of meters. Its a wild and impossible place.

I walk the wadi for 7 hours, then drive to a side canyon and explore it, until the huge boulders become too much. I return to the wadi, and continue my search 'till 5am. Exhausted I crawl into the back of the car and sleep 'till noon.

March 20th. I had slept with the windows open.

Eventually the assorted biting flies and heat from the midday sun was too much. I get up and re-read the site info I have from my friend Shaun who was hear a couple of months ago and saw two Omani owls at different sites. I realized his second site is about 15km away, and I plan to work that site tonight.

I head into Rustaq, and eat some Pakistani food. After lunch I set out looking for internet, but bad traffic and spotty directions defeat me and I return to the mountains, to Shaun's second site. His photos enable me to pinpoint the exact place he had camped when he heard the owls. This site was very different from the one I worked last night.  It is made up of rocky hills, which were much more accessible, though still no walk in the park. By now it was about 4pm, and I spend a  couple of hours before dusk exploring the navigable wadis and tracks that penetrate the hills.

Waiting by the car, just after sun set, I hear a very distant Omai owl call spontaneously, once, twice, three times. I set off into the area, fast. I need to cover 1-2km before it gets completely dark.
It takes a while to really get into the hills where the owl called from, and once there I don't hear anything. I work my way around to other nearby Wadis. Still nothing. Walking a big wadi I spotlight a pair of eyes on the cliff-I'm thrilled for a minute, until I walk closer and the realization that I'm looking at a fox sinks in. Closer to the road I hear a Lillith's owl, which responds very aggressively to the tape. I get great views of this are strange little owls. It's darker than the typical Lillith's. I work the area until 11pm, then return to last night's big wadi.

Back in the big wadi I worked last night I try the specific patch of cliff where Shaun had had the owl just two months before. Nothing. I try the entrance to this wadi, but it's full of huge car sized boulders and it's slow going. Foxes and wild cats prowl the cliffs, their brilliant eyes fool me every time.

My next gambit is to try a similar wadi 3km to the west. I had checked this out earlier today and it looked very good. Under a beautiful moon I hiked this wadi for a few km. More foxes-their brilliantly reflective eyes owl-like. Hungry mosquitoes torment me. Deafening as I try and listen for the owls that won't call. Jackals do. They sing freely. Rocks fall from high above and far away. Echoing spectacularly.

Back at the original wadi. I walk the road, spotlighting the cliffs, looking for eye-shine and listening.

At 4am I give up and sleep in the car.

March 21st. Beep, beep. Its 6am. It's time to get up. The forecast is for rain and blustery winds, so my plan is to head to the south of Oman. There I can escape the bad weather and search for three other new owls. I take a swig of water of plastic-tasting and hit the road.

I hoped to take a shortcut south through the Al Haraj mountains, but apparently its a bad road, so I ended going the long the long way through Muscat. All 1200km! Once I clear Muscat, traffic calms down. I headed south from there, through Nizwa. South of Nizwa the road crossed a vast plain of featureless, stony flat wastelands.
I listened to Radio Oman, which wasn't good, but I missed it all the same when I lost the signal. At a lonely gas station, in the middle of nothing I find a hitch hiker. He's from Bangalore, and is heading to Salalah. He speaks very little English, but is clearly very happy to be given water. We listen to Public Enemy and drive. The last 200km before town were a struggle to stay awake.

Salalah was bigger than I expect, and traffic was dense. I drop off my hitchhiker as the sun set, and set off up the Coast to Ain Hamran. It was dark when I arrived at the small wooded park in the foothills of the coastal mountains. I immediately heard several Arabian scops-owls. It took just a couple of minutes to tape out two, one I saw really well. It's a tiny little scops, with little ear tufts. yellow eyes and unfeathered legs. It was a lot less crisply marked than the Pallid scops. The chest had a splotchy affect, that gave the owl a smudgy appearance. It's call was very distinctive-a loud cricket-like scratchy trill

While working on the scops-owl I hear a distant Arabian eagle-owl. A few minutes later it had fallen silent and no amount of taping, or wandering around and spotlighting the few big trees revealed it. It was a small area to cover and by 930pm I had decide to try one of the other nearby sites for this species.

 My next site was Ayn Torqua, also situated in the foothills of the coast range. I find a beautiful spring surrounded by big riparian trees. I notice the frogs singing at the pool where the same as those singing on the recording I use. Perhaps they are frog eaters? Despite this I didn't hear any Eagle-owls, though scops called without provocation. By now it was 11pm and I was starting to worry so I pressed on to Wadi Dharbat-a park, also set in the foothills of the coastal mountains.

I park up and walk down to the wadi. In response to my tape an Arabian eagle-owl sang-a two note soft call, the first note longer. It was on the far side of a body of water, that had been helpfully labeled as having bilharzia. Teetering on the edge of the water I play my tape and peer into the trees on the far side for signs of life.  Eventually the owl flew across the water, and over me to some scrubby woodland beyond the car. I scramble up the rocky slope, my heart beating in my throat. I found the beautiful big owl, perched atop of a open scrubby tree. It sang, in silhouette against the moonlight, then disappears back across the water.

I pursue it some more, trying to get a better view, while not getting bilharzia, but never saw it again. By now it was midnight and I am really exhausted. I return to the car and crawl in to the passenger's seat. It was a beautiful night, warm and perfect under a huge white moon. A barn owl screamed in the distance, but I ignore and sleep.

March 22nd.  I wake up feeling good about last night. It's 9am, the sun's high and the car is hot inside. I set off into Salalah. I eat breakfast at a Indian fast food place. Then I track down the internet in an old school gym of all places. I email Tui and solicit help from a couple Omani birding contacts. I am all set and ready to go by noon. I head northeast along the coast to Ash Shuwaymiyyah. It's an amazing drive, with huge limestone cliffs plunging into the Indian ocean.
The road hugs the coast for an hour, then climbs dramatically over the cliffs, then descends to a beautiful palm fringed lagoon, before climbing the huge cliffs again and finally returning to the coastal plane.
At Ash Shuwaymiyyah I eat fish and rice, then head inland up Ash Shuwaymiyyah Wadi. This is an amazing place-a wide wadi, described by high cliffs, set in the austere desert. In the cliffs are a series of beautiful lush hanging gardens fed by springs. the whole place is utterly beautiful. It gets better as the sun begins to set.

At the end of the road I park up and explore. At dusk I climb above the hanging garden and play my tape.
Far away a distant Hume's owl sings back to me. Then another sings, closer. It's across the wadi. I run down the steep rocky slope, and across the expanse of the flat wadi bottom up to the cliffs on the far side. It's a long run, but the owl continues to sing from up on the wadi wall. It's a big cliff, and I am unable to coax the owl into view. I find a buttress to climb up, that will bring me closer. It's not easy scrambling over lose steep rocks, and by the time I'm level with where the owl was singing from it's moved 500m along the wall. I scramble back down the rocks as quietly, and quickly as I can and make my way under the owl. Then climb the steep slope, until the slope becomes a cliff face. there I tape. The owl sings back to me, beautifully. A lonely sincere solicitation: one long note, followed by two shorter paired notes. I start to scan the wall with my flashlight. The scale of this place is vast, and the limits of the flashlight obvious. Then a brown owl flies from high on the wall, closer and lands on the wall level with me. It's far enough away I can only make out the eye shine, its brown mantle and lighter underparts. Still it's a magical bird-an owl I have dreamed of seeing ever since I first read about it as a school boy.

I'm so thrilled I practically floated back across the wadi to the car. I decide to celebrate by setting up the tent. This place is too beautiful to sleep in the crappy car that smells like air-freshener. I find a piece of flat ground and make my pitch. I fall asleep to a singing Hume's high on the wadi wall.

March 23rd.  I wake in the middle of the night, the little tent's rattled by a strong wind. The full moons shining through the tent and it's impossible to sleep. I retreat to the car and sleep soundly until first light.

I decide to head back to the Al Hajar mountains in the north of Oman to try again for Omani owl. I take a walk in the wadi, just to get some exercise before the long day's drive ahead. Then I drive out the wadi and up to a town called Shalim.
My map shows a direct road that runs north to Nizwa and Muscat, Two different guys at the gas station assure me that's not the way, and point me to an indirect coast road. I reluctantly head out that way, hoping that I will meet the direct road along the way. After a couple of hours drive I see a sign for Muscat. I take this road, which for an hours is great, its a fast road through the interior. At an oil field the pavement runs out, but a good grave road continues to the north east. I follow this out into no-mans land of oil infrastructure and desolate wastelands. there is nothing here, certainly no people to ask. All the signs read for different oil fields. After another hour the road starts to zig zag pointlessly across the flat lands. It's incredibly hot out, and it's hard to not be concerned. According to my map, and the odometer I should have met up with the main Muscat-Salalah road by now. Eventally I come to a "road closed" sign, then to my left a  road that followed a pipeline that was marked "private". I travel for a few minutes down this road, but my gas is down to a third of a tank and I don't have the heart to continue. It's a hot tedious drive back to the coast. The whole side trip is 320km. As a further indignity, by the time I make it to the coast I retreat another 20km back to the nearest gas station.

I am back on track-though it's 1pm and a long drive to Nizwa. I eat some Indian food, the drive on. Near Duqm I pick up Salah, a hitchhiker. He's an English teacher from Syria, heading back to his home in Sinaw. Understandably he has a lot to say about Syria.

After a couple of hours of driving under blue skies and a big hot sun, the skies turn chocolate colored.
A big wind picks up, and soon we are driving through a dust storm. It's impossible to see more than 100m and even though the road is straight, the situation feels ominous. Soon the storm breaks and it starts to rain. Cars ahead start to flash their lights in warning. Salah tells me of a wadi ahead that might be flooded. Two weeks ago he had to spend the night at a mosque on the banks of the wadi waiting for the waters to recede.

Sure enough we reach the flooded wadi. It's a big expanse of brown water-about 100m. Uncertain we stop at it's edge and think. Then on the far side a 4wd Hilux starts to cross. The Hilux makes it no problem. It looks like the water is knee height. We set off, very slowly. My foot freezes, barely on the gas as we edge through the brown water. It feels like we are stalling, probably from the effort it takes to push through the water. I'm horrified at the prospect of killing the car. But we emerge triumphantly from the brown water. We are both jubilant. Salah thanks Allah.

It's a little after dark by the time I arrive in Sinaw. I drop off Salah, check my email-no new leads on Omani owl, then head off to a wadi behind Birkat. I work both a couple of side wadi's that are steep and boulder strewn, and the main flat bottomed gravel wadi.  It was a beautiful night with a big moon. I hear an Omani owl and climb quickly up the  rocky side of the wadi to get closer, but the scale of the walls, and the indifference of the owl to my tape is overwhelming. I hear a couple of other Omani owls, but they are all far away, high above and unresponsive.

I do find several sets of eyes, foxes, cats goats and big lizards, each for a moment is exciting, then inevitably disappointing as the truth reveals itself. I did hear four pallid scops-owls, and see one, singing from the wall of the wadi, like a miniature Omani owl. I return to the car at 5am and sleep.

March 24th. I wake in the hot car mid-morning, Dehydrated and groggy I drive to Nizwa.
I find a posh hotel-I think that's the only type here. I shower and wash my stinking socks, then sleep till late in the afternoon.

It's Indian for dinner, then I return to the wadi near Birkat.
Some Pallid scops-owls sing their modest call. I spotlight several foxes and three cats. No Omani owls at all, not even calls. Still it was a most beautiful night, with a big moon illuminating impossibly rugged mountains that rise out of the wadi bed. I pass through a small village in the wadi, doing my best to walk in the shadows and my passing goes unnoticed. I walk twenty kilometers-and venture deeper into the wadi where clear waters flow and frogs sing. It's technical terrain up there and I scramble over a labyrinth of huge boulders to get deeper into the wadi. I'm done by 4am, and return to my hotel to sleep until check out.

March 25th.  I make the most of the hotel's breakfast then head out to the Wadi near Rustaq. This involves a longish drive via Muscat around the Al Hajar mountains. Once in the area I end up exploring an alternate canyon 20km to the west. The cliffs look promising, and they are a little less imposing. I wait for darkness, then walk along the road taping occasionally for Omani owl. In response all I hear area a couple of Pallid scops. The wadi isn't that ideal-their are just too many cars, so I decide to return to the original site I had worked on my first two nights in Oman. 

I begin at Shaun's old site, by the rocky hills. This time, I work a larger area and climb high into the barren hills. I hear a single call from an Omani owl, and climb high into the hills to get close. Alas the bird is indifferent to my taping and reluctantly I give up. I find a Pallid scops-owl singing from a large cavity in the wadi wall and a few foxes. Below a scrub fire, fills the bowl with smoke-illuminated white by the moon, and encircle in huge mountains it's a magical night. 

Around midnight I head back to the original site. On the road I pass a convoy of  a dozen cars. The lead vehicle is a jeep, and hanging onto the roll cage are a couple of guys with big guns. Only in Oman is this NOT a concerning situation. The last car that passes is decorated with balloons and ribbons and it's now clear its a wedding party. I pull up a few kilometers away and hear some spectacular gun shots echoing off the cliffs above. I had a particular wall staked out for the owls, and climbed as high as I could into the cliffs. The view from up high of the long shadows and mountains in silhouette is amazing. The Omani owls remains mute. 

I return to the wadi bed and walk 4km to the end, taping and listening to foxes, mosquitoes, goats and scops-owls. At Shaun's other site, I hear a single distant contact call from an Omani owl-it's 3am on my last night, so it's pretty much my last chance. I run across the wadi bed, and as quietly as I can scramble up the small cliffs and rocks to get up to the calling owl. It calls again and I am able to hone in real close. I really couldn't have been more excited-my heart is pounding out my chest. I'm hearing a  goat cough. I'm a little gutted. Still there are two hours'till dawn. A small shooting star passes overhead.  I walk and spotlight the cliffs for eye-shine. I find a few more goats, but no owls. A muezzin calls the faithful to pray. The sound fills the enormity of the whole place. The sky is unquestionably fading to blue. 

March 26th. I'd drunk a half gallon of mountain dew and eaten 800mg of caffeine tabs last night. All through the night I'd ridden a nice caffeine high. Now I'm trying to sleep and it's hopeless. After an hour I gave up and hit the road, heading for the Emirates. The drive to the border at Al Buraimi was fast an easy.

I ate great Indian food in Al Buraimi. Then get stuck in a long line at the wrong border crossing that was open only to locals. Eventually I get to the Hili crossing and make my way into the Emirates. The first thing I notice are women everywhere in sharp contrast to rural Oman, where the only women I saw where passengers in cars. I headed to Qarn Nazwa, a limestone outcrop in the vast sands that's a known site for Pharaoh eagle-owl. I have really good directions from my friend Dave. I parked up in the heat of the day and set off to explore the outcrop. I have a good idea of where the owl roosted-in some small caves/holes set in a small cliff. I work the area thoroughly, but don't find either owls, or pellets or feathers. Where ever the owl sleeps it wasn't the holes I checked. 

I did scare up three dainty Arabian Antelope and a jackal. I have plenty of time, so walk about checking more holes for roosting owls, but all I find are a couple of feral cats. I set my self up on a small peak and enjoy the sunset.
A pair of ravens starts dive bombing something at the far end of the escarpment. I run along the ridge to get closer-sure they must be mobbing an owl. Eventually when I am a couple hundred meters away I see they are mobbing the jackal. I settle down and continue scanning the skyline for the big owl. It's pretty noisy here-there is a major road just 500m away, and it's hard to listen for owls. I try taping but get no response. Then I notice a group of white figures below. I am amazed to see a group of Oryx. (It turns out the reserve is set aside for Oryx, so it's not such a surprise). 

While walking the ridge, without my snake guards and without the aid of my light I pass and angry coiled saw-scaled viper-not one to stand on. 

I try taping a few more places, but traffic is noisy is so  I decide to set up camp in the sand and try again at 1am, when it's quieter. My alarm goes off and I dutifully go out and tape for the big owl-even though it's quieter out, I get no response. I set my alarm for 5am. I wake instead to the muezzin. It's still dark and I get my gear together and head back up to the escarpment in search of the big owl. Well there is nothing. I pack my little tent and set off in the cool morning towards to glowing sodium light of Dubai. "Fool Gold" plays on the radio. I'm speeding on the empty highway so I don't miss my flight. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2016 owling


I live in Portland Oregon with my wife Tui, two sons Charlie (aged 5) and George (aged 2), and dog Ziggy. This entry details my owling exploits for 2016 around Portland and further afield in the Pacific Northwest.

Jan 1st. It was a bright freezing morning. I took George (in the stroller) and Ziggy to Reed Canyon. The wind blew from the frozen east through the gorge and blasted us. Fortunately my heart was warmed by a lovely barred owl roosting in the usual Doug fir at the west end of Reed Canyon.

We returned by Oaks Bottom overlook, and checked the old ash tree for roosting screech owls to no avail. Later that afternoon I returned to Oaks and walked around the east side of the wetland. I checked the old ash again, but the owl was still gone. I found several small firs splattered with white-wash, but none had roosting owls in them. On the way back I checked the old ash one last time and found a screech owl roosting in the usual cavity. (I reckon that it had been in the same cavity all along and had just made its way closer to the entrance as the sun began to set).

Jan 2nd Another bright freezing day with strong easterlies. Late in the afternoon I revisited the Doug fir at the west end of Reed and enjoyed great views of the barred owl. I walked the whole canyon, but found no other owls.

Jan 3rd. It snowed today. I revisited the Doug fir in Reed Canyon but failed to find the barred owl. Later I returned to the canyon and found clumps of screech owl feathers under a big cedar.

Death in the snow
Sure enough a deadly barred owl was perched about 15' above me.

Jan 4th This morning I had planned to head to southeastern Washington with Konchog in search of long-eared owls. Instead we were pinned down by an ice storm. By noon the main roads looked good, so I ventured to the Eugene area. First stop was Mt Pisgah in search of pygmy owl. It was raw and rained on and off-hardly surprisingly no pygmies were calling.

Next stop was Meadowlark Prairie in search of short-eared owls. I had to wait until it was quiet dark before seeing a distant bird quartering the wet grasslands next to a northern harrier for comparison. Also in the area were three lovely rough legged hawks.

From there I drove out to the end of Royal Avenue, by Fern Ridge. I immediately found a great horned owl silhouette in a small willow tree.

Finally I tried Oakhill Cemetery. A pair of great-horned duetted in the tall firs.

Jan 9th. A couple of days ago Andy Frank had reported 3 short-eared owls roosting on the banks of the Colombia. I walked the riverbank near the airport and after 45 minutes of searching found a dark (female?) bird roosting in a grassy tussock. The bird flushed almost immediately and flew out into the river, then returned to land 1/4 mile downstream. The roosting spot was clearly well used because it was thickly coated with whitewash and strewn with pellets.

Jan 11th. A friend of mine, Konchog, asked me about seeing long-eared owl. This is a hard bird locally so I asked around. Mike Denny in Walla Walla kindly offered to show us a roost site.

We Met Mike and his wife MerryLinn at Hood Park on the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. They kindly drove us around Walla Walla County in search of owls and other good birds.

Our first stop was at Charbonneau Park, where we flushed barn owl and found a roosting great-horned.

At Fish Hook park we found a second roosting great horned. Additionally we found two lovely saw whet owls, both roosting very low in conifers. Mike mentioned that they almost always chose to roost away from the trunk unlike screech owls which typically roost next tot he trunk.

We drove through the tiny community of Eureka, WA and saw a great horned perched in a back yard cottonwood.

We tried a couple of road-side deciduous thickets along Smith Springs road in search of roosting long-eareds but only found a pair of great-horned owls in a cottonwood. Then at our last site at Smith Springs we found three amazing long eared owls roosting together very low in a riparian deciduous thicket. Fully alert and agitated these amazing owls look like anorexic cats.

Our next site was lower monument dam, where we waited in the cold for a slaty-backed gull, a rare Siberian visitor, which eventually showed much to Konchog's delight. We visited a small quarry where bank swallows had bored tunnels into the sandy banks. Amazingly a flock of rosy finches was using the same tunnels as roosting sites.

We drove back through rough grasslands in search of short-eared owls but found none. Back at Eureka we found a second great-horned roosting high in a concrete grain silo.

Back at Hood park we thanked Mike and MerryLinn for an amazing day then headed home high on owl sightings and caffeine.

Jan 16th. On a rainy Saturday afternoon I drove down to Finley National Wildlife Refuge. By the time I arrived the sky had partially cleared and the weather was dry.

I spent an hour and a half scanning the Prairie Overlook before the first short-eared owl emerged from the tall grass. It quickly climbed several hundred feet then headed north to parks unknown. A couple more owls emerged, one distant, the other quite close by. It perched in a tree and surveyed the prairie for a few minutes before starting to hunt.

Jan 18th. Between the showers I walked around the east side of Oaks Bottom today. At the usual broken ash tree I found two roosting screech owls. This is the first time I have seen an owl using the more open cavity in about a year.

Jan 23rd. Again I walked around the east side of Oaks Bottom. At the usual broken ash tree I found two roosting screech owls, as if frozen since last weekend.

Jan 25th. Brandon Wagner had kindly offered to show me a short-eared owl roost just north of Monmouth in Polk County. Late in the day we saw seven lovely short-eareds emerge from a stubble field and fly south east for some distance to an unknown location.

After a very good diner at Brandon's we ventured out to the foothills on the edge of the Willamette Valley just north of Dallas. We were trying for a nocturnal pygmy owl, but instead were rewarded by a chorus of tree frogs, three singing great-horned owls (two males and a female) and a calling barred owl.

Jan 30th. After the boys went to bed I headed out into the coast range in search of Saw-whet owls. Near Banks my brights shone on a big coyote as it ran across the highway. High in the Coast Range I got caught up in a surprise snow storm. The wet snow was so slick I couldn't drive up into the forest roads. Fortunately I was able to descend to Jewell it was dry and calm. There I found a road-side barn owl perched on a fence post. I also heard a saw whet call in response to playback. This was my first in Clackamas county.

Driving east on Hwy 202 towards Birkenfeld I found two more roadside barn owls, both perched on power lines.

Once I reached Colombia County I started searching for saw-whets again. Despite 20 stops I didn't get a response, or hear any other owls. I did see a roadside elk and coyote. Back home just before 4am.

Jan 31st. Charlie and I took Ziggy for a walk to the overlook above Oaks Bottom. I found the screech owl roosting far below in it's usual hole in the old ash tree.

Feb 6th. The boys and I walked around Oaks Bottom. At the usual old ash tree I found the pair of resident screech owls.

Feb 8th. I traveled out to the hills behind St Helens in Columbia county in search of saw-whet owls. It was a mild and moonless night. Unlike last week, when I could not find a saw-whet in Columbia, this night I found one on my first try. It didn't sing, but screeched and barked. I did get brief views as it flew very low in a vine maple.

Feb 14th. I took George around Oak's bottom and readily found one screech owl in the usual ash tree.

Feb 16th. I set off at 1am to explore Lane County. I started working a mosaic of small fields and woodlots south of Eugene for Barn owls, but came up short. While looking for Screech owls on some dry hillside Oaks and fir forest I was stunned to discover a singing long-eared owl. It's voice had a remarkable toy-trumpet like tone to it. A little further uphill I could hear a pair of great-horned owls duetting. Nearby a pair of saw-whet owls responded to my solicitations. At dawn, but before sunrise, I found a territorial northern pygmy owl on a hillside covered in tall firs-my first for the year.

Feb 21st. Kathy Krall had reported a short-eared owl in the fields around Tillamook. This would be a new owl for my Tillamook list. Charlie and I drove through a torrential downpour in the coast range only to arrive under blue skies in Tillamook. We waited for over two hours until we saw a short-eared owl working the dairy fields. We also saw a lovely female barn owl hunting in broad daylight. This is a common sight in the winter in the UK, but the first time I have seen a day-hunting barn owl in the USA.

Charlie and I celebrated with a trip down to the beach to watch the sunset, followed by a couple of tortas.

Feb 29th. Determined to continue my Lane County owling quest I left home at 1am. My first stop was the north end of the county, near Fern Ridge Reservoir. After about an hour I heard distant barn and great-horned owls.

At Oakhill Cemetery Road I heard a screech owl bark in response to a tape of it's song.

South of Spencer Butte I tried for barred owls. Almost immediately my phone ran out of juice. I decided to walk the road, and luckily heard a pair of barred owls singing from a dense ravine beneath the road.

Mar 5th George and I visited the Barred owl nesting tree at Tryon. After a couple of minutes I found a barred owl roosting in a cedar about 70' from the nest site.

Mar 6th I took the whole family back to Tryon State Park to show them the barred owl. Like a feathered statue, it was on the exact same perch as yesterday.

Later I walked out to Oaks and found the screech owl sunning itself in the usual south facing cavity.

March 12th. George and I returned to Tryon. We found a barred owl roosting next to the nest site. Later that afternoon Charlie and I drove out to Oak Island Road on Sauvie's Island. We saw a very tame beaver cross the road. While watching the beaver from the civic, a great horned owl flew out across the slough. At the north of the island, we found a female barn owl roosting in an abandoned barn.

March 14th, Tui and I returned to Tryon. We failed to find the barred owl near the nest tree. Near the headquarters I found, by luck a pygmy owl, perched low in a maple. I was really pleased as this was my first at Tryon.

April 2nd. Charlie, George and I  went to Steigerwald in search of a burrowing owl that had been reported for a couple of weeks. We were unable to find the burrowing owl, but as a consolation found a dark great-horned owl roosting in a cottonwood.

April 4th. Tui and I went to Vanport to check on the nesting great-horned owls. We found two big chicks in the nest and an adult bird in the same tree.

April 9th. George and I went to check out the barred owls at Tryon Creek. For the first time we could see the female bird in the nest hole-just the top of her head. We saw two other adults-confirming their 3 bird breeding arrangement. All three birds called spectacularly to the delight of us both.

April 10th. I decided to explore Douglas County. My first stop was Mildred Kanipe County Park. I found an aggressive pair of screech owls, a rather silent great-owl and a pair of noisy peacocks.

I worked a lot of fields for barn owl, but came up short.  At dawn, just west of Drain I found four great-horned owls, a saw whet and pygmy owl. All singing around a clearing in some industrial forest.

April 10th. I took the whole family back to Tryon. We found just one barred owl, but got great views all the same.

April 11th. Tui and I walked around Oaks Bottom. At the usual ash tree we found a roosting screech owl. On the return, walking up to Sellwood Park we found a second screech in a tree crack. Amazingly the bird wriggled and shuffled out of the crack as we watched.

April 16th. It was George's birthday weekend so Tui's mom, Lina and her kids were in town. We took everyone, except for her mom to Tryon Creek.

It was a beautiful morning, made better by the owls. A scolding robin cued me into a pygmy owl, perched on the side of a mossy trunk.  At the nest site we found one barred owl. It was roosting, but eventually woke. We were able to watch it preen-which is like watching a cat take a bath. It was amazing to see it run it's bill along it's flank feathers-which must have been 4"-5" long.

That afternoon I took myself to Oaks Bottom and found a screech owl sunning itself from the usual tree.

April 17th. I walked down to Oaks Bottoms, and just like yesterday found a screech owl sunning itself in the usual ash tree.

At sunset I went to check out the Vanport great-horned owl. The young had fledged the nest, but I found an adult (male?), nearby in a cottonwood.

April 23rd. The whole family went to Tryon State Park. We heard a spontaneously calling pygmy owl down by the creek.

At the barred owl nest site we found one actively hunting adult barred owl-I guess the babies are getting big and hungry.

Later I walked to Oaks Bottom overlook to check on the screech owl. Sure enough the owl was sunning itself in the usual cavity of the old ash tree.

April 24th. I took George to Santiam State forest. I was looking for pygmy owls. Unfortunately we had to endure an unstable cold front, and it rained, poured, hailed and was briefly sunny all in a couple of hours. I did hear a couple of pygmy owls, but neither responded aggressively to my tape.

Tui and I took an evening walk to the overlook at Oaks Bottoms. It was a beautiful evening, with big dark clouds over the West Hills and rich yellow light pouring in sideways. We found the screech owl in his usual cavity, looking particularly nice bathed in the soft light.

April 25th. Tui and I went to Tryon Creek on a cool April afternoon. Scolding robins, Stellar's jays and warblers gave up a barred owl. We had to wade through a nettle patch, but it was worth it to find the owl, so close, and perched low, beneath us in a ravine.

We also heard one, or probably two pygmy owls singing spontaneously during the day.

April 30th. A friend had recommended a site in Polk county for spotted owls. Armed with exact directions Tui, Charlie and I drove into the coast range. We arrived just before sunset. Next to a stand of beautiful mature Doug fir we parked. Almost immediately Tui caught site of a shadow. Sure enough an amazingly inquisitive spotted owl had flown in to check us out. It called, and soon it's mate arrived on the scene. These fantastic owls called back and forth as they watched us from just 20'. It was just brilliant. Even Charlie, who is usually reticent about owls was thrilled  by this big chocolate out perched out in the open.

I tried for pygmy owl, which would have been a new one for me in Polk county but got no response.

May 1st. I took the boys to the Oaks Bottom overlook to check on the screech owl. The ash tree still wasn't fully leafed out, making it easy to find the owl sunning itself from it's usual perch.

May 2nd. Tui and I visited the barred owl site at Tryon and found two big fledglings by the entrance of the nest hole. Despite the heat we heard all three adults calling between each other.

May 7th-8th. Charlie, Chad and I returned to Polk county to camp in the Coast Range. Our plans were a little disrupted by a topless lady and her friend at the pygmy owl stakeout. We drown the road, and waited them out before returning to have the place to ourselves. The pygmy owl came right in and we had great views of him singing in the clearcut. We built a fire and cooked carne asada and drank beer in the sun.

Around sunset we checked out last weekend's spotted owl site, but saw nothing except for beautiful big trees. Back at the pygmy owl site we set up camp and built a big fire. When it was almost dark we heard the pygmy owl again. Chad forgot his tent, so it was a tight squeeze, but it worked. In the middle of the night a barred owl sang, and sang.

The next day we cooked bacon and drank hot coffee for ages, before returning to the lowlands. I checked out a barn and found a female barn owl on about 5 small chicks.

May 16th. Tui and I checked out the barred owls at Tryon. We didn't see any young birds, but quickly found two adults thanks to some noisy mobbing jays and robins.

May 21st. I decided to visit central Oregon in search of owls. It was a cool damp night. My first site was SE of Madras for long-eared owl. I was surprised to find deep mud puddles along the usually dry dirt roads. I heard three packs of coyotes and a poorwill but found no long-eareds.

My nest stop was east of Redmond, near Powell Butte in Crook County. I quickly found a couple of responsive screech owls in mature junipers.

Next I tried for screech owl, near Camp Sherman. I didn't find any screech owls in the Ponderosa forest but did hear a single toot of a saw-whet.

At my final stop, a little to the west of Camp Sherman, at the edge of the of the Cascades, I tried for Flammulated owl. By now it was late, and a little windy and I heard nothing. I set up camp and slept soundly despite the wind.

May 22nd. I unzipped the tent to see a group of deer watching me. Minutes lately a coyote carrying a rabbit passed by. I set a small fire and brewed coffee for breakfast. Once I was fully awake I walked along the forest road in search of pygmy owls. The forest was opened up by an old burn, and after an hour I found a singing pygmy owl high in a Ponderosa.

May 30th. Armed with better information from Chuck Gates I returned to Jefferson county and found a day time long-eared owl in a willow thicket. The bird called-a fairly rapid series of short, but deep hoots-presumably an alarm call. I hiked around Gray Butte, and tried for screech owl and listed for great-horned owl but found neither. I did hear a lot of coyotes and saw poorwills and nighthawks.

I also ventured up to Virginia Meissner Sno Park in search of saw whet owls. I was getting tired by now and all I got was a distant flammulated owl. Still it was a lovely place to camp.

May 31st. I tried a couple of spots near Bend for Great gray owl but came up short.

June 12th. I worked Wasco County, near Dufur in search of flammulated owls. I arrived at dusk and was greeted by many nighthawks. Soon poorwills started calling, then from a stand of small pines a flammulated! I ended up getting great views and was able to see the long wings of this long distance migrant.

On the way out I found a great horned owl along Friend road.

I tried for screech owl in Sherman county, but came up short and just heard a couple of chats singing.

June 19th. The whole family took a walk to Oak's bottom. Near the south end of the park I found a lot of white-wash in some small firs. Eventually I found a juvenile screech owl hiding in one of the small firs.
(Charlie and I spent the night near Black Butte looking for owls. We found none-but had a great camping trip and saw a couple of bears and a goshawk. Plus lots of bugs that fascinated Charlie).

June 27th Tui, Maile (the new dog) and I walked McCleay trail in Forest Park. Mid morning we found two quiet active hunting barred owls and heard a begging juvenile.

July 4th. While staying with Tui's family in Federal way I drove out to Sunrise on Mount Rainier. I arrived well before dawn and walked around, listening for begging calls of juvenile boreal owls. Nothing. Once day broke, I checked stands of thick trees for whitewash and pellets of roosting owls but again came up short.

July 10th. The whole family was staying in an AirBnB rental in Bend. Very early in the morning I ventured out to the Suttle lake area. I tried for great-grays, flammulated and saw-whet owls. At times it rained and later it was blustery. The weather and season (mid summer doldrums) conspired against me and I heard and saw no owls.

July 11th. Determined to redeem myself I explored the forests around La Pine. Apart from wishing upon a half dozen shooting stars the night was uneventful and owlless.

July 17th. The whole family went to Tryon for a late afternoon walk. I heard a distant called great-horned owl. Later near the nest side a scolding pair of robins led me to a young barred owl.

That evening I walked out to Sellwood Overlook Park and found a family of screech owls. I saw three young owls-there could have been more. They were very obvious-constantly flying in the canopy of a big oak and begging for food. I was able to see an adult bird, and heard a second.

July 23rd. George, Maile and I headed out to Kinzel Lake for a camping trip. George was a brilliant camper, and we had a lot of fun catching frogs, newts and garter snakes in the lake. That night I heard singing barred owls in the valley below the lake.

Aug 1st. I checked Crystal Springs and Westmoreland for screech owls, but came up short. I tried the south end of Oaks, sleeping past a sleeping man on a bench, I found a quite spot and enjoyed a singing screech owl in silhouette.

Aug 7th. I visited Deschutes county in search of great-gray owls. The juveniles had gained enough independence that their parents were less obliged to hunt during the day than they were last weekend. I hiked 16 miles with Maile in search of the owls. Alas the best I could do was hear a couple of begging calls of a juvenile great-gray owl from the opposite side of the Deschutes.

Once it got dark I heard one or two begging juvenile long-eared owls from a stand of willows-also on the far side of the Deschutes.

I camped by the river, and soon after I settled into the tent I heard two begging great-horned owl juveniles. They triggered a distant barred owl to sing briefly. The great-horneds moved around rapidly. Unsure of what they were, I tracked down one high in a pine.

In the middle of the night, Maile awoke disturbed by an animal. Her growling woke me. Fortunately I could hear deer hoofs outside.

Aug 28th-29th. I drove out to Cottonwood Canyon State Park in search of screech owls. Driving through Fulton Canyon I found a day time road side Great-Horned-a beautiful, fairly pale grayish owl, quite different from the chocolate colored birds of Western Oregon.

I arrived at Cottonwood Canyon at dusk, and hiked in a mile and a half with Maile. It was a hot evening, and in places dense with mosquitoes. I was watched by six big horned sheep, high above from the canyon walls. As it got dark, I heard several poorwills, and found one fluttering along the trail, eventually Maile noticed it and gave chase. On the return I tried for screech owl, but came up short. I did heard the alarm call of long-eared owl from a thicket, but didn't see the bird.

I then tried for screech owls in the small towns of Wasco, Moro and Grass valley, but again came up short. At least in Grass Valley I found a fox, another great-horned owl and heard a barn owl.

It was a long drive south along 97 to Madras, a headache built, and eventually I had the sweats and felt like I was going to puke. I pulled over and tried to sleep, but couldn't. The cool air helped and by midnight was back on the road. I tried Peleton Dam overlook for owls and heard a begging great-horned owl-soon I found the bird perched on a power-line. It's surprising to me that these birds that breed in the winter would be begging so late in the summer. I tried for screech owl, but to no avail.
My last stop was just down the road, at Mecca Flats, where screech owl had also been reported. I was pretty exhausted, and didn't give the site the attention it deserved, and again came up short.

I camped at Mecca Flats, and slept soundly with Maile at my feet.

Sep 5th. The whole family stayed at a cabin at Cape Lookout State Park. I set my alarm for 230am, but woke up just before it went off, excited to see some owls. My plan was to drive into Northern Lincoln County.

Just north of Nestucca a barn owl flew over the car. Near the Cascade Head Experimental Forest center a black bear ran across the road.

My first few stops were unproductive. Then I drove up to drift creek trail-head. I hiked about 1/3 mile down the trail with Maile and heard a barred owl singing. I stopped along Bear Creek road and hiked the road, listening for owls. I heard a second barred owl and a pair of great horned dueted briefly at dawn. I also solicited a couple of pygmy owls with a tape.

Sep 15th. It was the night before Tui and I travelled to Chile. It was warm in our room and we openeded the back door. A barn owl called twice from a tall cedar. Hopefully a good omen.

Sep 26th. My Dad was in town for a couple of weeks. On the last whole day of the visit we decided to climb Dog Mountain in the Columbia Gorge. About a half way up we heard a pygmy owl-it mad a rapid call, similar to a squirrel's alarm call followed by one give away piping note. We were easily able to tape the bird in and got good views under the canopy.

Oct 8th. I took Maile down to Waldo lake to search for boreal owls. We got out onto some rough roads, and I eventually had to abandon the civic and walk. Despite trying for several hours I heard nothing. Maile loved the night hike, and it was nice to have her with me. I always feel safe with a dog.

Back at the car, the only obvious place to pitch the tent was on the road. It was a cold night, and I cuddled up to Maile to stay warm. At 7am, I heard a truck and had to move the tent and car out of the way to let it by.

Oct 17th. After a stormy wet weekend, Maile and I head out to Sauvies Island. After running Maile on the beach I check out an abandoned barn and find a roosting female barn owl. Along Oak Island Road I flush a second barn owl from a small conifer. This one is looks like a male.  Our next stop is McNamee Road where I find a pygmy owl.

Oct 30th. On a dark and damp Sunday afternoon I visited Jackson Bottom wildlife refuge in search of short-eared owls. I found no short-eared, but in the back wood I heard a great-horned owl singing an hour before nightfall.

Oct 31st. I took Maile for a walk around Oaks bottom. I found a beautiful great-horned owl-a relatively small dark bird with rusty cheeks. The bird was resting under a tangle of vines

Nov 11th.I took the boys to Sauvie Island to build a fire on the beach. After we tried a couple of the regular spots for barn owls. I found a nice delicate pale male roosting in a dense cedar.

This evening I checked out the south end of Oaks Bottom. I was surprised to see a squirrel run down a tree after dark. Above it, I could hear a commotion. I assumed it would be a raccoon, but it turned out to be a big barred owl! I got great views of it perched in an oak tree.

Nov 19th. George and I took Maile down to the Sellwood Waterfront Park. After playing along the shore we heard the sound of scolding jays and crows. We followed the sound into a dense thicket of small conifers where we discovered a barred owl doing its best to ignore the harassing corvids.

Nov 20th. I took a late afternoon walk around Oaks Bottom. At the usual broken ash tree I found a roosting screech owl. This is the first time I'd seen an owl in the ash for months.

Nov 25th. George and I were walking Maile through Westmoreland park, when I saw a barred owl hunting from a fence. Unfortunately I flushed it and it disappeared before I could get a better view.

Nov 26th. George and I were walking around Oaks Bottom. Again in the usual roost site in the broken ash tree I found a roosting screech owl.

Nov 27th. In the same broken ash tree I found the screech owl roosting.

Nov 28th. I walked Maile on Oak Island Road (Sauvie Is) and found a (presumed male, fairly small and very dark) great horned owl roosting in ivy. At the usual barn was a roosting barn owl-first time I have seen it here in years, despite checking every time I drive down the road.
Photo taken the next day by Andy Frank

Dec 3rd. I returned with Maile to Oak Is Rd on Sauvie Island. Both the lovely dark great-horned owl and the barn owl were in the same locations. I then drove up to Scappose Bottoms and found a field full of raptors. After quarter of an hour a dark short eared owl emerged from the grass and flew high above the pasture. It repeatedly "clapped" its wings below its body.

Dec 4th. Maile and I walked to the overlook at Oaks this morning, but I was unable to find the roosting screech owl in the old ash tree. Undeterred I walked around the bottom of the bluff this afternoon with George. The view of the cavity is better from bellow and I was able to clearly see the roosting owl.

Dec 5th. It was a wet day with heavy rain and intermittent sleet. Despite this, I was feeling like owling-so far December had been a good month. Maile and I drove out to Reed Canyon and started searching under some wet fir trees for barred owls. I had not found a barred owl at Reed since January, but today was my lucky day. Almost immediately I found a bird roosting low in a fir tree.

Dec 8th. I was lucky enough to be dismissed from work due to impending snow and an ice storm. After sledding with the boys I visited Reed Canyon and re-found a barred owl in the same fir. The bird was grooming and its feathers were puffed out, so it looked twice as large as it did previously.

Later Maile and I took a walk along the base of the bluff at Oaks Bottom. I checked the usual cavity in the broken ash for a screech owl, but it was vacant. On the return I checked again and it was occupied. I assume the cavity goes deep, and the owl was out of sight. Perhaps they move up and down in response to the wind. Or because it was getting close to hunting time?

Dec 9th. I had the morning off work due to the ice storm. The roads were not so bad, so Maile and I drove out to Reed Canyon. The little canyon was filled with the sound of water dripping from the ice-glazed trees. I found the barred owl almost right away-it had moved into an adjacent tree.

Dec 10th. I returned to Reed Canyon with Maile and quickly found the barred owl in the usual place.

Dec 11th. A banner day! I checked out Reed Canyon on my morning walk with Maile. I found a lovely pair of inky-blue Steller's jays by the creek. We come eye to eye with a wet barred owl hiding out low in a dense conifer. I steal a quick view.

Later that morning I took George for a walk along the base of the bluff at Oak's bottom. I didn't find the screech owl at the usual ash tree, but on the return I looked up and found a rain-soaked screech owl at the entrance to a big cavity in a Cottonwood tree.

After lunch George and I went to Sauvie's Island. We found the great-horned owl at the "usual" perch-low in a cottonwood and partially protected by ivy. Despite staying in the car, the bird looked alarmed-ears high, and eyes wide open, so we left quickly.

At the barn I found a female barn owl, tucked, almost out of sight in the corner of the roof.

Determined to find a "new" owl that I had not just seen a week before, I checked out some dense conifers looking for roosting owls. I found nothing and was returning back to the car, when I noticed a dark, rail-thin owl. A long eared owl was roosting at the edge of the conifers! This was a great find for me-the last long-eareds I had found in Multnomah County were a pair at Ramsey Lake in June 2003. I moved on quickly to avoid flushing this special owl.

On a roll, I decided to head out to Scappose to look for short-eared owls. At the wet field I checked out last week I found five short-eared owls. One owl flew around clapping its wings and calling. The others hunted low over the grass. I have a lot of favorite owls, but short-eared owls are probably my favorite to watch. Their deep wing beats and erratic flight is just memorizing.

Dec 12. Maile and I ventured up Skyline Blvd in search of pygmy owls. Our first stop yielded nothing, but Maile was happy to run free. Our second stop was along Leif Erickson trail. Quickly we found a calling pygmy owl, which we were eventually able to see briefly as it flew between two Doug firs.

After lunch I walked Maile out to Reed Canyon, where we found the barred owl in the usual place.

At 9pm I drove out to Tryon in search of saw-whet owls. I had not been night owling in ages. It was a cool night, with a big bright moon. At the entrance to Tryon I ducked behind a tree to avoid the guy who locks the gate, then slipped into the forest. Everything looked absolutely beautiful in the moonlight.  On Saturday while walking with the family I had found a possible saw whet roost site-a pile of whitewash under a thick conifer. I found the roost site, and nearby was a signing saw-whet owl. I tracked it down, doing my best to walk stealthily through the tangle of fallen logs, ferns and blackberries. Eventually I saw it in profile against the sky. I was able to spotlight him and enjoy a beautiful view of this excellent little owl.

Dec 15th. It snowed last night and this morning we were treated to a snow day. I took George out to Reed Canyon. We found the barred owl in the usual tree.

Dec 17th. John and I drove out to Sauvie in search of the long-eared owl I had found there last week. We were unable to locate the long-eared owl. We did venture down Oak Island road, where we found a pair of great-horned owls together at the usual site. Both birds looked remarkably similar, which surprised me-I was expecting the female to look both larger and darker. Perhaps they were not a pair?

The barn was devoid of barn owls, but we did find a male and female barn owl roosting in some snow clad conifers.

Dec 18th. I checked the Oregon Birding listserve after lunch and was shocked to see Bonnie Comegys had reported a burrowing owl at Broughton beach. This is a really rare bird in Multnomah County-one that I had never seen. Knowing it was new for my friend John, I called both numbers and headed to house, but I was unable to get a hold of him. I drove out to Broughton Beach and was surprised to find no other birders around. After walking around for twenty minutes I found the owl in some rocks. I got great views of this fantastic bird. I was able to call John again, and he was heading out to take a look. Soon I was joined by a half dozen other birders. Unfortunately the owl was flushed by a rabbit of all things, then a dog walker, and finally by a birder trying to relocate it-this time it flew over to the airport. We were not able to relocate it on the airport-being greatly hindered by our inability to walk around. Instead we prowled along the fence line scanning across the ever-darkening airfield. Bittersweet we vowed to return tomorrow.

Dec 19th. Determined to help John see the burrowing owl, I returned early with Charlie and Maile in tow. We met Bob Stites out at the site. It was a cold wet morning-not really the best conditions for finding a burrowing owl. Still the weather would deter dog walkers and other birders who could disturb the owl. On the rocky embankment we flushed the owl after a couple of minutes of walking and got nice views. We also saw a coyote, who eyed Maile (as a meal or a mate)? Further along we ran into a hunting male short-eared owl.

John and I were really happy about this one-it had been years since we had seen a county lifer together. Charlie was a good sport, despite the foul weather-we celebrated at Grand Central with coffee and a Christmas cookie.

Dec 27th. I took the boys to Reed Canyon to search for the barred owl. While busy showing Charlie the roosting owl, George climbed out of the canyon and started running away through campus. Much to George's delight I had to chase him down. Charlie admonished me "your kids first dad, then owls".
After Tui returned home from work, I ran down to Oaks with Mail and found, under fast fading light, the roosting screech owl in the usual broken ash tree.

Dec 28th
I took the boys to Willow Bar and build a reluctant fire on the beach. After the fire we ventured down Oak Island Road. I found a single great-horned owl in it's usual roost site-an ivy clad cottonwood. At the thick hedge I eventually found a lovely male barn owl.

Dec 31st. I walked Maile out to the overlook above Oaks Bottom, and could just make out a roosting screech owl far below in a hole in the broken ash tree.

Later the whole family walked Reed Canyon-we found pellets, poop and screech owl remains at the barred owl roost, but no barred owl. Just Like Jan 3rd 2016. The year is framed by screech owls predated by barred owls.