Saturday, February 4, 2017

2017 India, Oman and Emirates

India, Oman and the Emirates 2017

"She dropped a coin into the cup of a blind man at the gate"

I missed Omani owl during an owling trip to Oman and the Emirates in March 2016
Since then, every day I thought about that owl and plotted my return. This trip grew out of that desire and evolved into a big complicated itinerary through India and back to Oman.

January 13th. After putting the boys to bed, I drive through the dark icy streets to the airport. Tui and I hug goodbye. A freezing wind drives me inside the terminal. It’s late, about 11pm, but the counter at Alaska is wild. Part of a plane had fallen off mid-flight, forcing an emergency landing. Passengers from the flight were in line, angry and scared. It takes ages to get to the counter, and when I do I am told I can’t check in ‘till tomorrow. All the best places to sleep are at the far side of security, so I make do with the carpet by the big glass wall. I sleep fitfully.
January 14th. My alarm chirps at 340am. I check in for my flight and wait at the gate. I am feeling really sick-Tui had had the same thing for a few days. I am cold and a little feverish. On the flight I have too much sinus pain to sleep so watch the snowy fields far below, illuminated by a wintry moon.
At Seatac I get all set with my boarding pass for my flight to Dubai and do my best to sleep at the gate. Tui and Charlie call. School’s been cancelled because of the snow. It’s nice to talk with them. I had taken the same flight last year and it had been great. This year not so much. I’m reeling with pain from my sinuses, my nose won’t stop bleeding. I’m cold, and I can’t stop sweating. I don’t want to go to India, I just want to get better.
It’s a long flight, but I can’t sleep. I watch a couple of movies and close my eyes.

January 15th. Dubai has a massive sprawling airport. I had allowed plenty of time for my connection, but it’s still stressful crossing this behemoth and getting my boarding pass set up for my last leg to Cochin (in Kerala). Fortunately, the flight is a little delayed and I have time to buy a juice and take medicine. By the time I am on the plane I am no longer in pain. I sleep for the whole flight and wake up almost normal. I don’t feel ready for India, but that’s OK, the terminal is orderly and in no time I meet my driver. (Eldhose, who runs birding/nature photography tours in Kerala had set up everything for me).
It’s a luxury to be driven to Eldhose’s place-a small farm with bungalows near Thattekad Wildlife Sanctuary. I arrive around 10pm. Eldhose’s daughter serves up good South Indian food. After dinner Eldhose shows me a fierce looking brown fish owl hunting from a small plantation of rubber trees below the bungalows. I hear it’s thin whistled call. It looks smaller than I expected for a fish owl. With raked ears, a powerful beak and white throat. The chest is finely streaked. Unfeathered legs support powerful feat. A new owl for me. What a great way to start the trip.
The bungalow is basic, but nice. I am exhausted so I decide to sleep for a few hours before going out owling.

January 16th. I am up before my alarm and hit the road at 3am. I decide to work on Oriental scops and mottled wood owls, both lifers. I walk by down a track back to the main road and turn left. After an hour I get a pair of small owls fly over in response to an Oriental scops owl tape. The birds are silent, so I can’t rule out Indian scops owl. I am forced to search from them in a thicket. Alas I don’t find anything but crunchy leaves and jewel-eyed spiders. I am about to give up when I hear an Oriental scops singing near by-it has a very distinctive two part three note song. While searching with the flashlight I flush the singing owl, and see it again in silhouette, but never perched. Not in color.
I walk on. Over a big river. Past a very noisy temple with music and into a sprawling village. It’s a warm night and it’s wonderful to be out. A dry season dusty orange moon hangs in the sky. Dogs bark as I walk on. Eventually I make a U-turn. At the turn off for Eldhouse’s place I hear a big owl hoot. I am a bit thrown by this call-the quality is like mottled wood-owl, but my recording is of a two-note call. I search the edge of the clearing and eventually find three mottled wood-owls, made easy by the hastening dawn. I never get good views, in the first light of dawn I see it’s a big earless owl, that's pale below. Eventually I hear one bird make the same two note call that’s on my recording. I am surprised just how big these owls are-about the size of barred owl back home. Fat jungle birds.
Back at Elhouse’s there a couple of groups of photographers. (Nature photography is a very popular passion for many in India). Eldhose takes a minute from organizing the photographers and shows me a lovely Indian scops owl roosting in a patch of wild ginger. This bird is completely different from the pale gray North Indian birds I had seen at Bharatpur, back in 1991. It’s rufous-brown backed, the breast is washed with pale rufous and very indistinctly streaked. He also shows me an Indian Pitta that comes in to eat meal worms-gorgeous bird.
I end up joining a group of photographers from Chennai. It’s a bit lack luster for me-we don’t see any owls. I do get to see three Sri Lankan frogmouths, Malabar trogon and white-bellied woodpecker. My guide is Danish, and he is a cool guy. He worked with my friend Dave Ward in the Andamans and has lots of advice for the next leg of my journey. He’s a very likable guy-with a special interest in owls and a weakness for food and cigarettes. He has a slight counter culture feel that you sometimes meet with birders-someone who has prioritized birds over more conventional goals (of money, family career etc). 
We eat a great fish curry for lunch, then I return to the bungalow for a siesta.
Danish and I leave in the early afternoon without the photographers for an owl blitz. We take a Mahindra Jeep-an Indian copy of the original Willy’s Jeep, which seems like the perfect vehicle for the task. Our first stop is a village soccer field-in some bamboo at the back of the field he shows me a roosting Indian scops-owl. I get better views than I did this morning, especially of the reddish-brown upper-parts.
We drive to some patchy monsoon forest, where Danish points out a big brown fish-owl in a huge tree. The view is much better than last night’s bird. (Probably due to the light this bird appears big in comparison to the other). I see the massive bill and feet-used for demolishing big land crabs. The sharp streaks on the front of the bird are clearly cross hatched with fine bars.
In a tangle of a thicket Danish tapes for brown hawk owl. Almost immediately a small owl flies in. I assumed it would be a hawk owl, but I am wrong. It’s a jungle owlet (of the chestnut malabarica race, that I had found in Goa in 1991).
After a bumpy drive in the Mahindra we park up by some nice monsoon forest with big trees. We hike up a dry river bed to a brown wood-owl territory. (This is a bird that I really wanted to see. They are not common here. I have seen brown wood owl in Sabah and Nepal, both in 1991, but these birds are likely different species from the South Indian birds, Bornean and Himalayan wood-owls respectively). Whitewash splatted river rocks mark the spot. We start searching. Try as I might to find something before Danish, I fail and he points out a magnificent big brown wood-owl. It’s a big, long Strix, with powerful feet and bill. The whole underside of the owl is strongly barred with rich dark brown, the cheeks are whitish-buff, but darker around the head. The rest of the bird is the same rich dark brown, barred whitish on the wings and tail, 
Emboldened we hike further up the dry creek bed and reach a spot where we tape for Oriental scops-owl. Danish is confident that he can get the bird to respond in the day time. We hear a distant bird-which really makes us hike. It takes 45 minutes to go up two small steep ridges and finally nail down which tree it's singing from. A second bird calls from even higher up. Determined to pull my own weight, I scrutinize the big tree and pull out the owl. It's far above, on a bough, partially hidden by dead leaves. I am feeling pretty good about finding it, as the diminutive owl just melts away into the foliage. This is a gray morph bird, but it’s still tinged with rufous. The bird has drawn itself tall and thin with long ears drawn from a narrow face.
It must be something I ate…..but my guts are feeling terrible. Waves of powerful cramps come over me. I linger behind Danish so I can fart in privacy. I just hope that I can keep it together for the rest of the evening. We drive to a granite hillside, and hike over the hot smooth rocks to a patch of forest where we tape for brown hawk-owl. Again, a jungle owlet flies in. Then another. What great little birds. The sun is still up, so Danish suggest we wait here for it to set, and then try again. He’s right. Just after sunset we tape for the hawk-owl and one flies in right away. It’s an amazing owl. Intense-like an accipiter, with hawk-like wings and massive golden eyes.
We walk along the granite slope to a nearby spot which Danish suggest for Sri Lanka Bay owl. (This nocturnal species is one of my most wanted birds. Bay owls are both highly beautiful and tricky to see. There are only two species, but I have seen neither). We sit on the hot granite and wait around for darkness to fall. Nightjars sing. Bats hawk for unseen insects. Waves of cramps and bad farts come over me. When I am not in pain, sleep threatens. I fall into a dream state, then wake with a start. Again, cycles of cramps and then sleep. Shamefully I excuse myself I give into my weakness and find a thicket and relieve myself. Ah to be a weak tourist! Relieved, I am also a little revived. It’s dark now. We tape and listen. Again, and again. The “other site” has wild elephants and they trampled a dear hunter to death earlier this week. Danish is very eager not to go to that place. So, he works this site hard. We wait for a long time. Again, and again I drift off to sleep. Crazy thoughts dance. He hears a distant bay owl! It’s high above us. We struggle to find a route through the thickets, making false starts then being turned around by impossible walls of bamboo and thorns, after many attempts we get up into the right area of the forest. I ask Danish if he knows people bitten by dangerous snakes. “Oh, many he replies”. We do see a snake hunting frogs, but it doesn’t look intimidating. We tape, and listen, again and again. It feels like forever. Nothing else happens. It looks like we are going to have to deal with the elephants tomorrow. Despite this, Danish is optimistic.
What an amazing day, 7 species of owl and thirteen individuals.

January 17th. I am up before my alarm again. I make my way down to the entrance of Eldhouse’s property and meet Danish there as planned. Our goal is to get a good view of the mottled wood-owl. We walk into the same plantation where I had heard the owls give their dawn roosting calls yesterday. Initially it’s quiet except for a singing brown hawk-owl. Eventually three wood-owls chorus. Far away a second group of wood owls sings in response. There is light in the sky, and the owls sound beautiful. We wait until it’s light, but the sun has yet to rise. Danish sets out into the trees and almost immediately finds a wood-owl high in the canopy. It’s not a great view, but I clearly see the bird is much lighter than yesterday’s brown wood-owl. We make a plan to return later in the day when the light is better. Walking back out of the woods we find a jungle owlet and enjoy great views of this feisty bird.
After a good breakfast at Eldhose’s, I email Tui using his Wi-Fi. Oh, the luxury! We drive to a thicket where Danish has seen roosting bay owls many times. Unfortunately this is a prized bird for photographers, and consequently they have left for parts unknown, deeper in the jungle. There are many signs of elephant, which makes Danish uneasy. He’s been charged by elephants many times, and explains if you fall while running out of these thickets, you will likely be trampled. Lovely! We work a dry stream bed, which has nice overhead tangles-perfect for roosting bay-owls. “Good habitat for king cobra. I have seen them here many times”. This is the ultimate snake, big enough to bite you on the face. If envenomated you can die in 20 minutes-in a rural place like this, getting to a hospital in twenty minutes is never going to happen. I scour the tangles for bay owls, but keep an eye out for the big snake.
We end up going to some nearby sites, full of photographers. I see some orange -headed thrushes and another Indian Pitta. But no bay-owls. After lunch, we take a break. I fall asleep without the fan on. The bungalow gets amazingly hot. When my alarm goes off, I am so overheated that it takes ages to re-oriente myself. I stagger into the shower to cool off. After a long shower and a big drink, I can see straight again. Bay owl, that’s what I am here for.
Danish and I drive out into the forest again. We head out on foot along a track to a temple set in primary forest. Parts of the forest smell like musty piss. ‘The elephants are nearby” warns Danish. The temple is surrounded by electric fencing to keep out the elephants. It’s a safe place for us-if we stay confined within the fence. We sit under a tree and wait for night. A spot-bellied eagle owl calls. This is a bird I have seen before, but still one I would love to get reacquainted with. We try to tape it, and it responds, but is still very distant. Then a bay-owl calls. A beautiful eerie prolonged whistle. We head to the corner of the temple nearest the bay-owl and start taping. After a lot of back and forth, the owl comes in closer, but not that close-maybe 200m beyond the fence. I encourage Danish to go in after it. We slip under the fence and follow an elephant trail, past lots of elephant shit, and an elephant bathing hole, branches broken by elephant, pockets of air that reek of elephants. It would good to be stealthy, but instead a sort of panic takes over as we scrutinize everything with flashlights. We look behind, peer down other trails for elephants. The bay-owl sings, drawing us further out, away from the safety of the temple. Eventually the pull of the owl, is overpowered by our fear. From the stench of the elephants Danish is convinced that one is very close. “Back to the temple now”. He does not have to tell me twice, and we just bolt down the trail and under the fence. Fear and defeat. The owl sings triumphantly.
We resume taping, and after a long, long time the owl comes quite close to the temple. We crawl back under the fence and through a mess of vines towards the owl. It’s very close now, perhaps 5m away. Tension mounts, it’s always hard to know when you should spotlight, but we do, a mass of light bleaches the vines. We scan hopelessly through the tangle. The owl has fallen silent. We scrutinize the leaves, but that’s all they are. Then far away we hear the bay-owl sing. Fuck!
We go back under the fence. Danish chain smokes. A friend of Danish’s comes out, to help with the elephants-he’s lean and young. I am probably the slowest in the group-so he’s probably not going to save me when the elephant charges. We tape some more, and the owl comes in again-after a long wait. This time, not so close, and it falls silent before we can pursue it. We have been at the temple for hours. I encourage Danish to try a different site-this poor owl has endured too much taping already. We drive to a dirt road near Eldhose’s place and walk to a site in drier, more open forest. No bay-owl though. We stop for dinner, much to my surprise we are served beef curry-there are lots of Christians and Muslims here, and eating beef does not have the taboo it carries in Northern India. Still it feels wrong. Like drinking booze in a Muslim country. The food is good of course.
Restored we arrive at some nice primary forest far from Eldhose’s. Almost immediately we hear elephants. Danish orders me to stay in the Mahindra while he tapes nervously for bay-owl. We try a couple of spots along the road, but get no response.
I don’t feel defeated-there is tomorrow, but I am exhausted. Danish is positive, as ever-“we will find it tomorrow”. Back in the bungalow, two big spiders greet me. I nail one with my boot, the other escapes under the bed. I fall asleep, too tired to care. 

January 18th. I slept soundly for 6 hours, then eat a good breakfast, wash my clothes and re-charge my owling gear.
At 10am we return to the temple. Our goal is to check the thickets for roosting bay-owls but we are thwarted by elephants. Everywhere we find steaming piles of fresh dung. We can’t see them, but nearby hear rifle-like cracks of small trees snapping as they move through the jungle.
We head to a new area along the entrance track to the temple. Eldhose apparently heard about one there last night. We are scouring the area, when Danish gets an exciting call. A guide had found a roosting bay-owl here a couple of hours ago. Danish is thrilled at the prospect of not having to deal with the elephants in the night. In a few minutes the guide arrives. There is a lot of talking. Danish asks me to wait in the Mahindra, because an elephant is nearby. They are gone for an hour. This doesn’t feel right. And when they return, a little deflated, it’s clear all is not well. The guide turns out to not be the guide who saw the owl, he just heard about the sighting from another guide, who is tied up with a group of photographers. We take a break and drink 7-up with lime, salt and sugar. A sort of delicious Indian Gatorade. We return to the general area the bird was seen, from watching Danish, it’s clear that they don’t have a clear idea of where to look. We search the denser patches of jungle, but it’s hard to feel optimistic. I ask Danish to call the guide who saw the owl. Eventually we head back to Eldhose’s, so he can call the guide. Alas the guide isn’t picking up his phone. I decide to eat lunch and try and relax. I wait around at Eldhose’s for the rest of the afternoon. Eldhose drive’s over to the guide’s home, but he’s fishing, and left his phone at home, so can’t be found. Oh well, elephants again.
By evening, Danish and I drive back to same part of the forest. I suggest we walk into the forest, and start taping as soon as it gets dark. Danish explains he had been warned about an elephant in “our” patch of forest, so we tape from the road side instead. An hour passes, and a sense of failure hangs over me. An elephant trumpets from the roosting area. More time passes. We tape sporadically, but mostly listen. Eventually we hear a very distant call from down by the creek. We tape, then listen. Again, and again, and again, and again. Over time the owl comes closer. Just very slowly. We walk down the track to the temple. A street light illuminates the first couple of hundred yards. The light gives me reassurance. The bird is calling close by. Then it flies, small, pale and long-winged. Landing to our left, and calls again. It’s very close, but out of sight again. We tape and listen. It responds, but is not moving so we walk cautiously down an elephant path to a tangle of vines. We are very close now-it seems impossible that the whistling owl isn’t right there. My chest is tight, I want to turn on the flashlight, but fear it will reveal failure. Light on. Leaves. And fucking vines. We scour the tangle but nothing. We return to the Mahindra to try again. We hear it again, very close this time. It flies by us, along the edge of the road. Small, pale and long-winged. We scour the trees, but nothing.
I’m thrilled to have finally seen the bay owl, but this isn’t the views that I want. These are mythical creatures, both gorgeous, with barn-owl like plumage and freaky, with their huge black eyes, like an anime owl. We tape again, but nothing. We take the track towards the temple. A loud crack, from a close by elephant sends us running back to the Mahindra.
A drunken man walks down the street talking loudly. He joins us for a while. We stop taping and listen for the owl. Sat on the warm asphalt I drift off to sleep, then wake with a start as the drunk says goodbye.
We tape again, on and off, but hear nothing. It’s only ten, but we decide to return to Eldhose, who had earlier suggested an alternate plan. I must leave at dawn, so back at Eldhose’s I say goodbye and hug Danish. He is a great guy, very enthusiastic and passionate about owls. And a cool character. I ask Eldhose for help. He thinks for a long while. I think he is thinking of how to avoid the elephants. We drive to a couple of nearby sites in drier forest. We walk a long way, stopping and taping at denser patches. We see a couple of civets and a diminutive mouse deer, but no owls. By 1am, we are done. 

January 19th. I sleep soundly and rouse myself at 630am. I eat my last breakfast at Eldhose’s. One of his drivers runs me back to the airport at Cochin. It’s a beautiful morning, beginning with an orange sky and cackling jungle-fowl and concluding with Indian bustle under a dusty blue sky.
It’s a struggle getting through security with my e-ticket, but eventually it’s all resolved. I fly on Spice Jet to Port Blair on the Andamans. At Port Blair I line up and get my police permit to visit the islands. (Eldhose had charged me more than I had expected, so I was really short on cash). I try an ATM at the airport, but it’s out of cash. I take a really decrepit Hindustani taxi to town, and try several more ATMs along the way. Alas they are unable to read my cards or reject my pin. It’s not the end of the world, but it is stressful not to have enough money.
Port Blair is not a big town, but it is chaotic, and intense. I can’t wait to get out into the forest. I have 90 minutes until my bus to Chidaya Tapu. I go to the bus station canteen for a huge metal plate of food. I see my bus, and run in front of another to get to it. Big mistake, the moving bus accelerates, and bears down on me. The engine roars like a beast. I run faster, but it turns towards me (and the exit), at the last minute I realize I am not making it and stop, the huge bus roars by a couple of inches from my face. I must remember might is right.
About 60 passengers load into the bus, then we lumber off. We stop at several places through town, and the bus just fills with more people. So many souls crammed together, faces pressed up against bodies. I look out the window and think of owls. Eventually people stream off the bus at the many stops. The driver plays the radio loud as the ancient bus lumbers down along a small winding road through the forest.
I see a roadside sign for Wild Grass resort-popular with birders because it’s surrounded by patches of forest. It’s a nice place, so I am hoping I can pay by credit card. I walk a couple of kilometers up to the resort. It’s raining lightly, the air is thick and humid. I pass some padis, a small village, then climb up to the resort. There I ask the receptionist if I can pay by credit card. I am told to meet the boss, a big Sikh enjoying a whisky. Two dogs are at his feet. He tells me he can’t take my cards, but not to worry, he will help me find an ATM in town at the end of my stay.
I am really touched by this. I’m shown to an A/C bungalow. It’s perfect. I down a bottle of water and gather my gear. Just down the road I come to a bridge with fields on either side of the road. I tape for Andaman hawk-owl. Instantly I hear a response! I walk through the field, which turns out to be a marsh. I do my best to stay dry. “Whah, whah” it sings methodically, guiding me across the marsh. And there it is, at the top of a small snag. Compared to the brown hawk-owl (from which it was split), it's quite different. The song is completely different in structure and tone. The owl is darker brown-chocolate colored, with a slightly grayer crown. It has the same brilliant yellow eyes as brown hawk-owl. Below it’s strongly streaked with a warmer (slightly rufous-tinged brown). It’s a smallish bird, perhaps smaller than brown hawk-owl. Similarly long winged, so it appears large in flight.
My big brown boots splash back to the road. On the road, I try my luck, and tape for Hume’s hawk-owl. Again, an immediate response, this time from the other side of the road. I walk through some dry paddys to a dead tree where a beautiful sooty brown owl sings it’s paired “boop, boop” song. Perhaps a little larger than the Andaman hawk-owl. It’s quite uniform sooty brown, but in gorgeous nonetheless. Sooty and rich. Like velvet. It’s streaked below. It's tail pumps as it sings. The big yellow eyes glare at me. Very beautiful!
Now I walk east to a site Danish suggested for Andaman masked-owl. It’s just a 2km walk. A storm is brewing out to sea. Huge clouds are illuminated by lightning. The air is dense. A light rain falls. Soon I can hear the thunder. The lightning is getting bright. Huge tree are lit up by the storm. I pray for masked owl to be revealed by the storm. It’s a harder bird, and I have only a crappy recording on tape. I try playing a Western barn-owl call, which is a good recording, but this call is much longer and higher pitched, justifying the split. But not helping me. It’s beautiful out. I’m enjoying the storm, but the rain pours and wind picks up. I decide to head back to the bungalow and try again in a few hours.
It’s 9pm when I get to bed. The rain pounds the metal roof. I set my alarm for 2am.

January 20th. I sleep fitfully. I dream my boys are caught in a landslide that we miraculously survive. Then my binoculars shatter. I wake every half hour to hear rain and thunder. My alarm chimes at 2am, and I reset it for 3am, hoping the weather improves. At 3am, the same story, but by 4am, just a light rain and quickly I get ready. I walk back towards the main road, where I had heard several Walden’s scops-owls (split from Oriental scops-owl) last night as I walked in from the bus. The owls are silent. A light rain falls-perhaps the rain has disturbed their routine?
It’s light by 5am. After a short nap. I eat breakfast. Then I walk down to the main road and catch a bus into town, to try and get some cash. Luckily the bus lumbers into the stop just as I reach the road’s end. Back at Port Blair I find an internet cafe and email Tui. At the bank I meet some other travelers. Most have had problems getting currency. I change $75 USD (the maximum) from my fast diminishing supply. No credit card advances on the island. I try a series of ATMs suggested by other travelers. My card is old school, with a stripe not a chip and I think that’s the issue. I worry about running out of money. Many of my dollars are distressed notes, which are acceptable in Oman, but worthless here. I make an inventory-I should have enough-if I don’t spend any extras on taxi’s, restaurant food and have no unforeseen expenses etc. I eat a great lunch for 75c-parathas and brilliant vegetarian. Ah just the best food. I take the bus back to Chidiya Tapu. It’s a hot walk under the midday sun up to Wild Grass. I prepare some purified water and drink. Then I go to check out. The owner reiterates that I should stay, we can figure out the money. I explain that I tried many ATMs today. He tells me he trusts me to wire the money. I am really taken by his kindness. (My plan had been to sleep at the bus shelter as Wild Grass isn’t cheap).
Buoyed I take a five minute nap, I re-hydrate and set out on the long walk to Bermahallah school. (Another site for the masked-owl Danish had suggested). Its 9km over a hill, and it’s a very warm day. I do my best to keep up a good pace. When I reach the school I down a beautiful cold bottle of 7-up. Ahh, its fucking brilliant. I have an hour to kill before it gets dark, so wander down to the shoreline and watch the waves. I make my way to the school to discover a guard at the gate. What to do? I walk away from the guard, and behind the shadows of a tree and scale the fence. I walk across the playing field to the courtyard where Danish suggested I would see the owl if I taped. There is another guard, sat on a metal chair in the court yard, so I creep around the side of the field. His dog gets up, and walks towards me. I duck behind a wall. The dog is close, but then sits down. I slip away down the side of the school. At the back of the school I hide in the shadows next to the caretaker's house and play my tape. I hear the distinctive short screech of the masked owl calling from some nearby palms. I also hear people talking inside the house. I do my best to stay hidden. I tape again, wait, hear a couple of responses and tape again. A masked owl flies over head, disappearing into the palms. It has a typical barn owl profile, with long wings, a buoyant, silent flight. I want to see the bird in color, but twenty feet from me a door opens and the caretaker steps out of his home. I slip back into the trees and make my way back to the main road.

I decide to go straight and approach the guard at the gate. A local shopkeeper who speaks English helps translate. The guard suggests some big trees alongside the school that are illuminated by lights. We make a couple of passes and I scrutinize the trees, but come up short. The guard seems a little reluctant to indulge me, so I say "thanks" and set off back to Wild Grass. I am happy to have seen the masked-owl-even if the view wasn't great. this is the hardest of the five endemic owls here. The first 4km pass through coconut groves and villages. I hear an Andaman hawk-owl. Eventually the road climbs through good forest over a low pass. Here I start taping for both Andaman and Walden's scops owls. After a couple of stops I hear a distant Walden's. I am a little intimidated by the steep slope, and density of the jungle. (There are some good snakes here). I get down into the thick of the forest and tape again. In a few minutes the owl flies in, perching high, then working it's way down and very close to me. I get great views of this little owl. It's small, even for a scops, and quite dark brown, with grayish tones, quite strongly streaked below with dark cross hatched streaks. Eyes are yellow, ears are visible, but not prominent and small feet. The song is a single strong croaking note (with just a hint of an introductory chirp), very different from the two part, three note songs of oriental scops in Kerala. I grow increasingly tired for the rest of the walk back to Wild Grass. I still stop for Andaman scops-owl and tape. At one point I get a response and end up in a tight thicket of bamboo. Alas the bird fall silent, and I can't get a view. The rest of the walk is nice-I hear lots of calling Walden's. Above the stars are beautiful and bright. I am exhausted by the time I return to my bungalow-even though it's only 945pm. I fall deeply asleep.

January 21st. I had planned to set my alarm for 4am, giving me time to go owling again. I wake and it’s light outside. Shit. The alarm was set for 4pm. It’s a long wait until I can get out into the field. I slowly get ready for the day, wash my clothes and shower. After breakfast the waiter kindly lets me use his mobile to call Gokul, a friend of Danish, who lives here and knows the birds. It turns out his on Nicobar, but he explains it’s no problem, he has a friend, Titus in town who can help me.
I have to walk fast to make my 830am bus into Port Blair. There I head to an internet cafe to check in with Tui. I also call back Gokul, from another borrowed mobile, and he gives me Titus’s number. I call Titus and we arrange to go out tonight to look for Andaman scops-owl, and a better look at  masked-owl. I eat a brilliant lunch at the same little place at ate yesterday. Same meal, parathas and chick pea curry. I make the noon bus back to Chiriya Tapu. On the bus I talk to a couple of Italians. They remind me that Italy went through the same bullshit with Berlusconi as America is commencing with Trump.
Back at Wild Grass I try and sleep, but it’s hard. The manager comes down to my room, and takes down my details-so they can reach me if I don’t pay up. Before Titus arrives, I set off down the road to meet him. It’s a gorgeous warm evening. Titus pulls in on his Yamaha. He's a cool guy. A marine biologist who escaped the frenetic pace of life in Chennai for the Andamans. I hop on the bike and we ride over the hill and down to the bridge (where I saw the hawk-owls a couple of nights ago). Frogs and crickets sing, but no Andaman scops-owls. We get back on the bike and head to the top of the small pass (near where I had the Walden’s scops yesterday). We wait for a little caravan of cars and bikes to pass. Then, in the darkness, under a crown of a thousand brilliant stars we start taping. Nothing at first. We try again. Nothing. We walk North for a minute and try again. A small owl flies in to the foliage. I tape a couple more times. Nothing. I scan the foliage with the flashlight and see only leaves. Titus suggest we walk down the road, and try and get it to move. We do that, and the owl follows us down, landing much lower. It crosses the road a couple of times, and eventually sings, a simple, slightly accelerating pop, pop, pop, pop pop. Softly at first, then louder and louder. Now I know it’s a Andaman scops and not a Walden’s. I scour the tangle with my flashlight and find the owl, exposed on a vine! Wow, what a great little owl. Small ear tufts, yellow eyes, small bill, the breast is the color of coffee, whitened with skim, a cold dark brown with grayish tones. There are some white feathers on the breast-tipped black. It’s a small, but not tiny owl.
We start to return to the same school I had walked to last night for a better view of the masked-owl. Titus asks the night watchman, and we enter. We walk around the school, and despite having an excellent recording we don’t see or hear any masked-owls. Still I am feeling good about tracking down all five endemic owls on the Andamans. We ride the Yamaha back to Wild Grass-it’s a beautiful warm night, just perfect.
Back at the bungalow, I had hoped to pay Titus discreetly-after all I am “unable to pay for my room” and I have hired a guide. Alas Titus is friends with the manager, and I end up paying him in front of the manager. At least he is affordable. I say goodbye to Titus.
I enjoy a half hour on the porch and listen to the insects and occasional Walden’s scops owl.

January 22nd. I rise at 3am, and walk West in search of a better (full color) view of masked-owl. Along the way I hear a Andaman hawk-owl. I tape it, and it comes in quite close-but I never get to see it. The masked-owl site is a series of big trees alongside a track. I had checked them during the thunderstorm three nights ago. I arrive 90 minutes before dawn. I lie down on the track and listen and wait. Staring at the starry sky. Armed with Titus’s good recording, I tape a few times, but get no response. It becomes difficult to stay awake. Especially as there are no masked owls. Nonetheless it is a beautiful walk back to Wild Grass under tall mauve clouds, past fields and forest of brilliant green.
I have breakfast, then catch a bus back to Port Blair with a guy from Wild Grass who is going to help me find a working ATM. We stop at a bank, I am so sure this isn’t going to deliver, then I hear the whir of counting notes. I am stunned when it delivers a fat wad of rupees. The second ATM is a bust, but the 3rd delivers. Now I have enough money to pay for my stay at Wild Grass-which I do. It feels brilliant to have enough money.
I check into Hotel Lalaji, a hotel in downtown Port Blair. The room is hot and oppressive. Still there is a rooftop restaurant which is cool and breezy. I eat aloo gobi for lunch, then sleep for an hour. Later I take a maze of alleyways down past the docks, along the bay side and up a steep winding road to the Agricultural Institute. My friend Dave Ward had seen a roosting masked-owl here (albeit a couple of years back). I spoke to the guard who explained that he only once saw the bird roosting, but sees it regularly around campus at night. We eat green dates together, then I set off checking the eves for roosting owls. I have about 90 minutes to wait until it gets dark. There are a lot of mosquitoes to deal with. Once its dark, the guard helps me scour the trees and roof tops for masked-owl. I play Titus’s recording. Eventually I hear a somewhat distant response, but am never able to get on the bird. I do find a good-sized snake hunting frogs in a pond. Eventually I say goodnight to the guard, who kindly offers me dinner. I walk back to my hotel and enjoy a second serving of aloo gobi on the rooftop. 

January 23rd. Both my phone and watch wake me early. I walk to the airport. It’s still dark outside and Port Blair is quiet. Near the airport, a man on a scooter kindly offers me a ride for the last mile. All my documents are quadruple stamped at the airport. The flight to Mumbai is long and tedious as I have a slight caffeine withdrawal headache. Determined to avoid getting overcharged, I prepay at a counter. Once I'm in the cab, the driver show’s me the ticket-it’s for the international terminal and not my hotel. (The ticket has my name on it, so if it’s a scam it must also involve the counter), I try and bargain hard, but feel a little defeated.
I get dropped off at the Anand Hotel-chosen for it’s location near the airport and (relatively near) Tansa wildlife sanctuary (home of the forest owlet). The hotel does not accept credit cards, and isn’t cheap, so I decide to walk back to a bank I'd seen from the cab. It’s a crazy walk back to the bank-traffic is intense, and you really have to think and act fast to avoid being hit at the intersections. Alas the ATM is broken. My cards don’t work in the nearby banks. Hot and dehydrated I give up and brave the traffic as I walk back to the hotel. I eat a brilliant plate of food from the local Pure Veg restaurant. 
At the hotel, I am told they have Wi-Fi. Which solves all of this. I search for nearby banks on the phone and map them. The bank delivers and now I have enough cash for the rest of the trip. I decide to walk on further down to the beach. A creepy guy in a purple shirt starts to follow me. Purple Shirt doggedly pursues me despite my U-turns and evil eye. I duck into a cafe, and sit against the wall. Purple Shirt asks for a menu and loiters. Eventually a waiter asks him to leave.
Back on the beach a couple of street waifs, then a guy selling maps tag along. As we walk a couple of huge explosions shake us. The map seller explains “a wedding sir”. I'd thought it was a bomb. I make my way back to the hotel. It’s located next to the Iskon temple, which is an amazing place to people watch.
I have a big day tomorrow so turn in early.

January 24th I could hardly wait for the alarm and keep waking at 2am, 3am, 4am and 430am. My alarm chimes at 440am and while I am dressing, Yogesh, a local birder calls me from the lobby. I meet Yogesh and his friend Prabhu. They have hired a Mahindra for the morning to take us up to Tansa, a watershed reserve for Mumbai a couple of hours away.
While driving through Tansa at dawn, we stop briefly at a mottled wood-owl territory and tape for a minute. We get a distant response from far below, and decide to press on to the forest owlet territory. We park at a small village and walk across dry paddy fields to the edge of a forested gully. Yogesh plays a tape briefly. Instantly we get a response. It takes a few minutes to hike close to the area we think the owlet called from. We scan the tree tops nervously. It hasn’t called again. Minutes melt away. We start to wander around. Then Yogesh calls me over and points it out, high in a tree. I get a fleeting view before it flies. Eventually we relocate it and get really nice views of it perched out in the open. It’s a small, long-winged and short-tailed owl, with a huge head. It moves it’s tail side to side-agitated no doubt by the “intruder”. It has big yellow eyes, highlighted by white eyebrows. The sides of the chest are uniform gray-brown, the belly and center of the chest is white. The flanks are barred gray-brown. The tail is darkly barred. What a find! 
Yogesh took this photo of "our" forest owlet with his mobile
This bird was discovered in the 19th century, then not seen for 113 years and proclaimed extinct. Pamela Rasmussen rediscovered it about 20 years ago. Only a couple of years ago was it discovered at this site-which is far easier to reach than the other published sites. This is a mythical owl. Critically endangered. A bird I have been thinking about for years.
Prabhu, my happy self and Yogesh after having just seen the forest owlet.
It’s still early, but Yogesh suggests we return the Mahindra now and go out owling tonight. I am cool with that. I couldn’t be happier. Yogesh was a collage boxer, and both he and Prabhu are also snake handlers. They have nerves that I don’t. The drive into Mumbai is wild. At one point we are positioned between two huge trucks, Yogesh and Prabu both giving different truck drivers a hard time. We make it back to the Anand and agree to meet up around 930pm.
I celebrate with more delicious pure veg food. Then spend the rest of the day walking the beach-which is fun to see thousands of people out having a good time. There is lots of cricket playing, kite flying and yellow labs being walked. It’s wonderful, even if it’s grubby. The sun sets over the Arabian Sea. The sky is so dusty that the sun turns red, and them completely disappears before it sinks below horizon.
I eat thali for dinner-it’s brilliant. I could have eaten two plates, but am too embarrassed to be a glutton Yogesh picks me up on his bike at 930pm. He’s thoughtfully borrowed a helmet from his neighbor. (I had asked to go by bike to save money over a cab). Traffic is still kind of wild. At one point it feels like we are going to be crushed by the huge city buses which drive with total disregard of us. Eventually we make it to the expressway and things get better. We pull into Aarey Milk Colony- a dairy set in some degraded forest right next to the city. Yogesh explains there are leopards around here. We ride slowly down a dirt track, scanning for leopards. Eventually we reach Prabhu’s home in a village just above the dairy. His family serves us chai, and I meet his pets. (Prabhu is a big animal lover and rescuer).

Prabhu explains the leopards come into his village all the time to eat dogs and drink water from the open tanks by the public toilets. A week ago a girl had been clawed by a leopard, and a while ago Prabhu had chased away a leopard that had grabbed a child. It was too late, and the child died. Despite the stories it's hard to feel that scared walking around the scrubby woods near his village. A couple of taxi drivers have pulled up and are drinking beers. Beneath us Mumbai-all twenty one million people. We sit on an old concrete water tower and wait. A Western barn-owl flies overhead. We hear a pair of distant spotted owlets back in the village and head back up the path. I hear something and look down at my feet as a walk past a pale stick. "Hey" Yogesh says. The stick is a pissed off bamboo pit viper-an extremely pale green snake. Yogesh and Prabhu photograph it-getting way closer than I would ever do. (I have been wearing my snake guards, and feeling like a tourist for doing so. I feel vindicated tonight-there is always something in the bushes at night that could really fuck you over). Prabhu tells me he rescued the pit viper from the village about a week ago and released it near here. He tells me it's an arboreal snake. I have always found it disconcerting that venomous snakes climb bushes, the same bushes I am always pushing through to get close to calling owls. 
In the village we start taping for the spotted owlets. They keep calling from afar, constantly on the move. We walk through the village trash heap. "Be careful there are lots of cobras here" Prabhu warns. Again I am thankful for the snakeguards. Eventually Prabhu's keen eye finds two pale "lumps" high in a tree and spotlights them. Spotted owlets. Lovely. The birds are the south Indian brama race, which area little grayer than birds I have seen in Northern India.
I say goodbye to Prabhu and Yogesh takes me back to the Anand on his bike. It's a little after 1am when we get to the hotel. I say goodbye to Yogesh-I hope I meet him again-he is a cool guy.

January 25th. I wake early and disturbed by bad dreams. My plan for today is to visit Sanjay Gandhi National Park in search of the Northern race of jungle owlet. (I have seen the Southern race in Goa and Kerala). Mikkola suggest a split is possible. I plan to look for the bird late in the day-as the logistics of getting to the park before dawn are daunting.
After a lazy morning, I set off on foot to the nearest station. It's an intense walk. At every intersection I have to take my life into my own hands as I bolt between the smallest breaks in traffic across a 6 lane road. Pieces of the sidewalk are missing, exposing a long drop into a deep sewer. Oh the horror. The station however is surprisingly orderly, and I am able to buy a ticket and get on a commuter train in a few minutes. I get off at Boravali Station and catch an auto-rickshaw for the very short ride to the park gates. I eat some snacks from the vendors at the gates and hydrate on soft drinks. My plan is to walk 7km into the park, to some Buddhist caves, wait for late afternoon and walk back, taping for owls as dusk falls.
I get to the caves by 2pm. It's a very hot day and I end up paying a second admission to visit the caves just so I can get to a cafe by the caves and buy more drinks. I have time to kill, so I check out the caves, which are filled with ancient carvings. It's an amazing place. A guard demonstrates the incredible acoustics in one cave by performing an "Om" chant.
By 4pm the worst of the sun is over and the shadows are growing long. It's time to start owling. I try several side trails, sneaking off when no one is around. (Technically you are not allowed to explore the trails without a guide). I tape for brown hawk owl-which in Kerala was very effective at bringing in angry jungle owlets. Sure enough, at the fourth stop a jungle owlet flies in silently and glares at me. It's head feathers are fully erect, creating a freakish, big-headed look. The owlet looks just like the five birds I saw in Kerala, except instead of being rufous, it's warm brown.
I decide to wait around until sunset before completing my walk through the park. Perhaps I can find some more owls. I don't. But the walk is just lovely. Macaques and spotted dear cross the road. Kids play cricket. The park is an escape for couples, and several girls are learning to ride their boyfriend's motorbikes.
Outside the park it's chaos. Traffic is intense getting to Boravali Station. The station is packed. I misread a sign and get on a non-stop train to down town. The train is dark, and just packed with people. It's overwhelmingly claustrophobic and cell-like. I change trains downtown and make my way back to the right station. The walk back to the Anand is even crazier in the dark. Thousands of people pushing to make their way home. Motorcycles weave through the side walks. A heavy dust hangs. It's really amazing that people treat each other so well despite the chaos.
The pure veg place is closed, so I make do with samosas. By now it's ten and I am ready for bed.

January 26th. I am up before my alarm. I wash my stinkiest clothes and head out for breakfast. Hot samosas again. I call Tui on Whatsapp. It's great to talk with her. I also get to tell Charlie about my leopard walk.
I take a auto-rickshaw to the domestic terminal. Security explains Jet Airways operates out of the International terminal. The taxi over there is spendy. I am sure the driver sensed by stress as weakness. At least I'm early. My flight's not. I get to wait around for an extra hour.
I was expecting Delhi to be cool and dry. It's not. It's pouring down. And cold. I'd arranged a driver through Asian Adventures, and sure enough he greets me at arrivals. It's such a luxury not to have to struggle to get to sites by bus. As soon though we pull off the expressway onto a regular roads we are crawling through 8" of brown water. I start to worry that we will make Dighal by dusk (we have 3 hours to cover the 100 km). Eventually we break free of Delhi's shabby suburbs, and hit the open road. We reach Dighal, a small agricultural village surrounded by marshes, about an hour before dusk. The driver calls Rakesh-a local guy who works for a NGO protecting the local birds.
Rakesh meets us on his motor cycle, then we all drive out together in the car for a few more kilometers to a big canal lined with tall eucalyptus. We park the car, and Rakesh and I walk down a muddy track. "There" he pronounces, and up in the eucalyptus is a big nest with juvenile dusky eagle-owl. Nearby a parent owl stands vigilant. The owls are using a woolly-necked stork nest. The juvenile is big and buffy colored. The adult has big soft ear tufts that bend slightly in the wind, a strong gray bill and yellow eyes. The back is smokey gray and only indistinctly marked. The underparts are slightly lighter colored, with dark streaks. The tail has at least two dark bars finishing with a pale tip. Brilliant! This is an owl that I have wanted to see ever since I saw a color photo of it in Mikkola.
It's starting to get dark on this cold damp evening. All around us see flocks of ducks and geese flying over the canal. Sarus cranes bugle from the far marshes. We drive to a roadside restaurant and warm up with chai. Then head out to another site to listen for dusky eagle owls. It's dark, windy and rainy and we don't hear them. We do hear a spotted owlet, and as we drive away the car's lights catch it perched by the roadside. Not that I could tell from the view, but this bird is a Northern and browner subspecies indica.
Rakesh very kindly offered to let me sleep at his place. I accept of course. First we stop at the same roadside place and order a couple of different paneers. I eat my weight in ghee. It was just brilliant. The best food ever.
At Rakesh's house we pour over photos of some amazing birds he has found in Dighal. He also shows me pictures of a road trip he took to Ladahk. I wish there were new owls for me up there because it looks amazing. Like Tibet. By ten I am exhausted I have to go to bed.

January 27th. I sleep fitfully and dream intensely. I'm already awake at 550am, when Rakesh knocks. We take chai, then meet with the driver and return to the original dusky eagle-owl site in hopes of hearing them sing, and enjoying them in better light. As soon as we are out of the car we hear the big owls. "Tu tu tu tucuc uc uc ug."We easily find them at their nest. This time both adults are present. It's a gray day, and we wait for over an hour for better light. Eventually we get to enjoy a much better view. One adult is clearly darker than the other. I am able to see the ear tufts have dark centers and paler edges. Eventually one owl takes off and flies into denser cover.
Our plan is to look for rock eagle-owl before I have to return to Delhi to catch my next flight. This is a bird I saw back in 1991, but would love to see again because it's beautiful.
We drive to a small wastewater canal and park the car, then walk about a kilometer down a muddy clay track towards a patch of scrubby trees. Rakesh points out an rock eagle-owl roosting above the canal in a small tree. I am enjoying this lovely owl, when Rakesh calls me over. He's found it's mate, which for reasons I can't explain appears twice the size of the of it's partner. It's tiger orange, with rich chocolate markings and massive orange eyes. It really is a king of owls. Just magnificent. If I didn't know better I would declare this the biggest owl in the world.
I check my watch, I need to leave. Traffic into Delhi is notoriously bad. Before we go, Rakesh's family meet us to drop off breakfast-a huge bag of breads, vegetables and lassi. He also gives me a commemorative mug of the birds of Dighal. What a cool guy. I hope he comes to Oregon and I can return his hospitality. We hug and say goodbye.
We set off to Delhi. At first the drive is fast and I begin to relax. At the border between Haryana and Delhi we reach an utter deadlock. For an hour we go nowhere. I start to doubt I will make my flight. It's not to be though. Traffic begins to flow again and we reach the airport in time. I thanks the driver for safely getting me out to Dighal and back then head into the impressive terminal. Once I have checked in, I find a bathroom and wash the clay out of my pants and boots.
I had anticipated Oman Air, would be fancy, but it's a bus-like ride over to Muscat. I have a caffeine withdrawal headache, so I just suffer through the flight. As soon as I land I take some Excedrin and a caffeine pill and feel much improved. I pick up a Mazda from a friendly car rental guy and head out on the highway. This is my Omani owl night! The focus of the whole trip. I am so nervous and excited. I don't want to be here, but I do. I have been thinking about this for a year and can hardly wait. I pull into a gas station and buy two liters of Pepsi. It's going to be a long night and I need my stimulants. I have four nights scheduled here, last year I spent six nights here and failed to find the owl. Six nights, 50 hours and 100km of walking though those dark wadis. A lot of batteries too.
I put Bob Dylan's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" on the radio. Sort of a perfect soundtrack for a high desert adventure. I didn't need a map, and drive fast to the site. I pull into the stony wadi, surrounded by huge mountains. I drink more Pepsi. My heart is really going now. I gather my gear together. Flashlight, head-torch, iPod and speakers. Another Pepsi. And I am good to go.
I step out into the warm, dark night. A million stars above. I strap on my snake guards and walk away from the car.
At the first patch of trees I play a tape of a singing Omani owl. And listen. Nothing. I remember standing in the exact same place last year. I push my doubts away and walk on down the wadi. At my next stop I find a big tree and pause. I play my tape. Nothing. I press play again. Something responds. high on the cliffs above me. Not something, an Omani owl! I play again, and the owl sings back, a little closer. I play again, the owl responds again but isn't closer. The owl is not coming down. I walk as quietly as I can across the river rocks to the edge of the wadi. Luckily the edge of the wadi does not begin with a cliff, but a talus slope. Like a cat on stimulants I limber up the rocky slope, quietly, nothing falls. I walk on all fours. At the top of the talus I listen. Nothing. I play the tape. The owl sings back, still high above on cliffs. I decide to climb the cliff-I scan with my light and figure out a route. I follow a diagonal ledge higher onto the rock face. Without a light I climb on the rough warm rocks higher and higher onto the face. When I can go no further, I stop and listen. I can hear the owl, still high above on the cliff. I press play, and listen. It sings again, but closer. I decide to risk the flashlight, and make a pass over the whole wall. A pale owl flushes from the cliff and lands behind a small ledge. Breathless I scramble across the wall towards it. And tape again. the owl sings back. I turn the light on, and there it is. As obvious as snow. A wonderful Omani owl right in front of me. Singing away. What a sight! I can't quite believe it. I left these mountains utterly defeated 10 months ago. And today, it gave itself up so easily. I see it's big head and eyes appear quite dark. Its face is buff and crown and wings are brown. The breast is very pale with sparse dark streaks.
I don't want to harass this rare owl any more, and descend off the slope. I might have climbed the talus like a cat, but I descend like a drunken pig, tripping on every rock.
I am much to excited to sleep so set off up a side wadi in search of pallid scops owl-a bird I saw several times last year. I eventually locate a calling bird on a cliff, but am unable to see it. Later still I track down a second bird singing from a dense tree and spotlight it.
I return to the Mazda and do my best to make a bed out of the passenger seat. I drift off to sleep, only to wake up cold. The whole night is like this-bits and pieces of sleep, but mostly just lying cold in the car, staring out the side window at stars.

January 28th. It’s just too cold and I am up well before dawn. I go for a walk up a hillside to warm up. At the top of the road is a small, mostly abandoned village. The view from the village is brilliant, big dusty red-brown mountains tower all around. I don’t want to leave, but the next (and last for this trip) new owl awaits across the border in the Emirates. Oman strangely lacks published sites for pharaoh eagle-owl, but its regular in the Emirates. My first task is getting supplemental insurance and permission to take the rental car across the border. I stop briefly for coffee, and then drive down to Muscat airport. Alas the rep from Europacar explains they don’t permit their cars into the Emirates. Undeterred I drive three hours up to the border at Buraimi. I poke around town looking for a safe place to park the Mazda, eventually settling on a graveyard about a kilometer from the frontier. I leave a note on the dash “ this car has not been abandoned, I will return in two days”.  I walk under a big hot sun across the border and into Al Ain. After changing money I step out to the street to hail a cab. A black cat tries to beat the traffic, and gets hit by a car. It struggles to drag it’s wretched hind legs to the curbside refuge. Disturbed I hail a cab downtown where I have my pick of car rental joints. I big man in an extravagant office shows me a fleet of cars. I pick the most modest, a Versa, and after just a couple of minutes I hit the road.
The site is just east of Sharjah, and about 2 hours drive from Al Ain. The drive starts off easy with fast roads through the dunes. I stop for Pakistani food. The last part of the journey gets a little confusing as a lot of new roads have been built since my Atlas was published. I figure it out and am driving down a dirt road, when the car started to labor in soft sand. I see the site from here, a small hill covered in sparse trees, set in big orange dunes, and decide to ditch the Versa.

I grab my gear as a big four wheel drive Toyota roars past, sand scattering everywhere. I walk across the dunes to the tree-covered hill. The trees are too small to hide an eagle-owl, so I decide to slowly check each tree. The big owl flushes from one of the first trees I check. And just like that I have seen all 14 new owls! The owl's perched up high on a tree, so I walk around it in a big arc, so I have the setting sun behind me for a better view. I sit next to a couple of corralled camels and study the big pale owl. It's beautiful-really amazing. It's big-eared, with a pale face and yellow-orange eyes. The owl stares back. I feel scrutinized. The pectorals and shoulders are splotched dark brown, the belly and center of the breast are whitish. The base of the flight feathers are surprisingly pale, the tips gray-brown. The base color for the upper-parts is a sandy yellow-buff. In the sunset the color looks almost luminous. 
The sun sinks like a ship behind the dunes. The owl sings, at times perching horizontally, delivering a soft "hooo" I had hoped to find it's mate, but don't hear one. Eventually it flies up to an exposed tree on the top of the hill, and continues singing. A big glowing owl. Watching over the desert.

As the last light slips away, I hike over the dunes back to the Versa. I select reverse and gently give it gas, the front wheels slip and spin, but it starts to move and soon its’ bouncing back through the sand to the hard dirt, where I turn around.
I decide to head back to Al Ain, and find a place to sleep in the Versa along the way. A couple of kilometers down the road I pick up a hitch-hiker. Without a common language we drive in silence. I drop him off at a mosque. Just down the road I do the same, and run the second hitchhiker into a small town. There I eat more great Pakistani food. 
I decide my best bet for the night is to park behind the bushes that line the road. It takes a couple of attempts to find a place where I can pull off without getting stuck in sand. Eventually I back the Versa up a short hill, An arrangement that should allow me to roll out in the morning. 
It's a mild night, but still its hard to get comfy and I sleep with difficulty.

January 29th. I am awake before 6am and set off down the road to Al Ain. I park up by the still closed car rental joint. In search of a warm breakfast I find a small place that serves me up a nasty chicken and french fry sandwich. At least the coffee's hot. After signing over the Versa, I hop in a cab and head for the border. I am feeling a little anxious about the Mazda. If it's been towed or stolen it's going to be a shitty day. 
Once in Oman I walk down the road, and past the cemetery. There should be a small road to my left, a little store and a parking spot with the Mazda. but I don't see the small road, little store or Mazda. I walk up and down the long hot street. The sun climbs higher and beats down on me. Sweat pours down my face. The Pakistani merchants look confused. What is this guy doing walking up and down here looking so upset? I search for two hours and feel more and more hopeless. And fucking stupid. 
Eventually I have an idea to ask to use one of the merchant's bicycles to help me find the Mazda. I ask a Pakistani pharmacist who explains that bikes are illegal to use on the streets in Oman (even though people use them), so kindly "no" he won't be able to facilitate me borrowing one. He suggest the police will find the Mazda for me. This idea sounds both appealing-to sit in an air conditioned police station and let someone else fix my mistake. And utterly humiliating. To admit to being the sort of useless fuckup who comes to their county, loses a Mazda and then wastes their time asking for help. 
I vow it will be a couple more hours of searching before I talk with the police. I head back to the border and on my left see a Hyundai with a "win me" banner draped over it. What! I remember this. I have been on the wrong street. Wrong cemetery. With double speed I bust down the street, past the right cemetery, to the small road, the little store and my Mazda. There she is sweltering under the hot sun.
I am grinning at the Mazda, when a friendly Pakistani guy comes over to talk. His name is Aziz. We have coffee and we talk about this and that for a while.
I have a couple of nights left and no key owls to see. I decide to look for Omani owl at other sites in the Al Hajjar mountain range. I drive up to Rustaq in the foothills and stop for a meal. Then I drive deeper into the mountains, stopping at a site I visited last March. I decide to climb a small peak and wait for dark. It's a short steep scramble to the top. I can see a huge bowl beneath, and then beyond massive stone mountains. It's a great place to watch the sun go down. Once it's dark I start taping, but get no response. I eventually make my way off the peak and down to a wadi. I walk the wadi. There I hear a couple of singing pallid scops owls. I eventually get really nice views of one. I continue to tape for Omani owl, but don't hear anything.
I drive to a second site, but it's windy there. I try taping, but get nothing. Tired, I park up on a side road and fall asleep in the Mazda.

January 30th. Another rough night's sleep in a car. I awaken cold and smelly. I had driven past a wadi with a little water in it yesterday, and decide to return to bath and wash my clothes.
This is a delicate task in conservative Oman-getting caught naked here would not be cool. I strip in some tall grasses, then when I can hear no cars step into the pool. It's a brisk morning. Amazingly the pool is fed by hot springs, and my bath is pleasantly warm. I large frog eyes me from the far side of the pool as I scrub myself and grubby clothes.
Cleaned, I return to Rustaq for a breakfast of flat bread and coffee. I really don't have much to do today until night falls, so find a steep walled wadi and park up in the shade and read. I find good Indian food for lunch, then drive out onto a rough gravel track to a beautiful wadi
I had visited last year. I hike up in the late afternoon for several kilometers. The walk starts easy, but as I get higher, it becomes more technical, with big boulders, and short climbs over rocky faces.
Eventually I get as high as my skills will allow. Surrounded by huge rock faces I wait or the sun to recede from the highest slopes and darkness to fall. I watch bats come out from the cliffs and hawk for insects. Eventually it's dark enough to start taping.
It's a long, and sometimes technical walk back down the wadi. Despite prefect looking habitat and conditions I hear no Omani owls. I feel really lucky to have found the owl on the first night. At the entrance to the wadi there is a cluster of five singing pallid scops-owls. I think about taping them, but decide to leave them be and just enjoy their songs.

January 31st. It's only about an hour's drive back down to Muscat. The airport is surprisingly busy, with thousands of South Asian people heading home on night flights. There is patchy WiFi at the airport, and I am able to call Tui for the first time in a week. She's relieved to hear I am OK. I make it onto my 5am flight for Dubai. I change at Dubai for Seatac, and make it home to Portland that afternoon happy and tired.

Thanks to the following people for their kind help and advice in making the trip a success

Shashank Dalvi
KV Eldhose
Titus Immanuel
Yogesh Patel
Iqbal Ahmad 
Rakesh Alahwat
Tommy Pedersen
Magnus Robb
Khalifa al Dhaheri
Eugeni Capella
Dave Ward
Shaun Coyle

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 owling


I live in Portland Oregon with my wife Tui, two sons Charlie (aged 5) and George (aged 2), and dog Maile. This entry details my owling exploits for 2017 around Portland and further afield in the Pacific Northwest.

Jan 1st. Determined to get a jump on the year, I set off after breakfast to check on the screech owl from the bluff at Oak's Bottom. The hole in the broken ash tree appeared vacant, so I headed out for Reed Canyon. There I found a barred owl in it's usual roost in a small Doug fir.

Next I drove out to Vanport wetland in search of great-horned owls. The nest appeared unoccupied, but down by the slough I found a lovely big owl roosting in a cottonwood tree.

I checked out a new location for barn owls near the airport, but came up short. Next I hiked with Maile along the dike between the Columbia and the airport in search of short-eared owls, but again came up short.

After lunch I took George out in the stroller, and at the same ash that I had checked this morning I found a screech owl crammed into the hole. I checked out a lot of other sites, and found ample white-wash, but no other owls.

Jan 2nd. Despite the cold and wind Charlie and I ventured out in search of owls. Our first stop was the children's arboretum in north Portland. "What's that stuff" Charlie asked as we got out the car. We were standing in broken car glass. Mixed in was the cap of a syringe. Nonetheless we ventured into the park and quickly found a big conifer with white wash splattered below. Quite low in the tree, a big great-horn owl stared down its powerful beak at us.

Feeling encouraged we visited Broughton Beach. The shore was covered in bits of ice. The wind was stuff and it really was freezing. Charlie was surprisingly tough and uncomplaining about the elements. We walked up to the Sea Scout base without seeing anything other than planes. On the return we found a small group of birders staring intently at something. We hurried along, and sure enough they had found a burrowing owl which was first reported about 10 days ago. I got a nice view in the scope, Charlie was ambivalent about viewing another owl.

That afternoon I took George around Oaks Bottom in the stroller. I found the screech owl in the usual cavity in an ash tree.

Jan 3rd. I took Maile out to Oak Island Road on Sauvies Island. I found a pair of great-horned owls roosting at their usual site. In a dense conifer I found a lovely female barn owl.

I tried Scappose for short eared owls. I saw a beautiful rough-legged hawk, but failed to see any owls-perhaps it was too early (10-11am) in the day?

Jan 11th. It snowed heavily last night, and this evening Charlie and I were snow balling at Westmoreland park. A great-horned owl flew over the little marsh-I saw it illuminated by the park lights.

Jan 12th. I got to enjoy a snow day today. I dropped of the boys at day care and took Maile to Broughton Beach. In quick succession we found the long staying burrowing owl, then a male short-eared owl.

Feb 5th. Today was one of those miserable days when it poured-cold rain from dawn to dusk. Maile and I braved the elements and walked along the side of Oaks Bottom. I got a view of the screech owl in the broken ash.

Feb 11th. Andy Frank had let me know that he had a pair of screech owls in his front yard. George and I showed up mid afternoon and enjoyed great views of a brown screech-owl in a open cavity in a birch tree.

Feb 12th. I went birding for a few hours with Nick and Peyton. We found a pair of barn owls and a great-horned owl on a nest.

That afternoon George and I checked the broken ash at Oaks Bottom and we found a screech owl in the usual cavity in the broken ash.

After dinner I returned to Andy's home. A screech owl sang as I knocked on the door. Our goal was to find saw-whet owl in Forest Park. We were unable to find any saw-whets, but did hear a singing barred owl bellow Pittock Mansion.

On the drive home, three houses from mine I saw a screech owl sat on the road. I pulled over, concerned that it was hurt. Fortunately it wasn't and  it flew up into a tree. Moments later it was joined by a second bird. This is the first time I have seen screech owls on my street. And the prospect of a nesting pair is really exciting.

Feb 19th. George, Maile and I walked around Oaks Bottom on a mild rainy Sunday afternoon. We found a screech owl roosting in the usual cavity in an ash tree.

Feb 20th. I took the boys out to Kelly Point park to check out a Great-horned owl nest. I was able to get nice views of the female on the nest.

Feb 26th. I took George out for a stroller ride around Oak's Bottom in order to get him to nap. I saw the screech owl in the broken ash tree.

Feb 27th. Tui and I walked around Oaks Bottom. I was able to show her the roosting screech owl in the usual place.

That evening, Tui heard and found a singing screech owl in our neighbor' tree while unloading the car. I was able to watch and listen to it sing from the driveway. We were both thrilled to re-find them in our neighborhood. We have a lot of discussion and searching of potential nest and roost sites.

March 4th. Maile and I hiked around Oak's Bottom and I found the screech owl roosting at the usual broken ash tree. (Alas the walk was more memorable because Maile found some human (?) poop to roll in).

March 6th. I checked out the Kelly Point Great-horned owl and could clearly see the female bird protecting her eggs/babies from the cold rain. Later I checked on the Oak's Bottom screech owl and found the bird in the usual cavity.

March 11th. I took Charlie around Oaks Bottom and found the screech owl at the usual site. On the way back to the car we found a second screech owl sunning itself from the entrance to a cavity above the trail. (Tui and I had found a bird in the same cavity about a year ago).

March 12. George and I took Jenny Jones and another local birder to the screech owl at Oaks Bottom. At the end of the day George and I returned. It was a rare warm evening and we heard frogs and coyotes sing. We also heard some sustained barn owl calls from the south end of the park. This is an owl that I have only found sporadically at Oaks.

March 14th. While loading Gorge into the car to go to work I heard a screech owl singing softly from the neighbor's tree. I was able to see the owl in the dim morning light fly across the street. Despite George's enthusiasm he missed it.

March 18th. I walked Maile around Oaks Bottom this afternoon. Large stretches of the trail were flooded. I found the screech owl roosting at the usual site in the broken ash tree.

March 19th. I walked all the way up Reed Canyon with Maile, in search of barred owls. I found none, and worse, I found the remains of a screech owl at one of the barred owl roost sites.

At dusk George and I visited Tryon. It was a beautiful warm evening. We followed some robins down to the creek in search of a barred or horned owl, but came out only with blackberry scratches. Near the visitor's center we did get brief views of a saw whet owl.

March 20th. I drove around Oak Is road but came up blank. At Coon Point I did get nice looks of the female great-horned owl on the nest.

March 23rd. I took Maile to Tryon State Park where I found a singing Northern pygmy-owl high in a Doug fir. This was the first pygmy-owl for the year. We then went to Oaks Bottom, which was still flooded. Near the southern parking lot I found a screech owl sunning itself from a south facing crack in an oak tree. I found a second screech owl in the usual broken ash.

March 25th. I took George and Maile around Oaks, we had to climb up on the slope to avoid the flooded trail. George loved the off trail scramble. I found the screech owl in it's usual site in the broken ash tree.

March 27th. After dark I visited Tryon state park, I heard a very quiet and inconsistent saw-whet owl singing but was never able to see the bird. Two great-horned owls sang from high in the firs. Perhaps they suppressed the saw-whet?

April 1st. I walked Maile out to the Oaks Bottom overlook and was able to view the roosting screech owl in the broken ash from the bluff.

April 2nd. I checked on the Oaks Screech owl and found it from the bluff in the usual ash tree.

George, Maile and I drove out to Cottonwood Canyon for our first camping trip of the year. We stopped at Locust Grove Lane. Three years ago I had found a great horned owl nest low in a small tree. This year the birds had moved across the road into a more appropriate site, high in a cottonwood tree.

George and I explored some old barns at Cottonwood Canyon. I was trilled to find a roosting screech owl int he barn. A Sherman county first for me. This is only the second time I have found screech owls roosting in a barn-the other was in similar habitat in Eastern Washington.

Across the John Day river George and I took an evening walk. We found a herd of big horn sheep, illuminated by the setting sun walking across a hillside. We also found a barn owl in a rocky crevice. (My sister and I, had seen an adult and some large juveniles in May in the same crevice a couple of years ago). In the middle of the night George woke me, I comforted him and he soon went back to sleep. I lay in the tent and listened to a singing great-horned owl.

April 3rd. I checked on the screech owl in the barn at Cottonwood Canyon-it was in the same place as yesterday. Ditto for the nesting Great horned owl at Locust Grove Drive in Wasco county.

April 8th. The whole family went to Willow Bar on Sauvie's Island. Along the way we checked on the nesting great-horned owl at Coon Point. We could easily see one adult owl standing on the nest. After a hike to the beach I checked a barn and found a roosting barn owl.

Later that afternoon I took Maile out to Oaks Bottom. I found a screech owl sunning itself in the now semi-regular site-a south facing crack in an Oak tree. I found a second screech owl in the usual broken ash tree.

After dinner, George, Maile and I took a walk in Tryon State Park. Since the big maple they nested in for years was blown down in a winter storm I have failed to find barred owls in the park. Today was different-we got brilliant views of the big owl, perched out in the open.

April 9th. I took Maile for a walk along Oaks Bottom and found a screech owl in the usual broken ash.

April 10th. I spent the morning at Powell Butte Nature Park looking for pygmy owls. The weather was cold and windy and I came up short. I did find a cedar that was splattered with owl whitewash. I returned after dark hoping for a saw whet. Instead I heard a pair of screech owls singing close to the cedar. I was able to spotlight one quite low in a tree.

April 15th. I walked Maile around Oaks Bottom. I watched the screech owl in the broken ash. Today the bird was originally much more exposed than usual only to climb back down the cavity and completely disappear. I am curious if this cavity is the nest site.

April 16th. Andy Frank had suggested a couple of locations in Forest Park to look for pygmy owls. I tried them both, and at the second got good views of a singing bird. On the way back down Leif Erickson I discovered a big beautiful barred owl, very low in a conifer and close to the trail.

April 17th. I took Maile out to Tryon Creek in search of barred owls. I failed to find any barred owls, but did see a pair of pygmy owls, easily detected by scolding robins. 

April 22nd I took the boys out camping at Lower Sawyer Campground, on Lake Billy Chinook in Jefferson County. While taping for pygmy owl at the camp ground we heard a screech owl respond. Later that evening I got good views of a pair of screech owls at the campground. On and off for the first half of the night I could hear them singing from the tent. At times they sang from a juniper just a few feet above us.

April 23rd. George and I were awoken in the tent by a pair of great-horned owls singing. George started hooting back, but then promptly fell back to sleep. Charlie slept through the whole performance.

April 24th. I took George out to Powell Butte in search of pygmy owls. No small owls today, but we did hear a lot of scolding Stellar's jays, and later a singing great-horned owl. I carried George through a nettle patch. I heard a great horned owl squawk, an unfamiliar call for me. Then the owl flew quite close, low and fast, a couple of times. We got brilliant views of this big bold owl. I was a little nervous it might attack us, and I kept a wary eye on it as I backed up the trail.

April 30th My alarm woke me at 5am, and drove sleepily up to Tryon Creek. My intention was to locate the resident family of barred owls which had nested there for years. They had been displaced by last winter's storms which had brought down the big maple they nested in. Walking into the park I was accompanied by dozen of singing robins in the gloam. Nearer the center of the park I heard a distant pygmy owl. Then nearby, one, then two and finally three barred owls. (This family has been composed of three breeding birds for several years. Its assumed that one of a pair's offspring assists them with rearing the young).

I tried to track down the pygmy owl, whose song carried for 1/4 mile. I got close, but it remained stubbornly high in a tall Doug fir and out of view for me.

As it got lighter I returned to the barred owls, which were now showing wonderfully as they few around. Sometimes accompanied by scolding robins. At other times they just loafed around quiet obviously, low on the sides of big trees. It's been ages since I have seen the three of them together.

May 1st. I decided to check out a spotted owl territory near Spirit Mountain Casino in Polk County. I was a little dismayed to round a corner of the forest road and find it closed to logging. Undeterred Maile and I went commando, and snuck around the logging operation and resumed our journey on foot to a nice patch of old growth. It was sad to hear the chainsaws and bulldozers just a mile fro where I had seen a pair of spotted owls last May.

I saw gray jays and heard a lot of singing birds, but found no spotted owls. On the way home I found a lovely barn owl at Baskett Slough.

May 6-8th. Determined to see a California spotted owl I drove down I5 to Ashland with Maile. I decided to break my journey in Ashland. There I met with Lee French and Karl Schneck, two local birders who kindly took me up to the Howard Prairie area in search of great gray owls. We visited about half a dozen sites, twice, making two circuits. Unfortunately we were unable to find any great-grays.

I said goodbye and ventured up to Emigrant Lake in search of screech owls. Surprising I could not locate any screech owls in the oak woods. I did find a couple of skunks-fortunately Maile was on leash. Later I drove up towards Grizzly Mountain, trying for both screech and saw-whet owls, but found neither.

I camped in a quarry. It was a cold night, well below freezing. Despite her short fur, Maile slept through the night.

I repeated the circuit around Howard Prairie. It was beautiful with patches of snow and a heavy frost. I saw a heard of elk and a flock of cranes on the prairie, but no great-grays. Lower down, in the mixed oak and coniferous forest I tried for pygmy owl, but came up short. Just before town I checked a great-horned owl nest Lee and Karl had shown me yesterday. I could see a big fluffy juvenile and a mother owl standing guard.

By now it was mid morning. I set off on the long drive down to Chester California, arriving there in the early afternoon. I met Paula Shaklee, a owl biologist who had kindly agreed to take me out to look for the California spotted owls. We took a series of dirt roads out to a ridge, covered in second growth fir forest. It took a few minutes before the male owl responded to Paula's excellent imitations. She found him fairly low in a fir.

We got fantastic views of this lovely owl. I couldn't detect a difference in the song from the northern birds, but could see the more extensive white spotting below, gave an overall more whitish appearance to the breast. The base color of the brown plumage was paler than the Northern birds. What a beautiful bird. While we were watching a big accipiter flew overhead, causing the owl to press itself against the trunk of the tree and watch the hawk carefully. I could have watched him all afternoon, but I still had a ways to go.

On the road back to Ashland I found a Subaru that had just slain a deer. I drug the deer off the road and went to check on the driver, a young German dude. I offered to drive him to the next town, but he was determined to drive his Subaru even though it was leaking a little coolant.

I had decided to break my journey at Ashland again. I met up with Karl again. He had kindly offered to help me find screech and barn owls on his property. We came up short, but Karl then called a rancher, and we got to check on a nest of barn owls in a nearby barn.

Karl suggested Lithia Park for screech owls, which I checked, but came up short. I drove up to the same quarry high above town and camped under a bright moon.

I tried the circuit yet again for great-grays, but they must be hiding in the shadows.

May 9th. It was a beautiful spring evening and my son, George, wanted to go to Tryon Life Community Farm to check out the goats and chickens. This was a perfect excuse to visit Tryon Park and look for owls. After feeding the goats fresh maple leaves, we ventured into the park. Almost immediately we heard a distant pygmy owl.

Down the trail we met a photographer who showed us a recently fledged barred owl. Later George and I found an adult bird, perched very low on a branch-we got brilliant views of it, as it ignore us and scanned the forest floor for prey.

May 10th. I walked Maile to the overlook at Oaks Bottom to check on the screech owls. It had been a few weeks since I had seen them, but today I could see movement through the top hole. Maile and I scrambled down the slope, and from the trail we could look up and see a screech owl, ears erect and looking super slim, leaning outside the usual hole.

May 13th. I took George and Maile down to Tryon to check on the barred owls. I was carrying George in a kid carrier, which I set down for a minute. Being long legged, George was able to stand up, while still in the carrier. He took off down the trail, looking hilarious, until he tripped and bloodied his nose. In typical George fashion he didn't let it let him down. We soon found two beautiful adult barred owls.

May 14th. I returned to Tryon again. This time just with Maile and found an adult and juvenile barred owls perched together in a Doug Fir.

May 15th. I set my alarm for 3am and drove up to Larch Mountain. (I had two consecutive car break-ins there, and had sworn off Larch, but that was a few years ago, and I figured very early morning was likely safest). The road was still gated due to snow, so I parked there and hiked down. I found a singing saw-whet in a wonderful mossy, log strewn slope. I got under the owl, but never saw it. Eventually the sky lightened and it stopping singing. In the same area I found a pygmy owl singing high from a road-side fir.

May 17th. George and I visited Tryon after work in search of barred owls. A pair of scolding Bewick's wrens led us to a lovely barred owl perched low in a tree.

May 25th. Charlie and I spent 10 days visiting my family in Limpsfield, Surrey, England.  It took a few days before I could get out into the woods for some owling. In a lovely beech wood I heard a young tawny owl begging for food. Within a few minutes I tracked it down in a small Scots pine. It was fully grown, but still partially covered in down.

May 27th. Still in England, Dad, Fiona, Rosie, Charlie and I took a walk in the woods. A scolding blackbird gave away the presence of a lovely roosting adult tawny owl.

Later that night I tired a different area. As soon as I reached the edge of the village I heard two juvenile tawny owls begging for food. I was able to find one, high in a beech tree.

I hiked off the ridge, down to a dry chalk valley below. In a large field I found both a little owl (and heard distant cries of nestlings), and a delicate, very pale barn owl.

On the way back up the road I saw both juvenile tawny owls together in the big beech tree.  Farther down the hill an adult tawny called.

May 28th. I took my sister out to look for the young tawny owls that I had found last night. We eventually found one, silhouetted in a Scot's pine. New moon behind.

June 3rd. I went camping with Charlie, George and Maile by Lost Creek (near Zigzag). Close to midnight I woke to a singing saw whet owl.The song was noticeably short, and lacked vigor-perhaps because it was so late in the season.

June 11th-12th. I drove out to Spring Creek, Union County in search of Great-Gray Owls. Laura Mahrt and Laura Navarrete had kindly helped me with good directions to two territories.

At the first site I was greeted by a lot of mosquitoes. After a couple of minutes I heard a juvenile bird begging. After a few minutes of walking around with my neck craned skyward, I found it right at the top of a tall snag. I walked around for another half hour, but was unable to find any adults-which was my real goal-they are just the most amazing looking owls.

I drove through some deep puddles to get to the second site. As soon as I got out the car, I could hear several juveniles begging. I walked under some big conifers trying to count the young-there were at least three, when I notice a lovely adult great-gray. This was a fairly brown bird, compared to others I have seen. I backed off and watched it from a distance. It began hunting, and when it dove from a perch, all the young birds started begging.

I cooked up some beans and tortillas for diner, then returned to the original territory. By now it was evening, and it sounded like there were three juveniles begging. I relocated the same juvenile at the top of a snag, then caught sight of a huge adult bird near by. It stared at me, and hooted very softly. The young birds fell silent. It was awesome to see this owl, it appeared grayer-toned than the other adult, and definitely more handsome. I was unsure if the soft hoots were an antecedent to an attack-I was definitely being starred at. After a couple of minutes I retreated.

Next I drove up to Indian lake in search of flammulated owls, but I came up short. I retreated back off the Umatilla Reservation into the National Forest and camped. After a nice fire and hot breakfast I walked Maile and searched for pygmy owls. Again no luck. We did see a really big bear though.

I drove home by way of Alkali Canyon and saw a beautiful short-eared owl.

June 18th. I set my alarm for 3am, and staggered out of bed. After warming up some coffee, I drove out to the south end of Oaks Bottom in hopes of finding a recently fledged family of screech owls. Alas all I heard were beavers in the water.

Before it got light, I drove out to Tryon to see if I could find great-horned owls. Again I came up short. I checked out the usual area where a family of barred owls had been living, but again nothing. By now it was light and I could hear a pygmy owl singing from near the visitor's center. I headed back towards the car. On the way, a pair of robins alerted me to a possible owl. Soon I found an adult barred and two juveniles. (I am sure these are the same birds I had been finding in May, only that they had flown about a third of a mile to a new area). The adult owl was carrying a small mole in it's talons.

June 19th. This morning I got up at 430am, reheated my coffee and headed out to Macleay Creek in forest park. I soon located a lovely barred owl perched above the trail. It gave me pause to walk under this bird, but I did without incident. Two begging and hungry juveniles were easily found a little further up the trail.

I walked along Wildwood trail and returned down Leif Erikson road, where scolding robin lead me to another barred owl bathing in a tiny creek. (Nearby I could hear other groups of robins and Stellar's jays scolding, so perhaps there was a family of barred owls here)?

June 24-26th. While visiting the Sister's area with the family I managed to do some owling. On the 24th, I tried Green Ridge (Jefferson county) and saw a flammulated owl. (First of the year).  I then drove south of Black Butte Ranch. At my first stop, in some scraggly pines, I found a pair of dueting screech owls. I was able to spotlight one bird. A little higher up I heard both a saw-whet and two flammulated owls singing in the same area, but was unable to spotlight any of them.
Early on the 27th, I drove up the Black Butte I heard one Fammulated owl lower down, along with a saw whet owl. Quite high on the road, I found a second saw-whet, and this time I got excellent views of this beautiful owl. 

July 2nd. We spent a couple of nights with Tui's family at Millersylvania State Park. With the goal of finding breeding boreal owls at Sunrise, Mt Rainier. I drove out through the south side of the park. A low mist hung in the valley near Packwood. I came close top hitting a deer obscured by mist. I saw loads of roadside deer, elk and a couple of beautiful dark Cascade red foxes.

Despite the snow I was able to hike the trails around Sunrise. I failed to see or hear and boreals. After a couple of hours the sky lightened. Walking back along hard-packed snow I heard a couple of hermit thrushes scolding something deep in the shadows of a twisted mountain pine. I sat still and waited. Eventually a fairly biggish owl flew out and perched nearby. In silhouette, I could make out its ears and slender profile. A long-eared owl! My fourth at Sunrise, and first for 2017. Lovely.

July 11th. I woke at 130am and drove out to Oak Island on Sauvie. I walked the entire look and heard a young great-horned begging, and a distant adult singing. It was a beautiful night, with a huge moon. I watched the dawn from the old abandoned farm, looking across Sturgeon Lake to Mt Saint Helens. At Coon Point I found a large fledgling begging an adult bird.

No barn owls at the old barn by Willow bar, but a family of otters was a great consolation.

July 23rd. I followed up on a lead about spotted owls in Tillamook county. I was dubious about this one because spotted owl is rare in the north part of the coast range. Also I knew the site was crappy looking second growth forest and was dubious it would attract a spotted owl.

I hiked four miles into the mountains with Maile. It was a beautiful warm night and Maile was loving a long hike without a leash. I arrived at the top of the trail just after sunset. I walked slowly down the trail and listened for owls. An hour later and I had not heard a note. Then I caught a distant spotted across the canyon. The terrain was really steep and thick with salmonberry, small drop offs and downed trees. It took ages to coax Maile through all this mess down to the creek-bed below. We hiked up the creek, but the owl had fallen silent.

Still what a  great owl to find here in Tillamook. Rather than climb up to the trail we hike down the creek. Things soon deteriorated with log jams to scramble over and slippery river rocks to balance on. Eventually Mail got caught in a tangle of salmonberries. It took me a while to find her. She was silent, so she didn't make it easy. When I did find her, I pulled her through the thicket, and we made a bee line up the side of the canyon to the trail-which was mercifully close the creek at this point.The rest of the hike I plotted my return.

July 28th I had intended on returning to the site in Tillamook for another attempt at the spotted owl, but was distracted by a report of a spotted owl along the Clackamas River. I drove out there on a warm evening and hiked through some lovely old growth with Maile. We saw nothing. On the return, after nightfall I heard both an adult and juvenile barred owl (in the general area where the spotted was reported), but was unable to see them in the massive trees).

Aug 5th. A coworker had  shown me  a photo of some recently fledged screech owls taken in Reed Canyon. I set my alarm for 4amd and drove out there. After the heatwave of this week it was wonderful to be in the almost cool sixty degree air. I quickly found a pair of singing adult screech owls and got brief view of one as it flew overhead.
The whole family returned mid morning and I checked the thickets for roosting owls but found none.

Aug 7th. While visiting family in Seattle I decided to head up to Sunrise near Mt Rainier in search of boreal owls. I slept for about an hour, then left Seattle at midnight. I explored the entrance road and Sourdough Ridge trail. I was lucky to find a long eared owl in silhouette on a lone spruce tree in a meadow.
Nearby I found a juvenile Aegolis. I was pretty certain it was a saw-whet, but wasn't able to identify it as such until I got back home and studied some photos. Still a nice find.
The dawn from the ridge was amazing, more so because the forest fires in Canada had dirtied up the air, creating a lovely soft sunrise. 
Aug 28th-it had been three weeks since I had seen an owl. I set my alarm for 330am and set off on a hot night to look for local screech owls. My first site was a location near 82nd ave, that a friend of Tui had seen "small owls on the wires". I walked around for half an hour, but could solicit no more than a few barking dogs.
Next I stopped at Mt Tabor park, where I quickly found a screech owl in the same group of trees I had seen one a decade ago.
My next stop was Reed Collage Place, where I heard one screech owl bark and saw a second on a wire.
Finally, I visited Tideman Johnson Park, but failed to turn up anything there.

Sep 9-10th. We visited Tui's family in Seattle this weekend and I took the opportunity to search for boreal owls at Sunrise, Rainier. After a really dry summer, we had a drizzly Saturday evening. I set off after dark, and drove up to Sunrise. I was dismayed when I arrived at the turn off and found the road closed. Undeterred, I found a way past the cones, and a partially closed gate at White River. I drove cautiously up the road, just in case there was a landslide or some other danger on the road. She start of the road was shrouded in dense mist.

I opted to park just before the lodge, just in case there were any rangers who might chase me away. I hiked to the trail, where a sign informed me that the area was closed due to forest fires. It was a cold, damp night, so it was hard to take the risk of fires seriously. From time to time I smelled smoke, but I couldn't find any other signs of fire.

Down by a meadow, I heard a boreal owl call three times, but despite searching could not locate it. Back along the entrance road I saw a long eared owl actively hunting-the third time I have found one here this year.

The drive back was hard-I was really drowsy, and their is no place to buy coffee for the first 50 miles.

Sep 23-24th. I drove up the recently burned Columbia Gorge and out to Yakima on a lovely sunny fall afternoon. From Yakima, I headed West into Ahtanum State Forest. I drove high into the mountains, stopping only when my way was blocked by new snow next to Clover Flats Campground. As soon as I parked, I was appalled to find coolant leaking from the radiator. I decided to deal with this after I owled the mountain. I had about an hour before nightfall, so hiked own the road to a viewpoint with Maile.

Back at the car, I prepped for owling at waited for it to get dark
Once it got dark, I started up the road, hiking into sparse pine scrub close to 7000', then descending into taller spruce and fir forests. It was a most beautiful hike accompanied by shooting stars and singing coyotes. I wished upon the shooting stars for boreal owls, but my wish went unanswered. I did lure in a silent long-eared owl, and got stunning views of a perched bird low in a fir tree.

I returned to the car around midnight to find a coyote howling nearby, and Maile in a state of great alertness. I replenished the radiator with two pints of ice-cold stream water. Then freewheeled off the mountains, down to the relative warmth of the canyon far below. On the way down we passed a great-horned owl and a young bull elk. We camped by the river, sharing an unzipped sleeping bag for warmth.

I woke pretty early, it was frosty outside. I broke down the tent, and hit the road early, concerned I would have to track down a new radiator in Yakima. Surprisingly the radiator, held all the way into town without leaking, so I decided to risk the long drive back to Portland. I kept the car at 50 mph, which made for a slow journey, but the civic made it back.

Sep 30th . George, Maile and I went for a little hike on Powell Butte. I heard a singing pygmy owl, but was unable to see it.

Oct 2nd. I took Maile to the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. Near Newton road I heard a singing pygmy owl, which I was unable to see.

Oct 23rd. I hiked Maile in the West Hills near Cornelius Pass, and heard a pygmy owl call a couple of times. Just like the lest two times, I was unable to see it.

Oct 29th. I got up at 5am and drove out to the Sandy River Delta. Saw whets had been photographed breeding this spring and I wanted to see if I could find them there. I was able to detect them calling, but was unable to see one. 
Driving by the Troutdale airport I found a perched barn owl on a roadside sign before dawn. 
At first light we reached Broughton Beach on the Columbia River. Maile and I walked the edge of the beach, and after a few minutes we flushed a short-eared owl from the rough grass. 

Oct 30th. The night before, George, Maile and I camped at Cottonwood Canyon. We had a beautiful evening watching the sun set as big horned scrambled above us. It was a cold frosty night, but George slept soundly. A couple of times tundra swans called as the flew over us during the night.

The next day we found a roosting screech owl across the river in Gilliam County. George was thrilled. We hiked along the river to a cliff side barn owl roost, but found only pellets. On way back to the car I lifted George onto my shoulders. While doing this his sturdy feet kicked my bins clean off, over the back my head. They landed on the trail with a disturbing thud. Years ago I had bought these binoculars with a second job working as a caregiver at a foster home. They mean a lot to me, not only because of all the beautiful owls they have helped me see, but also because it was a hardship to save enough money to buy them. I shook the bins several times to check for rattles. None. Then peered critically at flying ravens and power lines for tell tale signs of double vision. None. What a relief! 

On the drive home we visited De Moss county park, and found a gorgeous pale barred owl, roosting about 20' from a great-horned owl.

Nov 5th. During a day time walk in Reed Canyon I found a probably roost site. I returned at dusk and saw a barred owl.

Nov 11th. At dusk I headed to Tryon state park. I didn't see any owls, but heard a pair of duetting great-horned owls, and later a saw whet owl.

Nov 12th. George and I returned to Tryon during the day to look for the great-horned owls. We checked out a few families of scolding Stellar's jays, but failed to find any great-horneds. We did hear a barred owl singing spontaneously which was a nice surprise.

That afternoon I returned to Reed Canyon and found a lovely roosting barred owl in a small fir.

Nov 13th. I returned to Reed Canyon with Maile and relocated the roosting barred owl a few trees over.

I then returned to Tryon and tried to find either barred or great-horned owls in the quiet gullies, but came up short.

Later I hiked Maile around the South end of Oaks Bottom and found a screech owl roosting in the broken ash tree. This is the first time I have seen it there since the spring.

Nov 18th. On route to Reed Canyon, I checked the overlook at Oaks Bottom, and glimpsed a roosting screech owl far below in the broken ash tree.

At Reed Canyon the boys and I got good views of the barred owl in it's usual roost site. This is the first time Charlie had used the binoculars on an owl; "it's like it's right there", he exclaimed.

At dusk I hiked Maile around Tryon and found a pair of great-horned owls singing from the same dead snag. It was brilliant to relocate them-I think they have held territory around Lewis and Clark campus for a couple of years, but this is the first time I have seen them in Tryon this year. It was great to see the white throat puff out as they sang.

Nov 19th I got up early and tried both Tabor and Laurelhurst parks for recently reported barred owls, but failed to find anything. I arrived at first light at Vanport Wetlands, where I saw one of a pair of singing great-horned owls. This bird sang from a horizontal position with a slightly cocked tail.

Nov 20th. I tried for the Oaks Bottom screech and Reed Canyon barred owls but failed with both. Maile and I then hiked Broughton Beach in search of short-eared owl, but again came up short. Near IKEA, I tried for barn owl in a stand of dense cedars, where I inadvertently flushed one.

Nov 23rd. At Oaks Bottom overlook I found the screech owl roosting in the usual ash tree.  

Nov 25th. Again at Oaks I found the screech at the usual site.

Nov 27th. Tui was off sick this Monday with a cold. The sun came out after a couple of days rain and I managed to convince her to visit Reed Canyon for a short walk where we found the barred owl roosting in a small fir tree. 

Dec 2nd. It rained all day. By dusk I drug the kids and Maile out to Reed Canyon in search of the barred owl. It had already flown the roost. A little higher up the canyon I found it high in a maple tree. The big owl, moved its head rapidly side to side, before taking to the wing. I was wonderful to see it wild and actively hunting from the canopy (rather than roosting in the shelter of the firs).

Dec 2nd. George was a little sick this morning, so we lounged around for a few hours. At midday we went to check on the Reed barred owl, and found it staring at us from it's usual perch.

Later we check on the Oak's screech, which was at it's usual cavity in the broken ash. Then we headed out to Oak Island Road, and found two female barn owls, and a pair of great-horned owls roosting by the slough. After dark we found another great horned owl, silhouetted in an oak tree along Reeder Road.

Dec 3rd. I walked Oaks bottom before dawn hoping for a saw whet owl, but came up short. However after sunrise I found the screech owl in the usual cavity.

I walked Tryon park later in the day and found a singing pygmy owl high in a Doug fir. The first one I have seen in a few months.

Dec 4th. While walking Maile in Westmoreland park, under a bright moon,  I found a big barred owl perched in a snag above the creek. 

Dec 9th. My friend Andy Frank emailed me a picture of a screech owl in his yard taken this morning. I took the whole family over to Andy's, where we were treated to this brilliant view of an alert screech owl:
A couple of minutes after we arrived, a scrub jay found the owl and scolded it. Moments later the owl retreated into it's tree hole.

Later I drove out to the overlook at Oaks and found the screech owl in it's usual roost in the broken ash. I stopped by Reed Canyon and quickly found the barred owl in a small fir.

Late that afternoon, George and I drove out to Scappose Bottoms. We had to wait until dusk, but were rewarded with 2-4 short-eared owls flying over a wet pasture. (It was hard to be certain how many birds were out there as the light had faded). Nearby we heard a pair of duetting great-horned owls. While searching for them a second pair set it's self up on the other side of the road. We were able to see three of the four owls singing. We got great views of the birds in silhouette, perched horizontally, tails cocked, singing against the last light of the winter sky.

Dec 10th. Hoping to repeat yesterday's success, I took George and Maile to Sauvie's island late in the afternoon. We checked out Oak Island Road and found a lone great-horned owl roosting in an ivy-clad cottonwood.

Next we hiked Wapato loop. It was a beautiful evening, with clear skies. George was fascinated by the ice on the mole hills and fallen leaves. We chanced upon a hunting barred owl perched by the edge of the water. Back at the car I saw a saw-whet fly bat-like overhead. It's slightly rattle like call confirmed it's identity.

Dec 16th. I checked Reed Canyon and quickly found the barred owl roosting in the usual Doug fir. At dusk I hiked along the side of Oaks Bottom, and saw the screech owl emerge from it's usual cavity in the broken ash. Usually I see this bird asleep, so it was great to see it looking around.

Dec 17th. I decided to go to Coos county in search of owls. In the hills above Lakeside I heard a singing pygmy owl. At Bandon Marsh I enjoyed two beautiful short-eared owls quartering the grasslands. I waited for the sun to set.
Once it was dark I worked North Bank lane where I found a calling barn owl and two calling saw-whet owls. I wanted to stay later, but it was a long drive home.

Dec 23rd. I went out owling (daytime) with my good friend John Fitchen. First stop was Reed Canyon where we easily found the barred owl. Then we drove out to Sauvies Island. Near Willow Bar we found a roadside barred owl, low in a cotton wood. This big owl preened itself and as it dried out in the weak winter sun.

We found the usual pair of great-horned owls roosting low in a big cottonwood along Oak Island Road. John also found a barn owl, which unfortunately flushed. Atypically John was ahead of me, so I missed it.

Dec 24th. We headed up to Federal Way for Christmas, where we met up with Tui's family. That afternoon we all drove out to Nisqually NWR. Amazingly it snowed for the whole drive, and by the time we arrived everything was covered in a couple of inches of wet snow. A pair of scolding Bewick's wrens gave away a gorgeous tiny saw-whet owl roosting low in a fir tree. George and Charlie marveled at it's size. A perfect home-made Christmas present.

Dec 26th. I had the boys today, so we headed out to Reed Canyon, where we all saw the usual barred owl in the small fir. The real treat was a lovely screech owl roosting nearby illuminated in full sun.

Later we went sledding at Laurelhurst Park. On our way back to the car, we were shown an actively hunting barred owl chasing a lucky to escape winter wren. We were all really excited by the owls indifference to us as it hunted just a few yards from the trail.

Dec 27th. I checked the over look at Oaks Bottom and glimpsed the screech owl nestled in the usual cavity in the broken ash tree.

Dec 31st. At the end of the day I walked Maile to the overlook at Oaks bottom and glimpsed the screech owl tucked away in it's cavity in the broken ash tree. Last owl of the year.