Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 owling

Intro

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. 
 
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