It totally was.
Not only was the weather spectacularly perfect, but there was a Spotted Owl on my first trip. Too easy. No really, it was too easy. The trip was led by an employee of Green Diamond Resource Company, a timber company that owns over 1.3 million acres of forests in Oregon, California, and Washington. They conduct their own Spotted Owl research, and in the study areas some owls have become accustomed to people.
This one came ridiculously close.
It swooped down and caught a (live) mouse clinging to the end of a stick offered from the guide (it was requested no mice pictures taken). The owl ripped the mouse’s head off, and swallowed the rest whole. The pattern repeated. The owl stashed the second mouse bits, and prior to devouring the fourth, he hooted to a partner somewhere hidden in the trees. No hoots were returned, so he swallowed up the final mouse. Good owl.
After a strict four mouse limit and 20 minute viewing time, we left to keep the disturbance to a minimum. Being able to watch this controversial, near threatened species in daylight and to observe its behavior was pretty remarkable. (Look at those zygodactyl feet!!)
Bonus – on this trip I heard my first-of-year Wilson’s Warbler and Pacific-Slope Flycatcher! Benefits of driving south during migration.
Godwit Days were off to a spotty good start!
I have been a busy birder this spring.
Two weeks ago, I joined Portland Audubon on a highly anticipated trip to Harney County to visit Malheur National Wildlife. It was my first time traveling to this part of southeastern Oregon, and the first time the area opened since the illegal occupation. I was so excited not just to see thousands of migrating birds, but to support Harney County, show love for public lands, and to be part of a positive influence in the area.
We were greeted with mixed reviews from the locals. On one side was the biker gang yelling obscenities at us, and people in big, loud trucks passing aggressively and flipping us off.
But that was just the first day. On the other side were welcome signs, friendly hellos, and locals with an obvious sense of humor.
Despite the local tension, we nature-lovers piled into two vans (that we named White-rumped Yeti and Bobwhite), traveled and explored Harney County over three days, spread the bird love and had an amazing time. I think we represented birders well. Here are some highlights:
At one point, we watched two (amorous) American Avocets interact in a mating display. They washed each other’s head, swooping water up, then she shook her head “no-no-no”, and he hopped on top. Seconds later they divided and quickly went their separate ways.
It was almost as romantic as watching Sandhill Cranes dance. Almost. Spring love was clearly in the air. Or at least hormones were. One of the most magical moments of the trip was an evening spent watching two Great Horned Owls hoot, nod, and bow, courting each other under the moonlight. Now that’s romantic. Fun-filled video here.
What an experience.
Malheur is a vital habitat area to birds and wildlife. Threatened in 1898 by ignorant plume hunters, its preservation importance was officially recognized in 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt gave the executive order, establishing Lake Malheur Reservation.
It’s part of an inland lake system on the Pacific Flyway called the SONEC (Southern Oregon-Northeastern California), and millions of birds stop here during migration, and many, including 20% of North America’s entire breeding population of Cinnamon Teal, use this wetland complex to nest and breed.
Today, collaborative groups work hard to manage this vast landscape for wildlife and visitor usage. [Learn more: watch Portland Audubon Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger’s presentation, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: Past, Present and Future.]
This trip was not just about seeing my first Black-crowned Night Heron or Yellow-headed Blackbird.
But both of those things happened.
It wasn’t just about the bluebirds, pronghorn, or Say’s phoebe.
This trip was about appreciating public lands. As much as the birds need this habitat to live, we need these lands to thrive too.
Since I first heard about Malheur (on day two of birding), and now that I’ve visited, I feel super protective of it. Protective of all our public lands. I’m incredibly thankful to those who have fought in the past, and to those who will continue to fight to keep these lands available to all of us.
Not taking anything for granted.
Tweets and chirps,
They all have something in common I promise.
First Steigerwald. Burrowing Owl reports showed up on eBird at this park and it’s not far from my house. Did someone say Burrowing Owl?! – pinch me, I’m dreaming. As soon as Tomas and I could inch through rush hour traffic and cross the river, we went to see if we could find the bird before sunset.
Luckily, we got there before the big cameras left because the owl was hard to find. The helpful photographers pointed it out to us. See it?
Just the top of his head was visible above the rock. Here’s the best view we got that evening.
I also saw a couple of the Say’s Phoebes hanging out nearby.
And a pretty lake and stuff.
Since the park is so close, and owls are so cool, I went back the next morning to try for a better look at the burrowing fella. I bumped into a fellow birding friend when I arrived at the park gate, so we walked together.
On the way through the park, we crossed over the bridge and heard a splash underneath. And then several river otters (ridder odders!) climbed out onto a log to say hello.
They kept coming, until five popped out, then they all retreated under water and swam away. What an adorable surprise!
Little owly was slightly more cooperative this morning thanks to nearby Ring-necked Pheasants and an agitated American Robin.
Things calmed down and the owl hunkered down again in the comfy concrete slabs.
I love this bird. And unfortunately, it has attracted more attention, and folks aren’t giving it the space that it deserves. Getting too close, harassing, and even yelling at the bird? Who does that? Someone reported this to the local Fish and Wildlife Office, so hopefully the creeps stay away and don’t stress the owl.
The whole thing reminds me of the time I went looking for a specific owl and her owlets, and my conflicted feelings about encroaching on these creatures’ space for my own birding pleasure. How much is too much? Where is the line? Morals and ethics, people. Let’s all keep them in check, shall we?
Which brings me to Birdathon. It’s a simple way to give back, help Audubon educate the masses, and keep burrowing owls happy. I’ve joined the Put an Owl on It team again this year and good things are happening in June. I need to raise a minimum of $600, and you can help! Donate here.
Now a final stop at Florida, to thank my dad for his kind donation (!) and for documenting and sharing with me the most peculiar relationship between a Great Horned Owl and Blue Jay.
They are obviously best buds. The hopes of seeing stuff like this is why I leave my house. Cracks me up!
Tweets, chirps, and donations!