February birds cont’d

A majority of my February was spent obsessively looking for screech owls on Mt Tabor. I made about a dozen trips at various early-morning and late-night hours but all I could come up with is a lone Barred Owl calling early one the morning.


 
My search continues.

Outside my five mile radius, however at Oak’s Bottom I struck gold.

Or silver actually. While hiking, I happened to notice a slightly silver feather pattern peeking out of the side of a tree that I was about 85% sure was an owl. I was confident enough to return at sunset to see what happens after dark.

Oaks Bottom at sunset

Sure enough.

Right on cue just after sunset, a sleepy Western Screech Owl peeked its head out! It’s the first one I’ve found on my own. And only the third I’ve ever seen. The first was at this exact park (in a different tree) two years ago on a Birdathon trip. It’s quite possible this is the same owl, or that owl’s partner.

Minutes later as the sky darkened, the owl woke up and looked out further.

I had brought Tomas along with me and together we watched this incredible creature wake up and survey its surroundings. Not wanting to disturb it, we decided to leave before it exited the trunk.

Just as we turned around it flew out over our heads and perched on a low shrub nearby. It called it’s ping-pong call for a few minutes (and another owl nearby responded!) before it then darted into the darkness to hunt. We were ecstatic as we hiked out.

Then Tomas said – look!

It was right next to us along the trail! So tiny, about the size of a soda can. In the dark we could barely keep track as it flew down to the water, and we heard a splash as it caught something (a fish?), then we quickly lost track again. I felt incredibly lucky.

A daylight search on Mt Tabor turned up Fox Sparrow, Red-breasted Sapsucker, and Band-tailed Pigeon to add to my 5MR.

Welcome back pigeon

And on a trip to Broughton Beach I found Brewer’s Blackbird, Horned Grebe, Killdeer, and one early morning I was lucky to find a flock of Horned Lark.

Back at home one rainy day I birded from our bedroom window and managed to see an American Goldfinch hanging with the Lesser Goldfinch.

Sometimes it’s nice to bird from bed when it’s so dreary outside.

Lesser Goldfinch

From the window I also saw a rare sight of two Anna’s Hummingbirds at the feeder at once. That never happens.

And did I mention my Townsend’s Warbler is back?

They sure do make these rainy days brighter.

Lights me up every time. Hope things dry out soon! Marching on to spring…

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bike Touring Shaw Island

After the nice camping and amazing baked goods, but basically birding-bust on Orcas Island, I was determined to find every bird on Shaw Island. With a land area less than 8 square miles I had high hopes.

Domestic crossing

Shaw Island is the smallest island served by the ferries. It has no restaurants, one general store, and a year-round population of 240 people. And Shaw County Park, the only public campground, is just under 2 miles from the ferry dock.

Bike touring is so easy.

Shaw Co Park

Camp

After setting up camp, Tomas hammocked while I biked and birded along the few roads on the island.

It went okay. I found gulls.

Mew Gull

Mew Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

A few other birds.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

And I met a new crow, the Northwestern Crow.

Northwestern Crow

Northwestern Crows average ever so smaller than American Crows and they have a lower, hoarser, and more rapid call. They are best distinguished by range (beaches, shorelines, coniferous forests from Kodiak Island, Alaska to Puget Sound, Washington). But the catch? They “may be only a subspecies of the American Crow.” In hindsight I wish I’d recorded their calls.

Other birds I found included Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Spotted Towhee, American Goldfinch, Red Crossbill.

All pretty familiar birds. Where were the Parasitic Jaegers? I had hoped we’d spend more time on the water, kayaking and finding rarities, but the timing and weather didn’t cooperate this time.

The Domestic Swan Geese on the other hand, were very cooperative.

Domestic Goose Crossing

Domestic Goose

The best surprise on this island came during the middle of the night.

I didn’t see the owl, but while in the tent trying to sleep, I heard high accelerating toots of a Western Screech Owl! It was even harder to get to sleep after that.

The next morning we packed up to head back to Anacortes. More rain was in the forecast, so we decided to end the trip on a sunny note.

Now boarding

I’m glad we did because the last ferry ride back to Anacortes was fantastic.

Puget Sound

It even included an Orca pod escort back to the mainland.

Orcas

I’m grateful for our time on the islands. In total it was 8 days, 4 islands, 5 ferries, and 125 bike miles. Lopez was my favorite for birds and biking. San Juan was the best for whales. Orcas had great hiker-biker sites and Shaw had the owl.

And I couldn’t ask for a better riding partner.

Tomas and me

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Five out of six ain’t bad

It may have been pitch dark and stupid early (3:30 am!) Saturday, as I set off to meet my Put an Owl on It team for Audubon’s Birdathon fundraiser, but I could hardly contain my excitement. All. Day. Long. Owling!!!

Eight of us braved the pre-sunrise to post-sundown adventure, including our team leaders, Joe Liebezeit, Portland Audubon Avian Conservation Program Manager, and Rhett Wilkins, avid birder, knowledgeable owler, and talented bird photographer.

We eagerly piled in vehicles and started off, first looking for the Barn Owl.

Success!

Barn Owl

We searched for Northern Pygmy Owls next. We caught a glimpse of one in flight high in the canopy (success!), and heard others, but no photos this time. I recorded a clip of their “hollow toot” we heard here. I also gained a greater appreciation for my chance sighting of a Northern Pygmy Owl on day 1 of birding.

Next, we met up with accomplished nature photographer, birder, and owl-enthusiast, Scott Carpenter, who located a Great Horned Owl with two owlets for us. Success!

Great Horned Owl

I took these owlet pictures on a return visit the following day.

Great Horned Owlet

It’s a funny thing, when you get home and look at your owlet pics to find a third (adult) owl hiding in the photo that you didn’t notice on site. Sneaky ninja owls!

Great Horned Owlet

Following great horned, we looked for Western Screech Owl. Yet, again, success! I have never seen a screech owl before, and I barely saw this well-camouflaged one, until Rhett pointed it out not 15 feet from us. Stunning.

Western Screech Owl

We continued into the early evening to find Barred Owls. We found six rather cooperative owls, three adults and three owlets. Success!

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owlet

Barred Owlet

We observed an owlet clumsily attempt flight, watched adults hunt, and snapped photos of poised individuals. We spent quality time watching these impressive, stately, and sometimes comical creatures until just after sunset (owlet video here).

And the fun wasn’t over yet. We still had one species left to find, the Northern Saw-whet Owl. Even after 12+ hours of birding, the team was committed and determined to accomplish this task. We placed ourselves at the viewing site and waited. Long after sunset and coyotes drunken yips and hollers, the full moon rose and we waited. Focused, quiet, and ready.

But, the Saw Whet Owl wasn’t ready for us, and by 9:30 pm, we reluctantly called it a night.

Even without the Saw-whet, witnessing 5 owl species, and seeing/hearing over 14 individuals in one day, is a major hooting success! Plus, I met some outstanding fellow birders and friends.

Much love for this team

I am forever grateful to Audubon for this unique opportunity and to the folks I’ve met who share this passion. Hopefully, we’ve contributed in some way to the future success of our stealthy, magnificent, feathered friends and helped spread the word about Audubon’s good work. If you feel the twinkle of inspiration, make a difference here. Thank you!

More pictures from the trip here!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey