Archive for Barred Owl

Death Stalks on Silent Wings

Posted in Natural History, Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2015 by chamimage

Owl Silhouette

I was staying in Klamath Falls, photographing owls and bald eagles, at the Klamath Wildlife Refuges when I read in the newspaper that we had an owl problem back home in Salem, Oregon.

Around mid-January a jogger (local surgeon) running at 5:15 am in a city park was hit in the back of his head with what he assumed was a two by four. Looking around he saw nothing. Later, it was determined that he was attacked by a barred owl (Strix varia). Three other joggers have had the honor of repeating his experience since then. All have been running before dawn or after sunset, basically pretty dark out there. One jogger lost his favorite Nike cap and never got it back.

It was assumed the owl is nesting nearby and is protecting its territory, but no nest has ever been found to my knowledge.

I went to the park when I got back to find the owl in question and was not successful. Nobody has seen it in the day time so maybe it is roosting or nesting away from the park and only hunting squirrels there in the dark. I did notice a paucity of squirrels. Maybe he tired of having to chase joggers off and gave up and moved out.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I don’t have any images of a barred owl. They are relatively new to Oregon, being a bird of eastern forests. Their presence here in Oregon has been problematic in other ways. Remember in the 1990’s when the northern spotted owl was listed as endangered and old growth forest logging was essentially shut down to protect the spotted owls? Those same spotted owls are now being decimated and will likely go extinct due to the invasion of barred owls into their territory. They are similar owls in many respects. Both feature black eyes. The barred owls are more aggressive and are out-competing and driving out the spotted owls. The Forest Service now has a trial program of killing barred owls in northern California to see if it has any effect on the spotted owls and is feasible. 3,600 barred owls will be shot. The biologist involved described this as a classic Sophie’s Choice, deciding who will live and who will die when there is no clear fairness in the result.

The image directly above is of an owl I found early in the day when the sun was behind him. I came back in the evening when I knew he would be front-lit. I got near to his position, but there was a car behind me so I stopped at a porta pottie so as not to leads other to him and burden his life with too many people knowing of his location. To my dismay, when I came out of the latrine the driver behind me had not only seen the owl and stopped (I suspect he already knew he was there as well) but his stopping had created an owl jam with three other cars stopped. At that point I gave up on the stealth approach and drove up and got my images. Instead of a quick shot out the window of my car turned into stopping and putting the camera on the tripod. He obviously wasn’t going anywhere. By that time there were six cars stopped.

The title of this post refers to the silent flight of owls, which is unique. It hardly seems fair that they hunt at night and are completely silent in flight. They pay for the silent flight with feathers that are not able to repel water. Apparently you can be water-resistant or silent, but not both. Another fact I learned from Nature last week is that an owl’s feathers weigh more than its skeleton. Hollow bones.

At the Klamath wildlife refuge a biologist said that one morning when they came to work they found the head of a barn owl on the sidewalk. At first they thought they were victim to a boyhood prank, but later decided that it was a gift from a resident great horned owl. Owls like to behead their prey before eating them (perhaps they can’t digest the relatively dense skull?) and in the case of great horned owls they tend to spread body parts about their territory, probably for the same reason gangsters put horse heads in people’s beds.

Sunset

Sunset

The owl silhouette at the top was taken in one of these trees a few minutes later.

A good reference book on owls I “Owls of the United States and Canada” written by my friend Wayne Lynch.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet Owl

The Oregon Owl Controversy

Posted in Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , on July 29, 2013 by chamimage

In the 1990’s we had a controversy in the northwestern US over the Spotted Owl  (to say the least). The Spotted Owl lives only in old growth forest and feeds almost exclusively on flying squirrels (and the occasional mouse swung in the air by a researcher).

When the Spotted Owl gained endangered species status it pretty much shut down the logging of the few remaining old growth forests in the west.

The Spotted Owl is now losing ground to the Barred Owl in those forests.

The Barred Owl started out as an east coast bird, but it is tough and it eats anything that moves, so it has managed to widen its territory relentlessly and is now at home here in the forests of the west coast. It likes it here just fine and has no intention of going away.

The problem now being that the Barred Owl is eating the Spotted Owl out of house and home. Spotted Owls numbers are decreasing again, 4% per year.

What to do? This is the natural order of things. This has happened over the millenia over and over. Species come and go.

But, the Spotted Owl is an endangered species and by law must be protected from extinction. The National Forest Service has proposed killing 3,600 Barred Owls in an attempt to save the Spotted Owl. A small scale culling was done in the redwoods of northern California and the Spotted Owl did benefit from it.

There are many layers to this controversy. Most people come down on one side or the other based on how they feel about logging old growth forests.

If you are an environmentalist – can you really endorse the killing of 3,600 owls by the government? But if you don’t, and the Spotted Owl goes extinct, the old growth forests are likely to open up to renewed logging.

I am having a hard time with the thought of interfering with a natural process like the Barred Owl taking new territory from the Spotted Owl. Survival of the fittest.

On the other hand, if it were tigers or lions that were at stake because some bigger and badder predator moved in I would probably be in favor of intervening so I am somewhat of a hypocrite there. Not that I don’t love owls, but big cats are a whole other level.

This one takes some soul searching. It sounds like the Barred Owl removal is likely to go forward unless there is massive resistance to it, and so far it has been a pretty quiet controversy, for obvious reasons.

Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet Owl

This is a Saw-whet Owl. It has nothing to do with the story, but I have no Spotted Owl or Barred Owl images and I like this little guy. He used to hang out in the bushes at the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. His preference for thick vegetation made him difficult to photograph, but protected him from the Great-horned Owls and the red-tailed hawk that nested at headquarters, and from the bobcat that came through on her daily rounds. It’s a jungle out there.