Archive for Owl

Great Horned Owl Fledgling

Posted in Natural History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2015 by chamimage
A fledgeling great horned owl on a cottonwood tree limb in spring.

A fledgling great horned owl on a cottonwood tree limb in spring.

I checked in on these Great Horned owl fledglings last week at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. I do every year.

In fact, it occurred to me that I might have photographed at least one of the parents when they were babies, too, though it looks like their typical lifespan is thirteen years so maybe not. I’ve been coming back to this nest site for about five or six years.

Some years they are still in the nest at this time of year. This year they are all over the place and flying up into trees. This one was hyperactive, its sibling was sedate. I think the sibling may have been sick. It kept its left eye closed much of the time and rarely moved around. It did grab this one’s tail in his beak and give it a yank so wasn’t too sick for pranks.

This year the beavers built a dam and the place was flooded, limiting the sight lines for photograph. And most of the trees were girdled and some were down. Park staff said they were going to relocate the beavers and it appears they have already done so. This is an old homestead with one old building still standing and they wanted to preserve it.

This year too many people knew about this site. It has always been my little secret, but somebody must have found it and posted it on some birder’s site. I didn’t see it mentioned on the grease board for sightings at headquarters. When there were other cars here I just kept on going, not wanting to add to the stress to the birds. I did notice that they always started in this tree in the morning and by evening were either across the water or deeper into the woods, as if they were escaping the onslaught of birders. If park staff notice the activity here it will probably be off limits next year until the chicks are fully fledged.

I use my 600 mm lens with a 1.7x teleconverter (1000 mm) when I photograph them to be able to keep my distance and they seem happy to go about their normal activity while I am there, with only the occasional withering gaze inherent to GH owls. I even saw one of the parents come in with a mouse. Of course this one immediately flew over for it and the sibling didn’t budge.

I saw a short-eared owl and a long-eared owl this year. I got only a badly focused photograph of the short-ear and blew it on the long-ear…twice.

The great horned nest at Page Springs campground was empty, which was a blessing because that blasted owl has kept me awake with her hooting more nights than I care to remember and it was blissfully quiet this year.


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.



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.


Klamath Day 4 – Little Wing

Posted in Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by chamimage
Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

This little fellow above took up the better part of my afternoon today. I found him on my way to eat my lunch and take a much-anticipated nap. It did not take great powers of observation to find him, he hopped across the road in front of my car.

I pulled over and walked back to see what the hell just hopped across the road in front of my car, and to take a photo of it, and to see why a bird was hopping instead of flying. I was greeted by the sweet face you see above. He was sitting in the ditch with no visible injury, but he was beside the road and couldn’t fly so a broken wing from colliding with a car was the most obvious probability.

I hopped back in my car and drove the short distance back to the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. The uniformed man behind the desk  said since it was Sunday he was the only staff in the whole refuge and he obviously couldn’t help me in any way. He suggested I capture the owl and drive it to some wildlife rehab place. I guess I had thought that the welfare of the wildlife on the refuge was their job.

I wasn’t sure about the legalities of scooping up a raptor from a refuge and transporting him across state lines. Technically, though, the owl was about 200 feet outside the refuge. The problem was I didn’t know where to take him and I didn’t have a crate to transport him in and didn’t think driving 40 miles back to Klamath Falls with him wrapped in a coat was a good idea.

I approached some birders and they were also surprisingly apathetic about an injured owl. One of them did say over his shoulder as he walked away that I should call Badger Run Wildlife Rehab in Klamath Falls. At least that gave me a place to start.

I found the number for Badger Run and called and told them about the owl. “No problem, someone will be right out.” No problem? Driving forty miles on a Sunday afternoon to help a little tiny owl based on my sketchy, non-resident directions? I kinda liked their attitude.

While waiting I checked on the owl and the little scamp had hopped his way up the bank of the ditch and into a low branch on a nearby tree. Spunky. Now it was obvious that the left wing was pointing the wrong way, from the shoulder outward. Even I knew that wasn’t good.

I met Pat and led her to where I had last seen the owl. We split up and searched for him. After about five minutes I heard some grumbling that included the words ‘wild goose chase’. Oh Pat, you don’t know me. There is an injured bird here that needs help and I will find him if it involves flashlights.

I found him a short time after that. He had tried to go further up the hill and gotten stopped by thick brush. Pat deftly threw a towel over him and swooped him up wearing welder’s gloves. We looked him over. He had a compound fracture (bone sticking out) very close to the shoulder. Not an easy repair. Even if they can save the wing, the bone callus that forms limits the flexibility the shoulder needs and the bird can’t fly very well, if at all. Not well enough to hunt again.

I heard back from Badger Run that the owl was going to be taken to the vet when he opens. The outcome might well be amputation of the wing and a spoiled life as a wildlife ambassador, taken to schools, etc. The vet could decide he can’t be saved. A release back into the wild seems unlikely, but you never know. He beat some pretty big odds by hopping in front of the one person who wasn’t going to give up helping him out on a Sunday. And who found for him the angels who selflessly came to his rescue and can do the best for him that is possible. I mean, look at that face. Who wouldn’t want to help that little owl?

Snow Goose Blast-off

Snow Goose Blast-off

It seemed to be a day for injured birds. Above is a typical snow goose blast-off. Typically they do this whenever an eagle flies over, but sometimes they just seem to do it for no good reason at all. You wonder how they keep from running into each other and getting hurt, huh?

After this particular blast-off above, I noticed a lone snow goose on the ground where they took off from. Through the binoculars I could see he was lying with his belly on the ground flapping his wings meekly. At first he scooted himself forward a little bit with each wing flap, but he was fading quickly. Then he stopped flapping. Then his beak slowly lowered to the ground and he never moved again.

Apparently, sometimes they do get hurt. I wonder if he broke a wing and fell to the ground. He may have just been sick and was left behind, but it’s strange that he coincidentally died so soon after the blast-off. You would think there was a connection.  I’ll never know.

As he lay there flapping I looked around and counted at least eight bald eagles as close as I was to him. None of them seemed to notice him. The ravens didn’t even come over. Never a coyote when you need one. I figure at the very least a coyote will come around tonight. They don’t miss much. “Dead goose? I’m on it.”