Friday, March 26, 2010

Fun with Owls

On the 22nd I went up Gillies Creek to survey for screech-owls close to a large power-line upgrade project (near Skaha Bluffs). In addition to the pair of WESTERN SCREECH-OWLS who responded right away at my third stop I also had a male NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL that called constantly the entire time I was in the area, and coolest of all was a pair (I think) of LONG-EARED OWLS. From the sound of it, the male who give a series of deep hoots and then the female responded immediately with a loud horse "quack!"

The next night I returned to the same site to try and determine whether or not the screeches were nesting yet, so arrived just before dusk. The female responded immediately to my calls and was clearly not in a nest tree so I made my way over to the other side of the ravine to try and get a look-see. As darkness fell both owls started to call back and forth apparently hidden in a clump of mistletoe in a Douglas Fir. Then through the black (with the help of a quarter moon) I caught a glimpse of some movement low over the ground just 15 feet from my hiding place. I turned on the flashlight and WOW there was the female perched on a small stick projecting from the ground only 15 feet away. She glanced casually in my direction then continued to survey the habitat-- perhaps looking for the male I thought. A few minutes later I switched on the light again to see if she was still there-- not only that, but the male was now sitting 5 feet from my head on a low branch! Then he flew past my head and landed on a stump right behind me, and the pair began to call back and forth continuously with me silently grinning in the middle! After 5 or 10 minutes of that the male flew off towards the creek and started to hunt actively while the female changed perches (just behind me up the bank) and started giving constant twittering begging calls.

I have been lucky enough to see many Western Screech-Owls in my life but never before have I had the pleasure of watching a pair hunt and interact so freely for such a long period of time-- what an experience! I look forward to returning in April to confirm breeding. Other wildlife present included a pair of GREAT HORNED OWLS, several LITTLE BROWN BATS, and 3 NORTHERN FLYING-SQUIRRELS that gave me great visuals as they dashed from tree to tree giving high-pitched squeaks.

Then two nights ago my Dad and I did his usual owl survey along the KVR and Chute Lake Road above Naramata. It was the route's best run as we chalked up 3 saw-whets and 3 Great Horns, then on the way home we checked a few of his owl boxes and found one with 7 eggs in it--- "must be a saw-whet!" he said. Well I returned last night and sure enough (SEE PHOTO), he was right!

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