Both of my field trips for the Klamath Bird Observatory’s Mountain Bird Festival were billed as “Great Gray Owl Nest” trips. Well, we showed ’em a nest, but the owlets had fledged. This was a very early breeding season after a non-winter and five-month spring. We’re still getting heavy rain here today. But both days, Saturday and Sunday, over 30 birders got to see nestlings and adult owls. Some people are known to visit Ashland, Oregon, for the Shakespeare Festival but for birders the real drama is up in the Cascades where these tallest of American owls can be found…with luck and perseverance.
The Great Gray is a grail bird. Unlike the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, this grail bird still exists. Very few of the birders on these field trips had ever seen this species.These fledglings are less than six weeks old. They won’t have full flight for many weeks yet. Here is what it looks like to be ignored by one of the most aloof and fascinating predators on the planet:Reminds me of that old rock song: “Hey, hey, you, you, get off of my cloud…” The stare does not reflect the owl’s interest but its near total indifference. This adult female was out soft, repeated “whoots” to reassure the nearby owlets that mother was on duty and watching the big, clumsy mammals nearby.
Inside those feathered facial discs are two very precision instruments, left ear and right ear so she can both see and hear in pinpoint fashion anything within the 180-degree focus of her radar-dish face. Observers saw her several times leave her post fly out into the nearby meadow and capture a small mammal, then return to the forest. She ate some, fed others to the owlets. A good meal was had by all.The camera can focus on the eyes, but the feathers are so soft-edged there is no hard surface on which to focus. Below: little owl in a big forest. Below: the older sibling with slightly more mature plumage. The two fledglings were about fifty yards apart. Here are four shots from birder Scott McNeeley of Eugene, taken on his festival GGO trip: While these stills are wonderful…you gotta check out Scott’s video of 23 Wood Ducklings fledging from a box in his garden near Eugene, click here.
For info on next year’s Mountain Bird Festival contact Klamath Bird Observatory.