How to Watch an Owl

great horned owl 2

A lot of people, both birders and non-birders, are fascinated by owls. I personally don’t get more excited by owls than any other group of birds, but some folks just lose all ethics and common sense when they come within close proximity of an owl. As I have often said, owls make people stupid.

Much of the worst birder behavior I have witnessed has been around owls. When people get too close, the results can range from simply annoying the animal to putting the bird at serious risk. So, I would like to offer a guide to enjoying these birds is such a way that keeps everyone involved safe from stress and harm.

Ethical owling is achieved by starting with two clear premises:

  1. Owls don’t like you.

To most species of wildlife, humans are perceived as a clear and present danger. Despite being predators themselves, owls are preyed upon by other species. The best defense employed by many owls is camouflage and just staying hidden during the day. If a large predator, like you, approaches an owl, the bird may become stressed, even to the point of flushing from their hidden perch. This in turn puts the owl at increased risk of being attacked by another predator.

  1. If an owl is looking right at you, you are changing that bird’s behavior, which may be putting the bird at risk.

That owl could have been sleeping, watching for potential prey, or preening. Your presence is preventing all of those natural behaviors. By observing and interpreting an owl’s behavior, you can effectively judge your potential impact on the bird and adjust your actions accordingly.

Smaller species of owls rely on their camouflage to keep them safe, and may remain completely still if you approach. So just because the bird is not flying away, it doesn’t mean that you are not causing stress. With larger species, you may be interfering with hunting activities or alerting other animals to the owl’s location.

If an owl is paying any attention to you, you are too close. When you encounter an owl, even if the bird does not seem affected by you, enjoy them briefly from a respectful distance and then move on.

A longer version of this post, complete with photos of various owl behaviors, is available on my Patreon Account.

Happy Autumn

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Random Birds

Here are some random bird images from the last couple of weeks.

belted kingfisher smallBelted Kingfisher on a very fancy perch

bonaparte's gull 1 smallBonaparte’s Gull in first winter plumage
bonaparte's gull 2 smallGull Season is just around the corner.

white-crowned sparrow smalljuvenile White-crowned Sparrow

Green Heron with tadpoleGreen Heron with an American Bullfrog tadpole. It is nice when the native species eat the invasive ones. It is often the other way around.

teal smallThis is an odd duck. It is a teal, probably Cinnamon, but is either leucistic or is going through a brutal molt.

American White PelicanAmerican White Pelicans are now common in the Portland area in late summer.

American White Pelican flightAmerican White Pelican coming in for a landing

Happy Autumn

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Random Non-birds

Here are a few images of various animals I have seen lately. When the birds refuse to pose for photos, it is nice to find other creatures that are more cooperative. As I have said, there is always something to see.

brush rabbit smallBrush Rabbit, Fernhill Wetlands

bullfrog smallBullfrog female smallThe top image shows a massive male American Bullfrog found at Dober Reservoir. Note the injury around his right eye. The bottom image is of a newly emerged female. At this stage, she was about the size of the males head, but females typically grow larger than males of this species.

butterfly smallOrange Sulphur, found at Jackson Bottom. Unfortunately, this species perches with their wings closed, so you can’t see the vibrant colors on the top.

Mylitta Crescent smallThis Mylitta Crescent at Fernhill Wetlands was much more cooperative.

striped meadowhawk smallI don’t know the dragonflies, but I am told this individual from Fernhill Wetlands is a Striped Meadowhawk.

ground squirrel smallCalifornia Ground Squirrels, one of my favorite rodents, have become more common at Fernhill Wetlands since the reconstruction a few years ago.

Black-tailed Deer and fawnThis Black-tailed Deer and her fawn were enjoying the lush vegetation at Smith and Bybee Wetlands.
Black-tailed fawn

Back to birds next time.

Happy Autumn

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September Shorebirds

Greater Yellowlegs

Shorebirds have been trickling through the Portland area all month. Finding proper habitat can be challenging. As wetlands dry up during the summer, we have to hope that deeper bodies of water recede enough to create mudflats for shorebirds to feed on. This Greater Yellowlegs was at Force Lake in north Portland.

g yellowlegs trioTypically seen wading, Greater Yellowlegs will occasionally swim in groups to catch small fish.
greater yellowlegs swimming

westernThis juvenile Western Sandpiper, showing the characteristic rusty suspenders, was taking advantage of low water levels at Smith and Bybee Wetlands.

pectoral sandpiperThe main lake at Fernhill Wetlands has receded enough to create some nice mudflats, here being enjoyed by a Pectoral Sandpiper.

long-billed dowitcherjuvenile Long-billed Dowitcher, showing the characteristic solid dark tertials

short-billed dowitcher smalljuvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, showing the characteristic tiger-striped tertials

spotted sandpiper smallSpotted Sandpipers nest in the Portland area. Juveniles, like this one, can be recognized by the barring on the wing coverts.

semipalmated plover smallSemipalmated Plovers are surely one of the cutest shorebirds. The scaly pattern on the wings tells us that this is a juvenile.

Happy Autumn

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Low Tide

trestle bay 2Trestle Bay, just off Parking Lot D at Fort Stevens State Park, can be one of the more productive shorebird spots on the north coast. Timing is critical, as the bay fills completely with the high tide.

trestle bay 1When the tide is out, the bay provides extensive mudflats. With this much exposed mud, the birds can be quite distant, so timing your visit when the tide is coming in can produce some nice viewing.

sea lion 1On this visit we observed what we thought was a California Sea Lion carcass way out on the flat.

sea lionLater we noticed the the sea lion had rolled over and extended a flipper. Apparently he was just hanging out on the mudflat catching some sun.

sea lion stretchI normally see these animals basking on rocks, but the mud was apparently working for this guy.

mergansersSouthbound shorebird migration tends to come in waves, and we were between waves on this visit. Our consolation birds were this flock of Common Mergansers with a California Gull.

Happy last days of summer.

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Summer in the Wetlands

Our brutal summer continues. When the weather is this hot and dry, the best bird diversity is usually found around wetlands, so I spent a little time at Fernhill Wetlands and Jackson Bottom.

b phoebe smallThe first record of Black Phoebe in Washington County was in 2006 (by yours truly). Now they are rare but regular at both Jackson Bottom and Fernhill.

least sandpiperShorebird migration is in full swing. Numbers are better at the coast, but some birds are finding the small patches of mud at inland locations. This Least Sandpiper was feeding on some newly exposed mud at Jackson Bottom.

lorquin's admiralHere is the underside of a Lorquin’s Admiral. Those red eyes are intense.

green heronGreen Heron at Fernhill
Green Heron open bill small

w pelican smallAmerican White Pelican is another species that has become more common in the Portland area is recent years. They don’t nest here, but summer brings large numbers of young birds and post-breeding adults.

Happy Summer

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Wasco County

river smallHere are a few more images from my trip to central Oregon. The main purpose of the trip was to get the dogs away from the fireworks in Portland, but I always enjoy a trip to the dry side of the Cascades. It was indeed dry, and very hot. Bodhi cooled off a little in the Deschutes River.

tv flockI found a small flock of Turkey Vultures roosting along the river one morning.

tv left smallEven in the early morning the sun was pretty intense.
tv insta

spotted sandpiperThis young Spotted Sandpiper was perched on a rock in the river.

mule deerThe Mule Deer were usually found along the river, which provided the only green vegetation in the area.

fence instaSince birding was pretty slow, I spent a lot of time with Western Fence Lizards. This individual was basking on a big piece of obsidian. Since it was so hot, these lizards usually basked in the shade except during the early morning.

fence lizard smallThis individual was hanging out under the deck where we were staying. I had to use a flash in this dark environment. I normally don’t like the results of flash photography, but the flash really brought out the pattern on this lizard.

fence instaan adorable little dragon

Happy Summer

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Crooked River Wetlands Complex

crooked river parking lotI had a chance to visit Crooked River Wetlands near Prineville. Like Fernhill Wetlands, this site was constructed as part of a wastewater treatment system. But Crooked River Wetlands was designed from the beginning to accommodate both birds and birders. The parking lot has a covered picnic area (the only shade on the property) and a restroom. Paved and gravel paths provide easy viewing of the wetlands.

crooked river wetlandsThere are 15 bodies of water in the complex, which is right next to the Crooked River. Water levels vary with the seasons, so there is a variety of water depths which attract different species.

western sandpiperShorebird migration is getting underway. Here are some Western Sandpipers.

spotted sandpiperSpotted Sandpiper

ruddy duckOne of the deeper ponds held this pair of Ruddy Ducks.

eared grebe and babyEared Grebe with baby

Tree SwallowBetween the river, the ponds, and the adjacent wastewater plant, this site attracts swarms of swallows. Tree Swallows use the many nest boxes.

Bank SwallowThis is one of the easiest places I know to see Bank Swallows.

n harrierNorthern Harrier

brewer'sBrewer’s Blackbird was one of five blackbird species I saw on this visit.

Tricolored BlackbirdTricolored Blackbirds can be hard to find in Oregon, but this site is pretty reliable.

yellow-headed blackbirdsYellow-headed Blackbirds are common here. The males tended to hide in the reeds, but this female and youngster posed nicely.

Say's PhoebeThis is one of two Say’s Phoebes that were working the fence line at the edge of the property.

Crooked River Wetlands is one of the best birding sites in central Oregon, providing access to a great variety of wetland species in a very dry part of the state. It provides a nice pocket of avian diversity at a time of year when birding can be pretty slow.

Happy Summer

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Scout Camp Loop Trail

canyonThe Scout Camp Loop Trail is a lovely 2.2 mile hike northwest of Terrebonne. It is not particularly birdy. I logged 11 species on my trip, and the top eBird list for this site is only 17. (eBird calls this site Scott Camp Loop Trail, a typo that I hope will be corrected soon.) Despite the low diversity, it was well worth it to spend a few hours along this stretch of the Deschutes River.

The first .4 mile is through some juniper/sage steppe, which actually held the greatest bird diversity of the hike. The trail then descends into the canyon.

rock wrenThis Rock Wren was singing up a storm, but insisted on doing so from a high backlit perch.

bl starWith the recent high temperatures and lack of rain, most of the vegetation on the slopes was dried to a crisp. But the Blazing Stars were in full bloom, in defiance of the harsh conditions.

riparianDown at the river’s edge was a lush ribbon of greenery.

mule deerSeveral Mule Deer were taking advantage of the lush growth.

chat smallAside from the Violet-green Swallows flying over the water, the most common bird along the river was Yellow-breasted Chat. There were at least six individuals working the riparian corridor.

two-tailed swallowtailI don’t study butterflies much, but this Two-tailed Swallowtail was a new one for me.

common side-blotched lizard pairWhenever I visit eastern Oregon I am especially on the lookout for herps. This pair of Common Side-blotched Lizards was the only herp sighting of this hike, but the species was new to me.

side-blotched 1Here is the female, whose colors are more muted.

side-blotched 3The male was really colorful, with blue spots on the back and orange underneath.

side-blotched portraitAnother look at the male. The two didn’t seem to mind my presence. I think they were more interested in each other.

Happy Summer

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Summer at Fernhill

Record-setting heat and cloudless days are not the best conditions for birding or photography, but here we are. It is sometimes hard to motivate oneself to get outside when the weather is so harsh, but there is always something to see. So here are some images from a warm walk around Fernhill Wetlands.

bh grosbeakBlack-headed Grosbeaks are one of our more attractive summer residents.

red-wingedLots of babies have already fledged. Here a Red-winged Blackbird is being harassed by a hungry youngster.

purple martinsIt has been such a delight to have an active Purple Martin colony at Fernhill the past few years.

p martinPurple Martin on an unclouded day

ospreyOspreys were soaring high over Fernhill Lake. I didn’t see any dive for fish while I was there.

pb grebeThe ducks have started their summer molt, but the Pied-billed Grebes are still looking dapper.

modoA lovely Mourning Dove on an ugly fence

western grebeThe most unusual bird of the day was this Western Grebe. They are frequent winter visitors here, but they do not nest anywhere nearby.

Southbound shorebird migration has already begun, so expect them to show up soon.

Happy Summer

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