Birding Without Borders

Day 152: Great Rainy Owls

A local expert stakes out a special sighting.

June 1, 2015: Klamath Marsh NWR, Oregon — For the past couple of months, I have been in touch with a Great Gray Owl expert in Oregon named Peter Thiemann who has been giving regular updates on several nesting Great Grays he has staked out. Peter, my dad, and I met today near a town called Sunriver, in central Oregon, to try to see the owls.

Peter co-authored a book called “Great Gray Owl: In California, Oregon, and Washington” which was published earlier this year, and he has been studying the owls for many years. Great Grays are quite rare in these partsPeter calls them the “ghost owl”and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever seen one, so I was excited for today’s adventure!

A friend of Peter’s apparently spent 60 hours observing this particular pair of owls before he discovered their nest this spring. As the three of us approached the spot this afternoon, a dark cloud rolled overhead, the heavens opened with thunder, and rain poured down. The owl nest was empty when we arrived. Undeterred, Peter soon spotted the adult female perched on a nearby branch . . . with a half-sized fledgling snuggled against her side! They seemed patient but very wet, and definitely weren’t moving until the rain passed. Peter said two fledglings left the nest less than a week ago.

A few yards away, Peter found the other fledgling sitting by itself on a low limb. It was hard not to anthropomorphize the young bird, which looked waterlogged and slightly exasperated with the weather. Owls might live outdoors, but they don’t have to like the rain any more than we do! I wanted to give it a little umbrella, but I suppose, with feathers instead of hands, the bird might have trouble holding one. In any case, it  was an awesome bird!

My dad and I went looking for Yellow Rails this evening in the nearby Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Yellow Rails are one of the most secretive birds in North—they are nearly impossible to see (I've never seen one), and make their distinctive ticking calls only at night. As it got dark, we made successive stops throughout the marsh, listening for the rails. Finally, near 11:00 pm, we heard it: A sound like two quarters being struck together at rapid intervals. If you didn't know what the sound was, you'd never think it was a bird.

New birds today: 12

Year list: 2713

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