Pages from the field... A Blog
It is wonderful to live so close to San Francisco and yet still have open space adjacent to our neighborhood. We have several redwood trees in the yard, and a trailhead basically just past our house. The neighbors with dogs pass by regularly, and we get to know many of the neighbors by name.
Yesterday one of our neighbors came up to the house to tell us about a Northern Spotted Owl sitting in a tree just up the road. I've heard the owls nightly for the past week or two, hooting their four-note contact calls. They've nested just up the canyon for over a decade, and they appear to be working on another nest this year, although I don't know exactly where they are building. But when I heard that owl was easy to see, I grabbed my camera and took a short walk with my wife and little girl.
Although we hear the owls often, it is unusual to get a nice opportunity to see them. Northern Spotted Owls are secretive and don't come out much during the day. They blend in with the habitat well, and so long as they stay motionless, they can be very difficult to pick out amongst the trees. Many crows live in the area too, and if anything betrays the owl's location, the crows will mob and hassle them endlessly until nightfall.
So although he was awake, and only about 20 feet above the ground, he was staying very still and trying not to bring any attention to himself. But his glance did follow the hikers that passed by - especially those with little dogs.
About a month ago, I recorded the owls doing a somewhat unusual call, and emailed my colleague and owl expert, Lowell Diller, who lives and works in Humboldt County. This call is quiet and a bit upslope from me, but the recording is here if you want to listen to it. Lowell had heard this call before, and suggested that the owls were establishing their central core, and might have interacted with an interloper - perhaps another Spotted Owl, or perhaps some other threat to their territory. Whatever the threat, this was definitely an aggressive call and suggested that they were probably nesting and had something worth defending.
So I will keep and ear and eye out for the nest and for youngsters this year!
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Pages from the field
Jack Dumbacher's Blog. I am an evolutionary biologist and ecologist studying birds and mammals. I live for field work, but the genetics lab can be fun too... And living in the Bay Area is always full of surprises.