Owls feature prominently on many a birder’s bucket bird list. With persistence and time in the field, most birders will be able to tick one or more of the large owls. But small owls are a great deal more challenging. So, the evening of June 4, ten intrepid folks gathered in town late in the afternoon and set off for the mountains. When all the vehicles had arrived at the trailhead, we had an introduction to the art of owling: research the owls in your area; learn their habits and calls; use play back of taped calls sparingly; and cross your fingers. The weather was almost perfect, warm and no wind but also a new moon. Owls tend to be more active during bright moonlit nights. I had allowed plenty of daylight for the half mile amble up the trail to the owl site. Birds encountered on our stroll: a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird who perched on the tip of a fir tree and gave us stunning views of his flaming red gorget; Northern Flicker; Western Wood-Pewee (heard); silent Western-type flycatcher (probably Cordilleran); Tree and Violet-green swallows; Pygmy Nuthatch (entering nest hole); Brown Creeper; Western Bluebird (adult and young); Hermit Thrush singing its lovely evening song; Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s); Western Tanager; and Cassin’s Finch. It was nearly dark when we reached the owl site. We positioned ourselves along the trail and, as darkness fell, I began to play a recording of a Flammulated Owl call. All twenty ears were straining to hear any answering call. And there is was! It was coming from the slope above the trail. The call was quiet, probably distant. But everyone in the group heard it. The bird only called once, and showed no interest in coming closer. The trip may have come too near the end of the courting period to have produced more active response from the owls. And, as I had warned before the trip, we didn’t actually see an owl, but we definitely heard one. Frequently, with small owls, hearing may be as good as it gets. So we count our trip a success.
–by Carolyn Titus