Thursday, November 29, 2012

Flying for OWLS! In search of Gizmo, Belle and Cupcake

As a biologist you get to meet some cool people and do some cool stuff!  I met pilot Bruce King at an Altacal Audubon Society meeting. Knowing I was installing radio transmitters on wintering saw-whet owls with grad student Julie Shaw, he offered to take us up in the air if the owls flew our of the study area- the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (BCCER).  Bruce is a pilot, farmer and photographer, taking pics of our beautiful region.  See his website: BruceKingPhotography for some amazing photos. 

Bruce King and his tail-dragger plane-seats 2!
Julie and I installed 3 transmitters on Saw-whets we named Gizmo, Belle and Cupcake. They stayed on the Reserve for only a few days each and we lost their signal.

Here's Belle before release, note her radio antenna
emerging from her backpack (under feathers)

Call in the Owl Detection Support Team: Bruce, we need to fly! I was the lucky passenger. Bruce's plane is a Super Cub model, light in weight for lift and maneuverability it provided a rather cozy ride!

Pilots seat and controls-I'm right behind this seat!

Ready to fly-sitting in the back seat with all my gear
including a receiver  to detect  owls.
We started at the Ranchaero Airport in Chico and flew just south of downtown then up highway 32 to where we released the owls at the BCCER. You can see it was a lovely view with the fall colors in peak and clear skies toward Lassen.
Flying up the Big Chico Creek Canyon 

We flew right over the Reserve. You can see the barn, maintenance facilities and ranch house.  The barn is where we install the transmitters and our OWL3 banding station is just west (left) of the meadow in the mixed forest.

Having no signal we headed north along the foothills to Red Bluff. I recreated the flight path here, although it is not completely accurate, we covered about 150 miles, flying south along the Sacramento River.  We passed over many of the wildlife refuges which looked so beautiful in fall color.

Bruce showed me several eagle nests including one with a bald eagle sitting in it, I suppose a good winter roosting site.  We flew over the Butte Sink and saw many large flocks of white-fronted geese, tundra swans, sandhill cranes, smaller flocks of snow geese and many groupings of decoys staged by hunters. And although we never detected an owl it was well worth this exciting adventure. Thanks Bruce for your expertise and generous donation!

1 comment:

  1. WOW! Thanks for the bird's eye view - awesome shots!!! Makes me want to look up a John Muir quote. "The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness."