Saturday, November 9, 2013


We are up to 18 owls with our last 2 captures occurring on November 7, 2013.  Last night the J. Shaw team captured a lone, but previously banded Western Screech Owl, making our total WESO captures at 7. It seems there are almost as many screech owls as saw-whets this year.  On the 7th, my crew had a male tooting in competition with our boom box for a solid hour before he finally had to go check out the stud in the woods (our boombox), and we captured him. He looks pretty tough- doesn't he?

Male NSWO weighting in at a whopping 74 grams.
When the owls are few and far between during our 30  minute net runs, we have plenty of time to contemplate other things like the nocturnal habits of deer, P. chorus frogs and bats, gazing at shooting stars and constellations, listening for owls, migrating geese and bugs. Bug finding can be entertaining. These Jerusalem Crickets sometimes cross our path.

Jerusalem Cricket
They are about 2 inches long, and have a very shiny, nicely striped and squishy abdomen. Apparently they are quite the percussionists too.  Check out this link to hear them drum with their abdomens.  One never knows what the night will bring!

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Last night, during our Owl Night Out donation for the Fight Against Alzheimer's -we had an amazing surprise, a Foreign Recovery of a NSWO.
Fighting to end Alzheimer's -
Our very fun and birding savvy group!
Bander/volunteer Michelle Ocken just before releasing Miss
Iowa!  Michelle's smile shows our group's excitement.
This means we recaptured an owl originally banded elsewhere, only the second time for us since 2005 and over 500 owl banding/captures. Our excitement was high when after looking through our data, we soon discovered she was not one of "our birds."  Her band number did not match any of the band strings. By examining her molt pattern we identified her as a Second Year (SY) female, meaning she was hatched last year in 2012. When I got home I input her band information into the Bird Banding Laboratory - Report a Bird - page and here is what I found this morning in my inbox: 

Banding Location: Hitchcock Nature Center, NR Honey Creek, Pottawatomie County, IOWA!  She was banded Nov. 2012 as a Hatch Year/Female. 
Project Owlnet Map of all NSWO banding stations across 
North America. I  circled our banding station at BCCER in blue 
and the banding station where Miss Iowa was first banded.
What a trip - Literally! While we don't know what her journey looks like, but here is a likely scenario. We know she was banded in Iowa, fall 2012. She likely flew north in the spring and bred somewhere in Canada (?) in 2013. This fall she flew to us.  The mystery lies in the in between route from station to station-and one that will always remain a mystery. 
Google Earth image showing two banding locations and
terrain in between sites

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Happy OWLOWEEN 2013 - BOO!

One of my most fun owl events is the ever popular and scary OWLOWEEN. This time it was a surprise for our guests - Sacramento Audubon Society (SAS). And this is what it looked like:  Awesome banding crew, 11 participants and 2 NSWO, bringing us up to for the season as of October 26. A very slow year,good thing we know how to have some fun!

Our Owloween group with curious NSWO
We also heard N. Pygmy Owl, Western Screech Owl and Great  Horned owl AND some strange sounds we could not identify. Pair the  wildlife with lots of spooky tricks and treats - a successful night!  

Trick or Treat Table
Delicious ghoulish cupcakes! 
Creepy Grave on the way to the nets

Thank you SAS for your generous donation to help support our owl monitoring project!

Hatch year  Female, NSWO, Photo by Linda Pittman (SAS)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

OWL Donations Bring Success!

Incoming!  Our fall population of NSWO was in perfect arrival timing with our first charitable contribution. Julie and Mark, winners of our "Owl Night Out" contribution to raise funding for student research (Candles in the Canyon-BCCER), were joyful about meeting our first two NSWO since opening on October 4. Banders Julie Shaw and Raina and Steve King introduced our project to the group and had a great evening (thanks!), we always enjoy showing people the darling owl that may live right in their backyard- sight unseen.

Candles in the Canyon 2013 Donation Winners - Owl What a Night!
All photos by Steve King.

"Pleased to meet you," owl guest and NSWO
Bling! Julie's glittery nail polish coordinated
with NSWO plumage. Nice Julie! 

We have been wondering when the owls would arrive.  The mild temps may be keeping them up in the mountains where there could still be warm days, snow-less grounds for hunting, and abundant prey or maybe they were just waiting for a charity event!  This brings our owl total up to 4 NSWO and 4 WESO (see earlier post). We have another event tonight - keep your fingers crossed XXXX

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NSWO - Halting to a SCREECH

Our owl of October 2013 is undoubtedly the Western Screech Owl, having so far, captured four of them and only two saw-whets.  Screech Owls are resident birds, breeding on the Reserve and living here year round.
Guest with 5-year old Western Screech Owl
They are likely curious about whooooo has come to their forest and are often incidentally caught in our nets when we are playing the saw-whet calls. We captured our first one last week, and then another 3 in one night! One female was a recapture who was originally banded in October, 2008.  Recaptures relay great stories, such as a birds' age, she being at least 5 years old.  Their memory also must be quite good, taking her a full five years to revisit her experience in the nets! Our grand total so far: 2 NSWO and 4 WESO. Where are the saw-whets?!

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Juvenile/hatch year saw-whet. Note dark brown plumage
and buff belly, with few bars and spots.
Photos by Steve King.
Hello young saw-whet! Last night during the kick-off to our 9th season of owl monitoring, we had a nice surprise in our nets; a first year female with about 2/3 of her body covered in juvenal plumage. These are the wispy more unstructured feathers found everywhere but on the tail and wings (flight feathers). The flight feathers were typical of a first year bird (hatch year, HY), all uniform in pattern and age because they grow in at the same time.

Note wispy feathers typical of juvenal plumage
and darker, more uniform coloration.
In comparison and below, this bird has molted into adult type plumage,and right is a webphoto of a newly fledged saw-whet. Our first capture above had a combination of both plumages. Go to this link for a really cute video of nestlings.

Plumage of a typical "adult-type" saw-whet,
lighter with more patterning: spots and bars

Why is this so exciting?  A banding resource (Pyle 1997) describes juvenal plumage from May through September, meaning that most birds in October would have their first basic (adult-type) plumage.  I know that to be true because it is only the second bird in this plumage that I have captured of over 600 owls. And I think it could indicate that we have local and late breeding-perhaps even a second clutch for a local nesting pair. How local? That's hard to say. In our few summer surveys, we have not detected breeders at the BCCER. But attempts have been few and these owls are variable in their nesting locations. Always more questions! Anyway here's the team- we are off to a good start with two owls this first banding night.Thanks team!

The 2013 NSWO banding team with our first owl of the year, from front left to right:
Sheila, Julie, Shannon, me, JoAnna, Nancy, Raina and Tyler.
And of course Steve is behind the camera- thanks Steve!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Student of the Hogwarts Summer Correspondence School Adopts an Owl!


 Sophie P, a student from the Hogwarts Summer Correspondence School (HSCS) has adopted an owl! After successfully completing exams about owls, and in particular our research with Saw-whets,  Sophie was awarded with a Saw-whet Owl Adoption.  

Sophie P. using her quill pen to
complete a homework assignment
Sophie recently received her adoption certificate and became a guardian of this after hatch year female owl originally banded in 2006.    Thank you for your support Sophie and good luck with your studies!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Star Parties and Spring Sampling

Based on our random banding efforts, spring migration is variable and unpredictable as to timing and location of owls moving out of the area. Knowing that we might not detect owls is not much of an incentive to get out there!  But when there are curious people and a possibility of meeting an owl, it's a good excuse to give it a try.  This night my friend's niece, nephew and sister visiting from Texas wanted to see a saw-whet. They had supported our adopt-an-owl program, how could I say no? We set up at the Butte Creek Ecological Preserve station on March 14, 2013. Our 1.5 hours of effort produced no saw-whets, not even a toot. But, as fortune would have it, we captured a Western Screech Owl, potentially the mate of the screech owl we captured at the 2013 snow goose festival event.

The family meeting their first Western Screech Owl, just before release.
Note the excitement and smiles the little owl elicits! Photo by Carolyn Short.
Our next spring sampling event occurred during CSU Chico Reserve's spring naturalist outing "Owls and Astronomy" field trip with star-man David Samuels. We met David on March 16 2013,at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve. He was equipped with 3 large scopes set up in the meadow near our OWL3 station. David educated and entertained us with his amazing knowledge of  planets, stars, nebulas, galaxies  constellations and other heavenly bodies. 

David Samuels weaving the myth surrounding the constellation Ursa Major
My favorite scope view was the Orion Nebula. In David's scope it did not have the color like the web picture below, but it was ethereal and lovely, clouds, space and stars. For star-gazing it was a wonderful evening!

Wikipedia photo of the Orion Nebula seen in the belt of the constellation Orion
Although no saw-whets were detected or captured, the combo trip was an ingenious way to introduce participants to night-time phenomena. The owl team gleaned more data for our spring migration sampling; no detections could mean owls have already moved on from their wintering grounds to their breeding grounds. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Last post I questioned if owl captures could be related to moon phase.  Literature from back east where the majority of owls are says yes, they are.
Web photo, Northern Saw-whet Owl and the Moon
Theory has it that if the moon is bright, the small owls may not be as active because they may become prey instead of predator. Big owls, like the Great Horned will predate the Saw-whet. Where Barred Owls are present, netters have quite a challenge keeping them away from nets set during Saw-whet monitoring - the Barreds react to the Saw-whet call as though it were a dinner bell. Fortunately at our current sites we don't have to worry about Barred Owls-yet!

Another theory is that the owls can see the net array when the moon is bright. Indeed we can sometimes walk to the nets and not even need headlamps, so we figure if we can see the nets shimmering under moonlight, then certainly the nocturnal eye can.

Because our owl captures are relatively low (a small sample size) during the Snow Goose Festival, I graphed the outcome, owl captures vs. moon phase. Here's what that looks like (two of the data-points are missing the moon phase graphic-but you get the picture).  The graph shows the number of owls captured on the primary Y axis (left), the % moon phase on the secondary Y axis (right side) and the date of capture on the X axis. You can see during the brightest moon we do catch fewer Saw-whets, by one per/effort.  On our last night in 2013, we caught a Western Screech Owl at BCEP, and a Saw-whet at BCCER, so only one owl per site. Interestingly two of our three owl captures on full moon nights were Western Screech Owls. Using this small data set, we would have a higher likelihood of capturing any Saw-whets in the area during Snow Goose Festival on a no moon night. That makes sense with the given theories.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dorothy Davis Owl Painting - SOLD!

Remember this darling Saw-whet Owl?  Artist Dorthy Davis donated her original painting to raise funds for our project. The curious owl was up for bid at the Snow Goose Festival's silent auction resulting in great success. Dorothy sold her very first painting, a bidder became a happy owner of a unique piece of local art,  and we received a generous donation to help support Altacal's Saw-whet Owl monitoring project.

I love a WIN, WIN, WIN!  Thank you Dorothy!!

Snow Goose Festival Owls!

Since 1999 we have conducted an Owl Monitoring and Banding field trip as a Snow Goose Festival event, occurring in late January.  It is a  perfect time to sample the area for wintering Saw-whets. This year we ran two different sites concurrently to see where the owls were.  My team, Steve, Jo, Sheila and Maureen, went to Butte Creek Ecological Preserve. Maureen and Steve took the group on an owl prowl to listen for Pygmy, Great Horned, Western Screech and Barn Owl.  Not a toot, hoot or screech was to be heard!  Meanwhile Jo, Sheila and I had set up nets for Saw-whets. While we waited, we heard a dueting pair of Great Horned owls across the creek. Steve brought the guests to our station and after lots of conversation and four empty net runs, a Western Screech Owl waited for us in the net. Our group was very happy!
Western Screech Owl: here I am measuring the owl's tail length to help determine its
gender- which I could not. The screech owls tend to be very calm during handling.
Steve King Photo

SGF group with Western Screech Owl, BCEP. Steve King Photo

Meanwhile up at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (BCCER), Mike, Raina,Nancy and Julie were running the OWL3 site, our typical fall migration station.  Their guests got a good listen to a dueting pair of Great Horned Owls, but there were no owls in the net.  As luck - or the odds of getting a Saw-whet during SGF-would sometimes have it - the team finally got one, on the last net run. Unfortunately all the guests had gone, with an invitation to return next fall during our busy season.  
A temporarily upside-down Northern Saw-whet Owl. The owl is laying
gently against the banders palm in the "bander's grip," a hold that safely
secures the bird. The bander is checking the molt on this bird. 

Here she is - a bird that was previously banded during migration in November 2012. Our guests enjoyed the evening, stories and facts and mysteries about owls. For us, any information adds to our knowledge of Saw-whets.  At BCEP no owls were detected - are they not wintering there this year? At BCCER at least one Saw-whet was wintering and has used the Reserve habitats for 2 months since she was captured. But the questions continue. Where did our 119 fall migrants captured during the fall go? Could our lack of detections be related to the moon phase? More on the moons influence and owl captures to come.........

Monday, January 14, 2013


Recently I had the privilege to help Marilyn Gamette, director of the Bidwell  Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (BWRC), age and sex a saw-whet owl.  The owl was found stunned in the road by a couple who saw her, stopped, and picked her up. They wrapped her in a towel and took her to BWRC.  Marilyn knew the owl had a head trauma (likely hit by a car) because one of her pupils was very slow to respond.

Note a slight unevenness in the owl's pupils,
her right pupil larger than then her left.
After 1 and 1/2 months of rehabilitation, her pupils responded equally.  Marilyn said the owl had no problem eating a couple of mice a day, and at a hefty 108 grams, she was fit to fly.  We determined by her feather pattern that she had hatched in the summer of 2012. Marilyn will release her in the Pine Creek Unit where there is abundant dense vegetation for roosting and plenty of prey for the winter. 

Marilyn Gamette, BWRC's Director, and rehabilitated saw-whet owl
The kindness of the rescuers and Marilyn's expertise gave a second chance to this saw-whet owl. Bidwell Wildlife Rehab treats and releases hundreds of wildlife a year supported mostly through the generosity of private donations.  Thank you owl rescuers and BWRC!  Check out this darling video of a Saw-whet Owl being released.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

ADORABLE OWL PAINTING BY A LOCAL ARTIST- A SNEAK PEAK! Come see it for real at the Snow Goose Festival, 2013!

I hope you plan to attend some of the incredible field outings and events at Chico's own Snow Goose Festival (SGF), January 24-27, 2013. Now in its 14th year, the festival was designed to celebrate our incredible valley habitat, an invaluable portion of the Pacific Flyway to geese, swans, ducks, shorebirds, and raptors, including owls.  As you know, one of my favorite species is the Northern Saw-whet Owl,and we will be showing them off in two of our SGF outings. In the winter they are here - tiny and cryptic, well hidden in chaparral shrubs, valley riparian vegetation and foothill oaks. One local artist has captured the realistic cuteness of the saw-whet in her painting below - and this unique, original acrylic can be yours!

Northern Saw-whet Owl in Oak Tree Cavity.
By local artist Dorothy Davis
 Dorothy Davis wanted to contribute a piece of her art to help support the owl project.  Her adorable painting will be up for bid at SGF silent auction at the banquet, "A Gathering of Wings." Make sure to stop by and place a bid!. We are so fortunate to have a valley full of birds and artists to capture their beauty.

Close up of Saw-whet by Dorothy Davis