Sunday, January 26, 2014


Our owl monitoring outings for the Chico Snow Goose Festival (SGF) include banding at the BCEP and BCCER stations. They are a perfect way to see what the owls are doing in the winter, and introduce people from all over the country, to the saw-whet owl. Due to the popularity of the adorable owl, these two events are always a quick sell-out. This season our outings happened to be set on the windiest night of the year-gusting to 29 mph! High winds and rain would usually make us cancel banding for bird safety purposes.
BCCER Owl Monitoring with banders Julie Shaw, Mike Fisher,
Nancy Nelson and Sheila Frisk, plus Snow Goose Festival
participants, 2014-happy!
But the participants were excited to be out at night and see if they could detect the resident possible owl species for the habitat, Northern Pygmy, Western Screech, Great Horned and N. Saw-whet. After the owl prowl, a couple of nets were set to demonstrate the mist-netting process. BCEP banders were Raina and Steve King, Tyler Price and Maureen Morales (BCCER banders mentioned in pic). Results for both sites - 0 detections, 0 captures. When there are no owls to engage the participants, the banding teams really have to shine, sharing their knowledge and good story or a good joke! Thank you owl banding teams for another successful SGF!

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Words cannot express the sadness in saying goodbye to another friend, so generous to our cause and an intelligent, witty and kind soul. Our memories are happy when we think of Howard Wurlitzer (yes, of Wurlitzer pianos and jukeboxes!), his mischievous laugh and smile and LOVE of field biologists, their stories and research. I had the great opportunity to meet Howard in 2009 at our owl banding site at BCCER during a Candles in the Canyon reserve fundraiser.  After meeting his first Saw-whet, we became fast friends and Howard became a big supporter of  Altacal's NSWO migration project.
Howard's first NSWO-she got him hooked! Saw-whets do
that to people.
To show our appreciation, our crew of banders (which often varied from year to year) set up an annual NSWO banding dinner at Howard's house in N. Chico. Each year's group of banders came with nets, poles and banding equipment and set up a few nets on Pine Creek that ran past Howard's home. We brought pasta or chili, salads and breads, and bottles of wine and engaged in a yummy feast around Howard's big table. In year two, we were joined by Howard's son Lindsay and wife Paula,and our tradition continued through Dec. 2013. Most years we captured the resident Western Screech Owls, but in 2012 we captured our first Saw-whet, which confirmed that at least one was wintering in the oak woodland habitat that is dominant on the property.
Our first dinner with Howard. True we look quite civilized
and subdued but the fun and the tradition had just begun!

There are so many stories to share but one most memorable happened when we were all chatting at the table and Dorthy, Howard's good friend, said excitedly "there's a ringtail at the window!" And there at the porch slider was a ringtail  peering at us-as though it was asking for a handout.We truly had a National Geographic moment on that well-lit porch, when this normally elusive mammal climbed up an overhanging oak tree and picked off a sleeping songbird, plucked its' small meal, and then scampered away. What a sighting for us!

Howard had a knack for engaging you in a great story, usually biological but also about art, regional history, good wine and local legends. We are so honored to have met this man and called him our friend. We will miss you Howard!
Howard with one of his resident W. Screech Owls and three
friends, Julie, Dorothy and me.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Dr. Mel, instrumental in our NSWO fall monitoring project, died this January 2014 at a too young age of 63.

Dr. Mel Richardson w/NSWO
 Dr. Mel was my very first owl bander.  Indeed Mel was there when I first  learned to band in 1993.  He forayed with me to remote sites in  WA state to  band owls.  After moving to CA and before I had recruited banders at my  newly established site at BCCER, Mel joined me one night despite being  exhausted after traveling internationally. I picked him up at the airport and after  we banded several owls, Mel climbed into the car and slept, but woke occasionally to check for my headlamp and watched as it "bobbed up and down the net lanes and back to the banding station, with more owls." We captured 14 owls that night, still our biggest night yet, and the number to beat. 

It was during songbird banding  operations that I nicknamed Mel  "heater hands" because he would cup the cold  hands of early morning banders to warm them before they handled birds. Always thinking of the birds comfort, Mel had a compassionate heart for my banders too. Thank you for your support and love of us, birds and all animals, Dr. Mel.