Friday, November 20, 2015


Are you looking for a conservation-oriented Christmas gift that supports local science? Consider becoming and adoptive guardian of the Northern saw-whet owl (NSWO). One that was banded, measured and released at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (BCCER). Our fall study is now in its 10th year of long-term migration monitoring. Did you know this adorable predator may be wintering in your backyard shrubs, gobbling up rodents? Our project also educates the community about the elusive saw-whet and contributes to local and national conservation programs. We are a project of Chico's Altacal Audubon Society and the national Project Owlnet.

Two saw-whet owls banded and released. Photo by
Steve King, santa hats photo-shopped by Raina King.
TOOT TOOT TOOT!!! (That is saw-whet for Merry Christmas)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Rainbow, which turned into a double, and glowing grasses to the east
toward the foothills and the BCCER.
But it was well worth the drive from Oroville to Chico to see the most amazing skies with focused rain cells, rainbows, and glowing grasses to the east opposite clouds, 
Intense rain cell toward the foothills
a setting sun and clearing skies to the west

It is these breaks in the weather that we look for when we set up nets. For the safety of owls, we do not set up nets in the rain (or high winds). It looked good,but the clearing was short over the Reserve, and we closed for the season.  It has been a wonderful fall for owl migration with a total of 55 NSWO, a bunch of new banders, the most valuable veteran banders, and a great new relationship with the Reserve.
Stay tuned for the final report, and thank you for your interest...toot, toot, toot!!!
Holiday Owls, photographed and photo-shopped
by Steve and Raina King

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Have you ever come across a frenzy of bird activity like multiple species of small birds flitting and diving around a bush or small tree? Chances are, there is a feathered (or scaled or furred) predator in there-go take a peek! This activity is called mobbing and it is used to distract, harass, annoy enough to get predator out of the area. And if you are a bird, it's important to call in your friends as there is safety in numbers.
Looking for an owl, we found one roosting in the coffeeberry shrub!
During a Christmas Bird Count at the Butte Creek Ecological Reserve I heard lots of angry contact calls and there, diving in and out of a mazanita shrub were Anna's hummingbird, hermit thrush, spotted towhee, oregon junco, oak titmouse, golden and ruby-crowned kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers.  I knew there was something unwanted in that shrub, walked over and gently pulled back a branch. There, sitting on a mouse, was a tiny saw-whet, trying to avoid the mobbing crowd.
Here is one of our past radio-telemetered owls, roosting in the dense
branches of a toyon shrub at the BCCER. Photo by Julie Shaw
Another petite hunter, the Northern Pygmy Owl is renowned for being mobbed. Active during the day and seeking out songbirds, this tiny predator has eyespots in the back of its head, which is meant to dissuade mobbers from mobbing. This great video shows the pygmy and eyespots perfectly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


A 0 owl night makes us wonder if the season is slowing.  On Saturday Nov 7 we we thrilled by a missile, but no owls. Then came a storm and two days of rain followed by a clear, cold dark night last night, Tuesday Nov 10, and with it, a storm of owls!  Our best night yet, we banded 7 new Northern Saw-whet Owl (NSWO) and 1 Western Screech Owl (WESO).  We also heard migrating Tundra Swans for the first time this season. Typically we hear owls and waterfowl during the migration season. This year has been a different. More surprises to come? We hope so!
Here are the results from Sept 25 - Nov 7, 2015, a grand total of 50 NSWO and 3 WESO:9/25  -   0 NSWO, 1 WESO
10/11 -  5 NSWO, 1 WESO
10/15 - 4 NSWO
10/17 - 7 NSWO
10/20 - 4 NSWO
10/24 - 4 NSWO
10/30 - 5 NSWO
11/3   - 3 NSWO (includes 1 2014 recapture)
11/4   - 7 NSWO
11/6   - 4 NSWO
11/7   - 0 NSWO
11/10 - 7 NSWO, 1 WESO

Project volunteers: Ken Sobon takes a wing chord measurement
of a saw-whet while Steve King records all the data. Thanks banders!


Another benefit of our owl monitoring project is there we are, under the stars, comets, meters, milky way and all celestial phenomenon and other-wise anthropogenic sky objects like the space station, planes and satellites. If we are not looking at owls, we are looking up and on Saturday, November 7,we had a real surprise as a UFO soared through the sky.  Here's an internet pic of how it all began for us while we were waiting between net runs.

It shot over the east ridge (little Chico Creek) a bright and fast moving light, followed by a huge widening halo-like footprint which narrowed but continued behind the missile (we discovered later-a nuclear capable Trident missile!), then pinwheeled and spiraled, and after many minutes a hazy pinpoint light it faded into the sky- a truly spectacular sight.

Our sky show was contrary to our owling experience that night- there were none captured! Our first 0 owl night and unfortunately we had 7 guests that missed the owls - but would have missed the missile had they not been out in the night. Something is always brewing at the Reserve owl station!

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Four NSWO wowed 10 BCCER field trippers. Banders Sheila, Ken, Jo and I put on belly-warming spread of hot cider, tea and chocolate, and Reserve outreach coordinator Jon brought yummy cookies and flamed up the fire pit. The sky was another clear, dark and chilly one, and we waited for the owls to come. Guest and photographer Michael Lang took this series of shots.
At the nets the 1st owl of the night wows Cat Lang
I bring the owl safe in a flannel bag,
to the banding station table for all
participants to see.
Project volunteer Ken Sobon shows the owls dense feathers to Cat and all, and begins the banding and measurement process. Volunteer JoAnna Arroyo is in the background holding #2 owl.
Visitor Ryan becomes a fan of the adorable NSWO.
Reserve education coordinator Jon Aull meets an owl
Both children get to release an owl into the night. Their instructions are to be a tree let the owl perch on their arm like they would on a branch to allow the owls gather their bearings and fly off into a nearby oak tree.

And here is the group sharing their awesome adventure! This little owl banded #1014-82091 is named Dakota by the Lang family.
Michael Lang takes group shot (the banding crew remains by the fire!)
Michael Lang is a nature and wildlife photographer. Visit his website at!
Bat flying from bat roost in the Reserve's barn. Photo by Michael Lang.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


From left, Clarice, Alex, owl, Aidan and Brenda, Sobon family and friends.
One of the goals of our project is to introduce people to the saw-whet, a small and numerous fluffy predator that is rarely seen due to their nocturnal ways and cryptic daytime roosts. The owls inspire all kinds of things including awareness, awe, always a smile and sometimes creativity! Project volunteer Ken Sobon brought his fun and talented family to the station and this awesome poster was the result of their owl banding experience. Love it!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


BRRRR the night was cold and dark with no moon, a dense milky way and WOW! filled with shooting stars! We saw about 20 bright and small, to brilliant and loooong flaming balls of fire streaming through the sky. The internet says they are the Taurids, coming from tiny bits of dust and ice debris left over from comet Encke that is now orbiting the sun.  Should be active for a couple of weeks, so get out there!
Night sky from the Internet, Taurid meteor showers and a thickly
starred Milky Way. Almost like we saw it!
The night was also very quiet with few NSWO chirps and maybe a distant GHOW hoot.  But in the net we had 2 new owls and a recapture from last year.  Here's our girl looking a bit grumpy but healthy.  This unknown sex second year owl (hatched last year), was originally banded by us on October 20, 2014.
Recapture SY/U NSWO, originally banded on the
Reserve October 20, 2014.
Recaptures provide valuable information to our project; from this individual we know she/he is 2 years old, survived the second summer (survivabilty is lowest in the first year of life), and is using the Reserve again as at least a stopover during fall migration.  Where she/he goes, no-one knows, but we were happy for the encounter.  Good luck little owl!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


As we continue our fall monitoring or NSWO, one other exciting thing about being on the Reserve are the numbers of different species we might detect aurally or visually. Lately the Northern Pygmy Owls (NOPO), a mostly crepuscular/diurnal species has been calling from the trees above our saw-whet nets.
Last night we heard a pair dueting. They are incredibly petite little predators, mostly hunting songbirds, but opportunistic taking small mammals and insects too. I love this video that I found on youtube ( that shows many of their behaviors . The toot/trill series the owl calls at the beginning is very common with the Reserve owls too.

Monday, October 19, 2015


I'll admit we are a pretty low-tech program, except for the Steve King inventions and modifications.  Once again he pulls through with a beneficial addition to our station, this time, a louder broadcast caller to attract owls. Previously our "sound system" was  boombox like this, using a CD of NSWO calls.

For the past 9 years of data collection, our broadcaster.
But now with the Mega Tooter, we can up our decibels and perhaps attract more owls to our station, using and Ipod with owl calls and a rechargeable battery.
The Mega Tooter, designed by Steve King
This follows the Project OWLNET protocol better than we have in the past and increasing the volume was a suggestion by an OWLNET co-founder. So is this what is making our now 16 owl season a success, or is it just a good year for saw-whets? Hard to say, but as the season continues perhaps we will have a better guess. Stay tuned!


There is something about children and owls. Owls are magical and children connect to that. Isabel came up with her mom and dad Jamie and Jason to learn about our owl research. Jamie the Reserves manager effectively helped promote our continued monitoring of the most adorable owl, the northern saw-whet (NSWO). 
Crystal (the owl), Jason, Isabel, and Jamie 
We were all pretty excited when we banded 7 new NSWO. Isabel named this one Crystal, before she released her (and two others) back into the night. I think her owl encounter will stay in her memory for years to come. That's what we can hope! Thanks banders Navit and Julie, and the Visinoni family for coming to visit us.
Isabel looks on as we read the band number, which identifies
the owl as an individual. In addition to a number, Isabel thought it
was appropriate to give her a name - Crystal

Friday, October 16, 2015


An interesting evening weather-wise and detection-wise. We started the night under clouds and warmth had one NSWO and one Pallid Bat (Antrozous pallidus) capture on our first net check. And bats are so cool! The Pallid bat flies low to eat insects on the ground, which is why we frequently catch them in our nets, but only at the beginning of the season. Pallids use their big ears to detect prey and often turn their sonar off. That is why they sometime don't detect the net, but once they know the nets are there, they turn on the sonar to avoid capture.
A Pallid Bat, note large ears, eyes and teeth for capturing
ground-dwelling insects. Pallid bats often emit a musky odor
when disturbed, a good protection from predators- think skunk.
This is a web photo.
It was quiet and still after that, until the clouds parted, stars and cooler temps appeared and then came the owls.  Saw-whets, screech and great horned began to call and we banded three more owls near the end of our night. Weather likely made a difference. Thanks Sheila Frisk, Julie Newman, Wyatt Hersey and Steve King!

Monday, October 12, 2015


It most certainly was an owl night! We (Dawn, Steve, Ken and Wyatt) started out the evening with detections of Northern Pygmy Owl as we were setting up nets.  Then we heard a Barn Owl fly over the meadow, followed by Western Screech Owl, Northern Saw-whet and Great Horned Owl calling from the forest.  Biggest surprise.....wait for it..... scroll......
1st of fall 2015 NSWO, then 4 more!!
New to the team Wyatt Hersey with NSWO
and he also designed his cool t-shirt graphic
.... a Spotted Owl!  Yes, near the nets were heard the contact call of a Spotty:, very unusual but not the first record.  We discovered one (heard first giving the same vocalization) in 2012 while tracking radio-marked saw-whets on the Reserve. A great detection and a great night! Banded and released 5 NSWO and 1 WESO. Thanks banders!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

OWLING OUTING #1 FALL 2015 - starts with a SCREECH!

Our first night was early for the season but we wanted to see if there were any saw-whet owls in the area.  In fact the night was full of owl sound, Great horned hooting screech owls trilling and a toot-toot-toot from a saw-whet!  So at least there is one on the Reserve.
First night's team!! Veteran owl banders Tyler, Raina,
Sheila, Ken (back), and Steve.  Western Screech Owl
the star of the night-held by Raina
Ken and Tyler even heard a common poorwill, a migrant night jar that breeds on gravels and rocks on ridges in our local mountains.  More about them later. Below is a western screech owl, banded and released. A good first night!
Western screech owl, resident of the Reserve

Sunday, January 11, 2015

2014 Monitoring Results - OUCH!

Our worst year yet, only capturing 9 owls all season! We did have a limited season due to Reserve access problems and also had to move our banding site.  However, it is hard to say what to blame our slow season on. Other than the above changes, the drought and unseasonably warm temperatures could have played a part. Most of the banding nights were also very quiet, with no owls vocalizing, leading us to think there were none using the area. And only one night of calling Western Screech Owls, when last year they called regularly and we captured 7!

Saw-whet owl sitting in Black Oak Tree near new site OWL4 at the BCCER
We banded 12 nights and banded 9 owls on 5 of those nights. 7 of the 9 owls were birds hatched the summer of 2014 (HY birds less than 5 months old) and 2 were adult birds (AHY), indicating a good reproductive year. Here were our banding nights and owl capture results:

Oct. 5, no captures
Oct. 11, no captures
Oct. 20, 2 HY
Oct. 27, 3 HY, 2 AHY
Oct. 29, 1 HY
Oct. 30, no captures
Nov. 1, no captures
Nov. 3 no captures
Nov. 5, no captures
Nov. 9, no captures
Nov. 14, 1 recapture (HY)
Nov. 23, 1 HY

Once again, thank you Owl Monitoring Team! 2014: regulars Steve King, Mike Fisher, Sheila Frisk, Nancy Nelson, Raina King, Tyler and JoAnna Arroyo, and newcomers Ken Sobon, Navit Reid and Carolyn Short.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Owl Adoption Certificates Make Great Conservation Gifts!

Our Adopt-an-Owl program is fortunate to have many sponsors! Our supporters were many in 2014, buying certificates for themselves, friends and family.  Here is a happy owl guardian Alyssa from Connecticut, who was gifted an owl adoption by her mom for a Christmas gift.
Alyssa loves owls, dissecting owl pellets and is going to be a volunteer as a junior ranger at her local nature center. We are particularly proud when we can help inspire young adults to become bird lovers, nature lovers, earth lovers and stewards of the planet. Thank you Alyssa and Terri (we know you inspired much of the compassion for nature in her) for your support! go here to learn about our program!