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!