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Long-eared Owls continue

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  • Emily
    Saturday - July 19 2008 The Long-eared Owls continue along University Road east of Hopland. Refer to earlier posts for directions. My husband and I arrived at
    Message 1 of 6 , Jul 20, 2008
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      Saturday - July 19 2008
      The Long-eared Owls continue along University Road east of Hopland.
      Refer to earlier posts for directions.

      My husband and I arrived at 8:45 PM. We joined Chris Dunlap, from the
      Sacramento area. I'm not sure how long he had been there, but he
      hadn't yet detected any evidence of the owls. I suggested that we go
      over to the northwest end of the turnout (the downhill end) to look
      down into a small side canyon. This is where I had seen owls several
      days ago at dusk (July 16 post). Looking downslope across grassland,
      I saw a Long-eared Owl sitting on a log at the bottom of the draw/side
      canyon, about 100ft away. It had orange facial disks and long ear
      tufts – beautiful! We were immediately joined by Vishnu and 2 others.
      We first thought that the owl was an adult, due to the orange facial
      disks. However, we could also hear the begging call of a juvenile
      coming from the same area. Soon, a second owl jumped onto the log (it
      seemed to have jumped up from behind the log). This individual also
      had orange facial disks and ear tufts. The owls started making freaky
      head movements while staring at us – moving their heads around in
      circles or bobbing them back and forth. It seemed that their backs
      were slightly fluffy, and we decided these were almost certainly
      juveniles. Within 5 minutes, a third owl emerged. It seemed to fly
      down from a nearby tree (live oak?) or perhaps from the slope on the
      opposite side of the draw/side canyon. It landed on the log,
      displacing one of the other owls. At this point, the owls started
      becoming more active, making short flights between trees and the log.
      The begging calls became more frequent. Since all 3 owls were
      exhibiting similar behavior and looked similar, we assumed they were
      all juveniles.

      Within 10 minutes of the initial sighting, the owls moved down into
      the main canyon, still begging. They spread out, with ~100m
      separating some individuals. From my experience (this was my third or
      fourth visit to this turnout), the juveniles hang out in the main
      canyon after darkness sets in. I have only seen them in that side
      canyon at dusk, and both times that I've seen them there, they were
      close together and fairly active. This leads me to believe that they
      are roosting in that side canyon, near the log.

      Within an hour of our arrival, we heard something calling, moving up
      the canyon along the opposite ridge. (By this time, there were only 4
      observers). I can't remember the call very well, but it was different
      enough that Vishnu was prompted to pull out his recorder. I believe
      the call was a low-pitched barking, with about 1 second in between
      barks, but I could be wrong. As Vishnu was trying to get the recorder
      working, I saw a medium-sized owl fly up the canyon and disappear into
      the trees. Within a few minutes, we could tell that it was flying
      back down the canyon to the opposite ridge. I believe it was
      vocalizing, but we didn't get a recording. A few times, I thought the
      calls of one of the juveniles became more excited (higher pitched and
      slightly faster). It was calling from the same location that the
      adult seemed to have gone to. My interpretation was that an adult had
      brought food in to one of the young. However, I think only myself and
      Chris noticed any excitement in the begging. Vishnu said he had heard
      obvious, prolonged excitement in a begging juvenile (lasting about 6
      seconds or more) on a previous visit. We certainly didn't hear that.

      As I recall, the adult slipped off into surrounding lands without
      detection after that. We stayed until 11:20 PM and were unable to
      detect an obvious adult again. However, we did hear low-pitched
      barking (kind of like `wruf' or `wruck') ~200m away on several
      occasions; the direction varied. We kept looking around, expecting
      something to fly in, but nothing ever did, and then the barking would
      stop for prolonged periods. We noted that the young didn't seem to
      respond to these far-off calls by becoming more excited. There were
      several screech-owls in the area. They did some barking, although the
      quality of the far-off barks seemed to be different. We also heard
      dogs barking in the distance on occasion. However, there were some
      barks that seemed neither to be screech-owls or dogs. So maybe a
      Long-eared adult, maybe not. At any rate, visits by the parents seem
      to be very infrequent. We were there for almost 2 1/2 hours and only
      saw a likely adult once.

      For most of our visit, we were only able to pick out 3 distinct
      individuals at any one time. However, my husband and I definitely
      heard 4 individuals begging at one point. One up canyon, one down
      canyon, two in front of us – one near, one far. We heard calls coming
      from these different locations at least 3 times, so we were sure that
      we were hearing 4 juveniles (presumably juveniles, I don't think
      adults make that begging call), not 3 juveniles that were moving around.

      The screech-owls were exciting in their own right. We heard
      `squirrel-barks' on several occasions, like a demented laugh,
      sometimes trailing into the typical bouncing ball call. No barn owl
      on this visit.

      Emily Heaton (& Jacob Newell)
      Healdsburg

      ---
      Other observers please chime in if I've gotten something wrong or
      missed something.
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