[Tweeters] Havillah Great Gray Owl

Blair Bernson blair at washingtonadvisorygroup.com
Tue Feb 19 17:49:21 PST 2013

After Shep's great first day Okanagon trip report
included their Great Gray sighting, I decided to
juggle plans and head north to see if I could get
lucky. I just got back and will share other
stories and sightings later, but in case others
are considering this journey I want to give
updated info on the Great Gray. (You can skip to
the end of this to get the key fact - it was
definitely heard (repeatedly) and probably seen
this morning very early.

I left early on Monday morning and birded
Waterville along the way. There I met both Stefan
Schlick and Guy McWethy (more on those in later
postings) and was told that the Great Gray had not
been seen by others who had tried on Sunday
(Shep's group saw it on Saturday evening). That
was a downer but I continued on the quest and
arrived at the Havillah Sno-Park area at 4:00 pm.
Decent but not great weather.

I Had never been there before so first I
familiarized myself with the area driving up to
the actual Sno Park parking area (with the
bathroom) at the end of the Forest Road Spur. I
do not have actual mileage but believe it is about
1.25 miles in from Havillah Road. There is snow
everywhere but as long as you stay in the middle
of the road - very passable.

I met a skier there who shared stories (including
of recent cougar tracks...be still my heart). I
played the I Bird Pro call without any response or
then drove back down towards Havillah and stopped
at the area that I thought Shep had described from
their sighting. Repeated the calls with no
response. Figuring it might still be early (it
was now around 4:30), headed back to Havillah and
drove around a bit with the plan to get back
around 5:40 - closer to the time the group had the
bird Saturday and also at dusk - generally better
for owls. I got back and parked on the road up to
the Sno Park - towards the southern end (furthest
in from Havillah Road) to wait. I met Carol
Riddell who was also up to seek THE OWL. As we
were talking, another vehicle came down the road
(back towards Havillah). To make more room for
him to pass I pulled over to the right. I did not
know it at the time but in doing so I went in too
deep to the plow's snow detritus and later found
out I was stuck. We tried for the Owl with no
success and then spent more than 90 minutes trying
to get the car out. Finally with the help of a
tow strap from Carol and a pull from a very kind
local who came down from the upper ski area...we
got out...but owl-less.

Figuring it could not get any worse (so long as I
did not yield the center of the road again), I got
up early from the Red Apple in Tonasket and was
back at the Sno Park at 6:00 a.m The weather was
abyssmal. There was fog lower down and it was
snowing - not too heavy at 6:00 but further
affected visibility (being still quite dark of
course). Frankly I figured my odds of finding the
Owl were slim but I also thought there was at
least a chance for a cougar so I was game. I
played the call from the top (Sno Park parking
area) again without any response (from Bird or
Cat). I waited until about 6:30 and it was
getting light enough to see. I drove back down to
the same spot where I had been stuck last night.
Stayed in the middle of the road and turned off
all lights and sound and played the call again.
Almost immediately I heard a faint response from
across the meadow to the Southeast End where Shep
had reported it. Now it was snowing quite heavily
and this both hindered visibility greatly and
probably also muffled the call. I repeated this
process for 10 minutes and had at least 4
responsive calls and two calls without my
playing. As the light increased, beginning at
7:00 a.m. I pulled out the scope and scanned every
tree as best I could. This is fully across the
meadow ... my estimate would be 250 yards
minimum. Looking through the scope (or bins) with
all the snow made it difficult. I continued this
for a full 20 minutes with periodic calls again.
The perceived direction of the call never changed.
All in all I would say there were 10 calls from
the owl - unmistakeably akin the calls from I Bird
- even same cadence...but sometimes with an added
note. I "think" I finally found the owl perched
on a fir (pine?...I am terrible with trees) to the
left of the gap between trees that is readily
noticeable across the meadow - again Southeast
area. Way to blurry for absolute ID by sight and
photos impossible in the snow.

CONCLUSION: SO it is definitely still there.
Probably visible in good weather and if you have
snow shoes, you can probably get across the meadow
to the area if you wish.
I left for awhile and then came back after 9:00 in
even heavier snow and could not bring out a reply
call. The heavy snow in the air may have limited
the ability to hear a call (by the Owl or by me).

Very specifics on the area - if you are coming
into the area from Havillah, go past the first
meadow and then forested area (private I
believe). You then hit the very large meadow to
your right. If you go most of the way up the road
along that area, on the left will be an abandoned
dwelling/building and just a little further up
from that on the right is what I think was a sign
holder - two posts and an empty square on top of
it. Standing on the road and looking directly
over that "holder" is the approximate sight line I
used...again the Owl was to the left of the
distant gap in the trees. I carved a little sign
in the snow where I stood this morning..."O..W..L"
with a pointer arrow. Expect it is covered by the
new snow by now.

Blair Bernson

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