[Tweeters] Nisqually GHOW - Wed. Feb. 27

Barbara Deihl barbdeihl at comcast.net
Thu Feb 28 16:16:09 PST 2013

My most recent memories of Nisqually Wildlife Refuge were from pre-estuary restoration years, probably almost 15 years ago! As a middle-school biology and environmental science teacher, in the days when field trips were funded and encouraged, I would take a group to the "Delta" each spring, in May or June, and we would walk the trails in 3 different 'habitats', looking for birds, plants and other wildlife or signs of wildlife that either crossed our paths, or were in our paths ! Great Horned Owls were occasionally a big thrill near the Twin Barns - once we had a Barn Owl glide past us in the riparian woodland. And we'd see an American Bittern in the cattails, trying not to be seen. And eagles, coyotes, coyote scat, Red-tailed Hawks, a variety of ducks (Cinnamon Teal was a favorite), bright yellow passerines, a few woodpeckers, Red-winged Blackbirds and so much more. As we only had time to explore the inner areas, I found yesterday, that, despite the structural and waterway changes that have come with restoration, the place still has much of the same good feel it had back in the day. And it is full of at least as many, if not more species of birds during the year, even if a different variety than before restoration.

I went yesterday to try to see in person one or more of this year's "early birds", the Great Horned Owl fledglings. I checked in the Nature Shop there to see where the staff and other birders had last seen them, and was helpfully shown on a map and on a sign-in list of what people had seen and generally when and where. I headed out on the east side of the Twin Barns boardwalk loop and looked, and looked and looked and...
I passed just one person who had seen them the previous day, but not that day. Then I came upon what had to have been this year's nest stump - it looked well-used and had, at certain angles, the looks of the nest tree I'd seen in some of the excellent photos that have been going around of the nestlings and pre-fledglings - no sign of an owl there, though.

I spent another hour looking and listening near the Twin Barns area, with no luck until, at last, while I was on the western loop of the boardwalk, I heard the hooting of an adult Great Horned. However, instead of jumping for joy, I immediately bristled, thinking that someone coming up the trail on the east side, was trying to use playback to call out an owl. Needless-to-say, I am not a great fan of the use of call-out and I decided to walk back toward the east to talk with whomever might be disturbing me and/or the owls. But the joke was on me - I found no one over on that side at all, leastwise, anyone with an electronic gizmo calling 'wolf'. But I did hear the hooting once more, coming from the same group of trees in the center of the "oval" (as some call it). I then waited for more clues as to where to direct my eyes, binoculars or scope. It came shortly after there was some sort of bird of prey giving a loud "shreek, shreek, shreek, shreek" and I watched that large bird head off, out of the woods, toward the open area to the north. An adult Great Horned called out with one more hoot, and I was able to visually inspect for 10 more minutes or so, trees in the distance. While searching for the owls, I enjoyed a brief visit from a male Downy Woodpecker.

When I noticed an indistinct pair of light-brownish blobs, MOVING slightly, near a largish crotch of a tree, I knew I had found at least, the young owls, together. It took me another 10 minutes, at least, to move around and adjust the scope to try to eliminate the buggery branches that blocked all but very partial views of the owlets. As you will see, from my digiscoped attempts at documenting them, I and my camera, failed miserably, unless you like the "where's Waldo?" form of camouflage (that I still refer to as my 'signature shots'). About a half dozen interested people showed up while I watched the young owls and we all enjoyed looking through binoculars, scopes and one 400-mm camera lens (not BIG enough !) at the youngsters, which moved around a little, one disappearing below and behind the other, but occasionally appearing in a medium circular opening beneath the 'top' owl. At one point they started to preen, and stretch and flap their wings. No flights were seen. At another point, a juvenile Bald Eagle flew to the top of a nearby tree - both Owlets watched.

Thanks to Deb, another birder (from Black Hills Audubon) who had come up the trail and was a bit south of me at that point, I was able to find a solo adult GHOW equidistant from the eagle tree as the owlets were, but in the opposite direction. It was totally in the midst of a network of branches in a lowish tree. Crows helped us locate it, as they were trying to mob it, but couldn't get into the spot to roust the owl. Was the adult acting as bait to draw attention away from the more vulnerable, barely-flightable young owls? The adult was also well-aware of the eagle, once it came in. We humans missed the eagle's exit.

As it grew darker and started to rain, it was time for me to move on toward the parking lot and give up on the afternoon's birding efforts. One last sweet surprise was to see a pair of Hooded Mergansers moseying south, in the little waterway next to the boardwalk.

The fun ended after I left Nisqually - pretty bad traffic for the rainy trip back to Seattle at rush hour(s). Guess I will need to adjust my timing of future visits to Nisqually, in light of this probable frequent occurrence.

Finding some of the Great Horned Owls and having a rather pleasant, quiet, reunion with a place from my past, more than made up for the traffic snags. And, as usual, the interested and friendly people I did meet and pass on the boardwalk, added a brightness to my walk and search.

A good afternoon...

To view my photos from this Nisqually visit, click on this Flickr link: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjEakcHx

Barb Deihl

North Matthews Beach - NE Seattle

barbdeihl at comcast.net

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