[Tweeters] More on the Reifel Refuge (Photogenic) Great Gray Owl

Monica Van der Vieren mvanderv4137 at earthlink.net
Thu Feb 26 05:17:16 PST 2015

Hi Blair,
You had a nicer experience on your weekday trip to Reifel than my friend and I did on Sunday- in fact, we did better stopping at Eide Road on the return trip, where we watched a magnificent flock of snow geese fly overhead as we chatted with a lovely group from Audubon.

At Reifel, the woman who let us in (not the usual staff, apparently) was downright angry that people were showing up in the morning to see the owl (we intended to spend the day enjoying all the wildlife, along with several others waiting at the gate when she arrived). A volunteer told us that the day before, Saturday, 400 people had shown up in the afternoon to see the owl and they were taking them in groups of 10-12. She said people were deliberately coughing, dropping car keys, and making distracting noises to get the owl to look over for photos, and that the owl was "scared" by all the camera noise. She was really unhappy about the behavior, and said it wasn't good for the owl. She also said people were bugging the saw whets, which had been roosting low in the trees: moving branches for photos, crowding, flashing them, etc.

My friend and I walked the trails slowly and met some wonderful birders and bird photographers, as well as the exotically beautiful and elegant wood ducks. On the second pass from the visitor's center, a group of long lenses under a tree signalled the presence of a saw whet. One person had a specialized long-distance flash, which he felt was needed because the owl was roosting so high in the tree with his vole of the day. Other photographers kept telling him not to use the flash. He was still there waiting when we turned around. One birder postulated the bird was roosting so high because of the previous day's harrassment.

It was so depressing that we decided not to join the crowds to see the great gray owl. My friend, in fact, has sworn off ever going out again on notice of an owl siting.

We did see a second saw whet owl. Two birders were looking for them in trees by the parking lot, but the volunteer in the lot said people had scared them off the day before. My friend knew they must be near, so we scanned the trees for signs and found one in a very dense cedar. We stood back and got crummy pictures through the branches (these are my first saw whets), but still had to police the tree because a woman came up and wanted to wade into the tree for a better picture.

I work with the public for a living, and can tell you that posting responsible wildlife watching guidelines will help those that simply didn't know they were harrassing owls, but who care about animals. People who don't care, or who are very self-serving, simply don't read these things, or justify that their behavior is not the problem. It's not just owls that are being harrassed- it's happening to various animals all over the world. I've seen the same behavior everywhere. I personally believe it's a cultural issue, a fundamental view of animals, in conjunction with the availability of high quality optics and cameras that causes this; and that all the education in the world isn't going to prevent harrassment. If education, signage, fliers, and plain common sense can't keep people from ending up on the horns of a 2000 lb bison because they get too close for a picture, then there's little hope for reasonable guidance as an effective approach.

Again, I'm glad you had a great day. Lovely, lovely photos as well- thank you for sharing.


-----Original Message-----

>From: Blair Bernson <blair at washingtonadvisorygroup.com>

>Sent: Feb 25, 2015 8:25 PM

>To: tweeters at u.washington.edu

>Subject: [Tweeters] More on the Reifel Refuge (Photogenic) Great Gray Owl


>I joined Pilchuck Audubon yesterday visiting B.C.

>where we found waterbirds few and far between but

>we more than made up for it at Reifel Refuge. In

>a previous post Steve Pink shared his experience

>and although we did not find a Saw Whet Owl (there

>had been as many as 6 but not one seen yesterday),

>we had wonderful looks at the Great Gray Owl -

>both on its day roost and then later hunting and

>posting in the nearby meadow. Both areas are

>closed to the public. At 3:00, if they have

>located the owl, they take small groups (4 to 6)

>out to see the Owl - getting close enough for

>pictures (not going into that discussion area

>after the Eide Road brouhaha). After all groups

>have seen the GGOW, if it has relocated to the

>meadow (often does) then they let EVERYONE in to a

>convenient observation spot for their fill of

>looks and photos. Yesterday I would estimate at

>least 40 people there. It is supervised and order

>maintained but it is a very satisfying

>experience. The owl is approximately 200 yards in

>from the visitor center. They said that more than

>4000 people have seen this owl!!!! For most it

>was a life bird and/or a life photo.


>Two pictures are at https://flic.kr/p/rmnpMi and



>A bonus shot is my all time favorite of Wood Duck

>- one of MANY there. https://flic.kr/p/qpHzEM



>Blair Bernson




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