Showing posts with label owls. Show all posts
Showing posts with label owls. Show all posts

August 18, 2017

An Owl in a High Valley Pasture

The Wet Mountain Valley
I was dispatched yesterday to catch an injured owl at a building site near the Custer County airport, Silver West. (True fact: it has a 6,954 ft./2.1 km. paved runway, in case you need a place to land your 737 in a hurry.)

I found the site, and there under a backhoe sat a great horned owl. It looked too alert to simply walk up and grab. The "toreador" technique of tossing a blanket over it might have worked, but the blanket might well have caught on the machine. So I took the big, soft net and ambled along, checking out the owl.

No slacker, the owl made a little hopping flight, landed — and then ran like a pheasant under a barbed-wire fence. #*@$%!

The woman who had called me asked if she and her twenty-something son, who were the only people working there, could help me. I said yes, I could use your help. She fetched him from where he was running a plate compactor on the other side of the site.

I arm-signaled: "The owl is there. Go around. Pincer movement."

We crossed the fence, made our pincer, and the owl, distracted, let me come close. When it tried to fly, I swiped  with the net, not exactly catching it. But it dropped to the ground and assumed its defensive posture — on its back, talons up. An easy snatch,  and it was time for a long drive to Pueblo and the raptor center.

I do not have the veterinary diagnosis, other than that the owl was probably "young of the year." That it could still fly a little makes me hope that it had only a soft-tissue injury, but I don't know.

Without the woman and her son, I would have been pursuing that owl solo across the landscape shown above, and would I have ever captured it, both of us tired and stressed?

Right now I am reading The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks by Susan Casey,* who used to be with Outside magazine. Describing her time with shark researchers on the Farallone Islands near San Francisco, it has lots on hunting behavior, of course.

When I met the son close-up, after the owl capture, we had a brief conversation, and I thought, "I never saw this guy before, but he immediately understood through nonverbal signals what was happening and what we needed to do. Truly, humans really are pack hunters."

* Her website shows the nature writer in a little black dress, a change from the usual boonie hat-and-boots image.

January 31, 2017

Valley of Broken Dreams and Broken Owls

Owl tangled in a barbed wire fence.
Not today's owl, but similar.
(Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
.
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You drive south from Westcliffe and after the shooting range, a subdivision with "Ranch" in its name, and the Silver West Airport with its 7,000 foot runway (handy for private jets), you pass over a hardly perceptible divide into Another Place, the upper Huerfano Valley.

I think of it sometimes as the Valley of Broken Dreams— there were the people who thought that they would make it as ranchers, and mostly did not, and in the 1960s, various artists and countercultural dropouts who thought it was the place to be. It still attracts some hardscrabble retirees. Fine if you want lots of solar power but do not plan to grow gardens.

Drop City, founded by art students from the U. of Kansas, is claimed as the "first rural hippie commune." The Libre community was also well-known. And there were others — read Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counterculture.
All this is running through my mind as I blast south on Colorado 69 towards Gardner, which looks more like northern New Mexico than adjacent bits of Colorado — flat-roofted adobe or pseudo-adobe houses, piñon pine and juniper, no water to speak of.

My purpose is to pick up a great horned owl, found by a resident's daughter the previous day tangled in a barbed wire fence.

PRO TIP: If you find a bird tangled in barbed wire, do not peel the wire away. Take out your fence pliers or bolt cutters and cut the wire on either side, then bring wire and bird together to a raptor center or veterinarian. If you don't have fence pliers, stop at the hardware store and get some!

I found the house—acres of bone-dry pasture and a little house with good passive solar that was in the usual country status — never quite finished. As I walked through the crowded entryway with my gloves and pet carrier, the owner (70-ish, jeans and sweatshirt) asked me if I knew anyone who could help put some all these 4 x 8-foot panels of particle board that she had stacked up.

I wondered if she had come in the days of Drop City or if she had selected this as a retirement homestead more recently. She would have told me —she seemed lonely and talkative — but I just wanted to get some vet care for the owl.

Of course they had peeled off the wire. I asked if the owl had had any food, and she said that she had tried to give it some "baby oatmeal." But then (after a day) she had called the Raptor Center and been told not to do that. I silently agreed. Owls eat mice.

Its head was up, but it did not struggle much as I lifted it from her cardboard carton into my carrier. "They're going to help you feel better," she cooed to the bird.

I am not a vet nor even a trained Raptor Center volunteer. I just try to get the bird loaded with minimal handling and then drive hard for Pueblo, which was about 90 minutes away. Kind of like a 1950s ambulance driver — in the pre-EMT era. But I know that broken wing bones usually mean the final injection. The Center has enough one-winged birds on exhibition already.

Eventually I reached the interstate, accelerated up to 70 mph and hated modern life. Most of the time, we don't even to make space in our world for the other non-human peoples. There were no cattle around that house — why all the barbed wire?

As I think of that, I pass a cluster of bird-bashing wind turbines. And then at Burnt Mill Road a billboard for the Pueblo Zoo with some cute exotic felid kitten on it. I would rather see a healthy owl that belongs here than some exotic cat inside a cage.

At the raptor ICU, I did the paperwork. "Is this the owl from Gardner?" asked the ICU volunteer. "There's another one coming from Fowler."

There are three other great horned owls in the ICU. What is happening to them? This is their breeding season — are they just out and about more and getting into bad situations?

Paperwork done, I say goodby and start home. I have driven 167 miles (64 Spanish leagues or 534 li). The bird probably won't make it, but it was important to answer the call.

UPDATE: The owl did not survive, but I learned a new term, "capture myopathy."


October 08, 2013

Blog Stew on the River

¶ Legal challenges to zee artiste Christo's "Over the River" continue.

¶ Do vultures take baths? Chris Weems has the video. Also owls.

¶ Colorado's first legal industrial hemp crop is harvested.
Loflin used social media to line up about 45 volunteers to hand-harvest his crop on Saturday and Sunday
Probably not a long-term harvesting model, however. Don't the Canadians have a combine head for hemp?

May 03, 2013

Good Links about Birds

• A New York Times science story on understanding owls.

 • Crows are smarter than you think. But if you know anything about crows, you already think that.

Wild ravens return to southern England. Key factors appear to be availability of roadkill plus legal protection. A century ago, gamekeepers routinely killed them.

February 12, 2013

The Westcliffe Saw-whet: Our Transport Season Starts

Saw-whet owl in a cardboard box.
Yes, what about that left eye?

The phone rang this afternoon, and it was the director of the Raptor Center, wanting to know if we could go to Westcliffe and pick up a saw-whet owl.

A local man had found it over the weekend. He told us, "I was driving and thought I saw a lump of snow in the road. But something made me turn around and go back."

He picked up the owl and took it home. Its left eye was apparently injured, but I don't know if it was in the road because of the injury or if something like a car collision had injured it.

Saw-whet owls get their name because their call sound like someone sharpening (whetting) a cross-cut saw with a file:: a "series of whistled toots."

If the eye cannot be saved, I do not see how the owl could ever be released. It would end up in captivity as an "education bird." How could it hunt without binocular vision?

At least by now, as I write this, it should be in the Raptor Center ICU with a full belly. I will update what happens to it, but you have to understand, only about half of the owls we have brought in have lived.

December 21, 2012

Mountain Lions at Lunch

With the bears now out on their own, our local wildlife rehabbers were able to meet us in Nearby Town for a long lunch.

The conversation wandered around "secret" hiking trails, local water issues, and of course critter tales — specifically mountain lions.

Back when M. and I were hired by the Bureau of Land Management to census Mexican spotted owls, we were stalked by mountain lions twice that we knew of, and probably other times that we did not know of.

But these people hand-raised them. They had two lions that lived out their lives with them, because the cats had been seized from people who owned them illegally and who had had them declawed. There was no way that these cats could be released into the wild.

The lions were quite friendly, almost cuddly. But they were still cats — unpredictable.

One day one of them jumped the woman as she was leaving its pen, knocked her down, and bit into the back of her head. It sounded like a dog chewing a bone, she said.

Her husband got the cat off of her with a couple of swift kicks to the head and a squirt of pepper spray. She was half-scalped. It was a real La Brea Tar Pits moment, he says.

He himself was in a bad car wreck once and was rebuilt with pins and plates, so we figured that their skeletons would astonish archaeologists of the future.

"Look," they might say, "people in the Plastic Age were still preyed on by large carnivores. Yet this woman survived — her people took care of her."

"And the man — clearly he had many enemies, but someone rebuilt his skeleton in a primitive way."

July 12, 2012

Wildlife Taxi, July 11

Crappy cell-phone photo of young flammulated owl.

Time on the meter: 4 ½ hours.

Distance: 195 miles

Fare: three young flammulated owls, whose aspen-trunk nest was brought crashing down by a rural Huerfano County homeowner who said that he had been cutting trees along his power line.

Two of the owlets seemed vigorous. One stayed curled up in the nest and never moved. It may be the one that does not survive.

We brought them to the Raptor Center late in the afternoon. Since the little owls chiefly eat insects, the director was trying to locate some crickets, stat!

I will post an update in a few days if I can.

April 06, 2009

A Great Horned Owl at Home

Last year when M. and I visited Libby and Steve Bodio, we looked in on this owl nest in Socorro County, New Mexico, but it was empty.

But this year we saw a great horned owl on her nest.

They are one of my favorite species, not least for their weird variety of calls.

February 17, 2008

Blog Stew with Badgers

Nude web-cam photos of hot British badgers.

¶ Colorado writer David Petersen has his own online bookstore. I read A Man Made of Elk with pleasure last fall and might return to it again this year.

But the funny part involves A Hunter's Heart, to which I contributed a chapter: I had had the same idea for an anthology around 1990 and pitched it to an editor who was never able to make the deal work for his press. My title? The Hunter's Heart. And then Dave came along and did it -- good for him!

¶ A federal judge has ruled to protect habitat for the Mexican spotted owl in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. This is personal for M. and me. From 1990-1994 we did owl censuses for the BLM. That was our summer job (sometimes on top of part-time college teaching), and we referred to Strix occidentalis lucida as "the gentleman who paid the rent."

February 16, 2008

Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet owl (Cornell University)
This has been an owl-y winter.

(Photo from Cornell University's All About Birds site.)

We had the pygmy owl visitation last month.

Then last night (crunchy snow, 12 degrees F.) M. and I were walking the dogs before bed and heard a saw-whet owl calling.

They get the name because the call sounds like someone filing (whetting) the teeth of a large saw with a steel file. Or like a small dog crying--but too regular a series of sounds.

Read and hear more at the Owl Pages.

January 18, 2008

Blog Stew with Lynx

¶ A Colorado lynx apparently walked to Yellowstone. (Hat tip: The Goat.) Or maybe you thought I was referring to an early Web browser.

¶ The Evening Grosbeak is back. No, not the bird, the bar in Cañon City. In the 1980s, we called its similar previous incarnation a "fern bar." Now it is a "martini bar." Social historians, please note. Whatever it is, Cañon finally has one, again.

¶ Conclusion: it was a Northern pygmy-owl. (Apparently it rates a hyphen, for some dark reason known only to the American Ornithologists' Union.)

¶ Another visitor today was a Clark's nutcracker. It was a little out of place too, but only by altitude. I have never seen one down this low (6,600) feet, but there is no reason it could not come down from the higher ridges, which are 9,000-plus feet in elevation.

January 13, 2008

Pygmy Owl


Hanging out the laundry, M. noticed a collective twittering of nuthatches high up in a pine tree--and one larger bird sitting still.

Last year, on a sunny afternoon in late January, we swore we had seen a northern hawk owl, which if true would mean that it was way south of its normal range.

That time, we had a good look through binoculars and consulted field guides--but we did not have a camera with long lens ready. And then it flew away, having consumed the junco it had snatched near one of the bird feeders.

As Project Feeder Watch participants, we reported it to the Cornell ornithology lab. The response was polite but non-committal: Your report is sounds intriguing, but we would really like to see a photo. And we had no photo. So we did not rock the ornithological world.

This time, I had the new Pentax K100D digital camera and a so-so 500mm mirror lens, and I shot several pictures from the porch before the bird flew off.

After downloading and sharpening them a little in Graphic Converter (the poor man's PhotoShop), I realize that I was looking at . . . a sharp-shinned hawk. [No, see updates below.]

It was eating a pygmy nuthatch while being mobbed by other pygmy and white-breasted nuthatches--but being mobbed by nuthatches is not too scary if you're a hawk an owl.

Of course now we are wondering about our alleged hawk owl. Were we acting like newbies, getting all excited over an exotic species? Did our years of counting owls for the BLM make us too ready to see an owl rather than a hawk? Or was it really the hawk owl? If it was, I wish it would come back.

At least digital photography offers instant gratification. I do not plan to give SeEtta Moss any serious competition, however.

UPDATE: Steve Bodio votes for a pygmy owl. I was puzzled at the time by the slightly stocky body shape the bird presented, but I put that down to cold weather (feathers puffed) and to the fact that it was hunching over its prey.

UPDATE 2: SeEtta Moss (see comments) agrees that it is a pygmy owl, so I have changed the headline.

January 06, 2008

The Odd Cry in the Night

My previous post, on how to behave around mountain lions, was prompted by something that happened last night: M. and I heard an animal sound that we could not identify.

We had gone to bed about eleven o'clock. Since the temperature outside was about 30° F., relatively warm for a winter night, she left the bedroom window open a crack.

As I was drifting off to sleep, I heard something -- a far-off fox? Then the sound came again -- a two-note cry. Shelby, sleeping at the foot of our bed, came awake and started filling the room with her sharp collie barks, like rapid pistol fire.

Then Jack, the Chessie, came out of the kennel crate where he sleeps (which doubles as my bedside table), adding his deeper woofing. You couldn't hear yourself think, let alone hear what was outside.

Shelby was running to the front door, barking to be let out. We finally got the dogs partly settled down ("Dogs! Settle down! Get in your beds!"), and a dialog ensued:

"What was that?"

"It almost sounded like a poor-will."

"It can't be a poor-will in the middle of winter."

"I know that! But it didn't sound like a fox..."

Nor did it sound like coyote nor like an owl nor like one of the neighbor dogs. The only owls calling at this time of year are great horned owls, which are mating. They can produce amazing sounds, but this sound seemed different. It was more like a saw-whet owl, if the saw-whet stopped after only two notes.

And the dogs do not normally go into paroxysms of barking over owls, but only over bears, foxes, and other predators. So we are baffled.

July 04, 2006

10-Bird Meme: No. 2, Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus
A misapprehension, a literary reference, an attack, an act of contrition.

1. One fall evening in 1990, M. and I were car-camping at some state-owned reservoir near Reno, Nevada. We put up our tent and went to bed. A loud commotion woke me from a deep sleep. It sounded like a pack of hyenas. But we were in Nevada, so they had to be Great Basin hyenas.

The sound was coming from a grove of cottonwood trees, I further realized, so they had to be Great Basin arboreal hyenas.

Finally, I awoke completely and realized I was listening to a single great horned owl.

2. Ornithologist Willian Dawson heard something similar when he was young:

At three o'clock one morning a horrible nightmare gave way to a more horrible waking. Murder most foul was being committed on the roof just outside the open window, and the shrieks of the victims (at least seven of them!) were drowned by the imprecations of the attacking party--fire-eating pirates to the number of a dozen.


For two weeks Dawson thought he had been an ear-witness to homicide, until he heard a second round of murder, looked out, and saw the owl on a church steeple, "gibbering and shrieking like one possessed" (William Leon Dawson, The Birds of California, 1923).

3. In the early 1990s, when we worked for the Bureau of Land Management doing Mexican spotted owl censuses, we had to fill out a report on every kind of owl we encountered. One great horned owl often showed up around 11 p.m. at a stock-watering trough near the Shelf Road rock-climbing area, north of Cañon City.

I had a camera rigged with two flash units, with which I tried to photograph owls, usually not too well. When I saw this owl on its usual fence post, I drove close in our VW Bug, keeping the headlights on the bird, grabbed my camera rig, and opened the door.

But the owl flew down toward the car. One the ground, it lifted its wings, clacked its beak in anger, and charged!

A couple of yards short of the front bumper, it came to its senses, stopped, and flew off into the night. I never got the picture.

4.When I was 13 or so, I was hunting rabbits with my father in a patch of trees on a farm near Fort Collins, Colorado, when he saw a horned owl sitting on a branch. He had been raised to kill "varmints," and owls were not yet federally protected raptors.

He told me to shoot it for the sake of the farmer's chickens. Not one to question the old man, I raised my 20-gauge and fired. It plunged down and for a sickening second I thought it was making a final swoop at me. But it hit the ground dead a short distance away.

Dad cut off one of the feet and showed me how the tendons made the talons open and close. That was interesting, yet I looked at the dead owl and thought, "I should never do this again." Not to an owl.