A night of magic with 3 Boreal Owls in BC!
Since owls are calling now and pairing up for the breeding season, I decided to go looking for Boreal Owls in the Okanagan. I called up my friend Chris Charlesworth and Mike Force and made plans to go owling. I asked my friend Brian Stech who loves owls and really wanted a photo of one to join me. We drove up a dirt logging road in appropriate habitat and began to listen. Within 10 minutes Mike and I heard a Boreal Owl singing it's song in the distance.
Chris began to call him with his voice. The way he mimics a Boreal Owl is truly uncanny. He sounds just like them!. The owl went dead silent. We knew this meant he was coming in closer for a better look. Chris spotted him in the dark.
The key to owling for Boreals especially is to go on a clear cloudless night with no wind. I had been looking for this in the weather reports. The night couldn't have been more perfect, all clear, no wind. I never saw so many stars it was just beautiful. Living in the city you sometimes forget what stars look like!.
Anyways, back to the owl. So Chris spotted him in the dark. He turned and put the light on him. He was right behind us! We got some great views of him as he sat there doing his Skew or "MUAH" call over and over. It was so loud for a tiny owl. Rather than focusing on taking pictures, I just held my bins up and looked at him for as long as possible. They are small owls with a big head and facial disc. I noted the reddish brown stripes down the front, the big talons, large yellow eyes and that it was an adult. I have never seen a young chocolate brown Boreal. It was just a magnificent sight to see this rarely seen bird.
He gave us the one over and saw that we were not a Boreal Owl and quickly left. We got one photo of this female (we could tell by the call) and were all thrilled for such killer views of a Boreal Owl. Most of the time you don't hear one and when you do hear one, you rarely see it!. I felt so blessed and grateful to be in its presence. We all were so happy, even Chris who sees them much more than any of us.
|Boreal Owl in BC'S Okanagan Country - Photo: Brian Stech|
We thought we were off to a good start as this was all completed in the first 1hr of owling! So we hoped for more as we drove on down the road. Before we reached our next stop an all white snowshoe hare darted across the road. I was hoping a Lynx would dart out after it but no joy!. Chris has seen Lynx on that road before so it wasn't a pipe dream.
At our next stop it wasn't ten minutes before we heard 2 Boreal Owls calling. I should back up though. As soon as we got out we heard a small flock of American Wigeon flying over. I thought boy this will be a weird list of birds for the night. I wonder who else has Wigeon and Boreal Owl on the same list. Just when I had finished saying that, a bloody Varied Thrush flew up into the spotlight in front of us. I guess when we were scanning the trees with the spotlight we woke the poor guy up!. Now the nocturnal trip list was even weirder! haha.
Well, as I was saying, there was now 2 Boreal Owls calling. Obviously a mated pair. They were only doing the Skew or "MUAH" call as well. They were right in front of us and the sound was deafening. I thought "oh boy we are gonna get some great views like the first bird and even better photos." Well no. We got one quick view of one bird and the other bird, as if mocking us, stayed put just inside the tree. He never did reveal himself.
3 Boreal Owls in one night was a high count for the area. It was a high count for me as well. Previously, I have only ever had 2 Boreal Owls at once in one area. I decided right there (thanks to Chris's prompting) that I'm going to build some nest boxes for these guys to help them out next year.
Well we were sure satisfied for the night. The stars were out, lots of snow still on the ground and I was happy to be wearing 3 layers, as it was chilly outside. I thought how lucky I was to be in the presence of 3 Boreal Owls and good friends on this special night. Since it was now midnight, we decided to try for a few more owls, as we descended into a lower elevation.
As we went down, we made a couple stops. As we jumped out the car at our last stop we found a calling Northern Saw-whet Owl. He was tooting up a storm. Their calls are so cute!. He made a bee-line for us, as Chris imitated him with a spot-on impression. He almost clipped Bryan's head at one point.He even did the blood curdling scream Saw-whets do!. A Barred Owl then called and although the Saw-whet never came out in the open, he didn't stop tooting!. The Barred Owl flew around (right over us) looking for the little owl but then eventually left. We didn't want the Saw-whet to get eaten, so didn't call to him anymore and let them be.
We were done by 1 am and all of us so happy from such a great night of owling. The best part was seeing the rarely seen Boreal Owl (the star of the show) so well. I have seen all 19 naturally occurring owls in North America and have had some magical encounters with all of them. It is hard to pick a favorite (probably the Northern Spotted Owl followed by Flammulated) but seeing a Boreal is right up there with some of my best.