Well, I suppose it is appropriate THIS weekend to find the great-horned owls courting and flirting, and along with the predominate culture, inadvertently rubbing it in that I’m single. But at least they were kind enough to share their love with me, and not just that, they did it with enough daylight for a photo shoot – so I’m thankful for all of it.
It was a particularly mild evening, with very little wind, and all the animals seemed to be very active after a brief bit of rain last night followed by a warm afternoon and evening. I spent some time with one of the resident red-tailed hawks, who two days prior I caught in serious courting mode being pursued by her mate – but today she was just hanging out atop a post looking very regal.
As I moved on, I was excited to find a small colony of CA ground squirrels, the first that I’ve found in Wildcat Canyon in the areas that I usually wander. There is a lot of gopher, cattle, human and dog activity over most of the open areas, so one has to really go to some of the more remote spots to find where the squirrels, rabbits, coyotes, deer and bobcat spend their time. Which of course I do.
The owls were vocal very early tonight, and the sun had not yet set when they began their hoots – which came at me from all directions, quite suddenly, as if an unseen conductor had waved his/her baton to start the show (wand? stick? whatever they conduct with …). As I made my way out of the open grassy area down into a wash populated with willows and live oaks that cuts down across the landscape, with all sorts of song birds actively feeding and socializing in the branches all around, I realized one of the owls was right by me.
She seemed to be hooting in her sleep, not quite awake yet but still making some loud vocalizations. Sleep-hooting, if you will. When I made my way under her tree, she gave me a good once-over then went back into her dream world for a few more moments of rest.
Getting to spend time so close to an animal like this is such a thrill and a blessing, and I settled in under the boughs of the Interior Live Oak Tree for 30 minutes watching her, with the sounds of all the small birds moving through the willows as background music for this evening’s show.
As she started to wake up, she did a bit of preening and then was suddenly focused intently on something to the south. After watching for several minutes, she gave some more hoots and started looking about with the wild eyes of an owl ready for the night. The same eyes that cats have when it’s a full moon or they are in their amped-up hunting state.
Within a few minutes, another owl landed in the tree from the direction that she had been staring, and he gave me the once-over after the two greeted each other with a series of endearing hoots and calls.
The second owl, the male I presume (based on size/proportions and the tone of the hoots), took up a position on another branch not too far away as he made his way closer to the lady, but was still a little suspect of the biped watching below.
He gave me a few more looks before the allure of the lady finally swung his gaze upward to her feathered finery.
Finally he made his move, and landed right by her. He glared at me to let me know who was in charge, but I got the last laugh when after about 30 seconds the branch he was on broke and he had to relocate unexpectedly!
Ahhh, I guess owls are subject to immediate karma too sometimes, same as we humans when we let our egos act for us! Tough Guy takes the tough fall, ha!! A few moments later though he was redeemed when they rendezvoused a few trees up the wash. Then they made their way atop the Live Oak Trees together to start their evening, as I wandered away to end mine. What a special time to get to spend with them.
In addition to all that excitement, I’m pretty sure she cast a love spell on me too – and, I captured the exact moment when she wove her enchantment upon me (at least I’m hoping it was a love spell and not something more nefarious) …
Ok, as I look upon that picture, it looks kind of nefarious. I realize in comparison, the cupids one sees depicted all around this time of year sure don’t look quite like that when they’re shooting their cute little heart arrows – but I’ll go ahead and choose to believe it was a love spell. I’m definitely in love with them, so I guess it worked.
These birds might already have babies somewhere close by, and if not, they probably will soon. I often hear them up in the hills, along with other pairs of owls, and sometimes I get to see them – but usually it’s well after sunset, so the photo op’s are few and far between. It was fun to get to see them so close, and to spend such a long amount of time with them and in such good light tonight. I hope to see some owlets soon!
The burrowing owls have returned to Cesar Chavez park in Berkeley again this year. According to Audubon docents/researchers that were onsite the other evening, this first one arrived about a week and a half ago – earlier than usual. The females migrate from Idaho and surrounding areas to escape the harsh winters … males migrate shorter distances, presumably to be able to return to their territories faster in the spring to defend them. Last year they said there were six total that over-wintered in the park.
I’ve been seeing and hearing lots of great-horned owls lately as well, always breathtaking to see these giants glide silently out of the trees. They remind of cats with wings, the way they stare at you with their intense eyes.
grand canyon expedition
Rafting down a river is a fun adventure unto itself … to do it in the bottom of the Grand Canyon is an experience not rivaled by much of anything. And to do it with my dad as part of the expedition (who proclaimed many years ago that he “is not a camper”) made it priceless.
We went down the river with an company called Western River Outfitters, and they were absolutely great. They provided rafts and (amazing) guides as well as gear and food. As phenomenal as it was, it was still a bit agonizing for me not to be able to explore everything that called to me on my own timetable – though I’d probably still be there if that was the case. A person could spend lifetimes exploring it – I guess I’ll have to return (I always seem to say that about places like this – my bucket list only seems to grow as I attempt to cross things off it).
Temperatures were “warm” – which is to be expected when you’re in the desert in August. We actually all wet our beds to keep cool! Meaning I carried a bed sheet to the river and soaked it in the cold water (approx 55 deg F) to sleep on it to stay cool (it was still above 90 deg F one night as we were going to sleep after dark). Despite the intense heat and lack of rainfall, the riparian area along the river provides habitat for a lot of wildlife, for whom this place is literally an oasis. I was constantly searching for sign of the ringtail (a relative of the raccoon), which evidently can be found along the banks – unfortunately I never spotted one or any conclusive sign (though there were a few scats that looked like they could have been from a ringtail’s rear).
What was really noticeable to me were the variety of rocks that are exposed in the canyon. It is a geologist’s dream. Walking down a wash that fed into the main canyon on one of my little side excursions, I was aware of the large number of different rocks that were strewn around and mixed together, something I don’t often see. Usually the geology of a place is fairly uniform, or composed of a small constituent of rock types. Here, the river and erosion have teamed up to expose rocks that span two billion years. BILLION! There are some time gaps that are unaccounted for in this geological record, which are individually referred to as an “unconformity” – now a new nickname for me from my pops, after one of them called “the Great Unconformity.” Probably fits! Sounds like a magician of mediocre skill.
As the sides of the exposed cliffs erode away, pieces of the ages fall and co-mingle at the bottom. The oldest rock is called Vishnu Schist and it starts to become visible towards the bottom of the canyon – it is beautiful. To touch something that old and be in its presence is profound, especially while floating on a calm section of river in the silent heat of midday in the canyon. Just as when standing in an ancient forest of redwoods or giant sequoia trees, time seems to slow down and your perspective shifts. It’s bearing witness to immensity, it’s very definition in both time and space.
Just as we were about to rendezvous with a boat at Lake Meade at the conclusion of our rafting trip, we stopped for a quick “pee break” along the banks of the river. As I jumped off the raft, my eyes were immediately devouring the “spoor extravaganza” that was before me – it was literally a tracking workshop laid out in the muddy river silt bank! First, desert bighorn tracks. Then raven. And great-horned owl. And some other large raptor. Beaver. And more. I clicked away to capture some of them, but literally had to jump on board the raft as it cast off just minutes later. It was torturous to pull away from this canvas full of tracks! I did manage to catch a few of them on cam.
The canyon itself has an amazing history, both before and after people of European descent found it. (White) Man’s desire to explore and conquer as attempted within these canyon walls is recorded in stories that vary from comedic to chaotic (and deadly), and several groups of native people still call this place home. It’s truly grand in all aspects of the word.
Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I’m always excited by the usual harbingers of Fall … pumpkins, raptor and bird migration, amazing light, crisp electric air, foliage color changes, bay nuts, and an instinct deep within me that drives me to figure out what ridiculous costume I’ll wear for Halloween.
There is also the call of the rutting bull elks, if you’re lucky enough to be close to some – a sound that reminds me of whale calls penetrating the surface of the water and echoing across the landscape. I love to see and hear them, especially at this time of year, when the bulls have their “harems” of cows protectively corralled close to them. If one tries to stray too far, the bull will herd her back. And if another male comes too close, a fight can ensue.
They make their bellowing, haunting calls often, seemingly to advertise their virility to the females and their dominance over other bulls -with the occasional chirping siren-like responses from the females, and other males calling back to defend their own space and ladies. It’s all about the ladies at this time of year.
On Sunday we visited the herds at Tomales Point to immerse ourselves in this Autumn rite, and though initially we were disappointed by the thick fog that enveloped just the very tip of the peninsula where the elk live, it turned out to be a good thing. Fog is one of the natural states of this area, and the landscape comes alive when it is foggy. Not only that, the fog allowed us to get closer to the elk than we would have been able to otherwise, creating a smoke screen for us as we approached from downwind to find a nice rock outcropping overlooking two small herds. And, as an added bonus, most of the two-leggeds depart with the fog!
Ironically, the best pictures I got were when we were leaving in our vehicle as a herd was milling about near the exit road. Vehicles can be the best blinds … and they’re mobile!
Oh, and the fog made a stunning scene for pictures.
I caught this one mid-bellow!!!!!!!!! The sight and sound was incredible.
As we were leaving the Point Reyes area, heading East back towards the big city, we saw a great-horned owl perched on top of a utility pole, just a shadow highlighted by the twilight. We stopped to watch it, and suddenly we heard the unmistakable sound of a begging juvenile great-horned owl very close by. Within a minute or two, it had flown up to land on the utility wires, begging intensely for its breakfast. After shredding its prey, the adult jumped over next to the juvenile and handed it over. Oddly, the young one didn’t stop begging, it just perched on the wire with the food in its talons. The only time it paused was when I mimicked its begging call, at which point it would look at me for a few moments, then return to begging. Must have been a spoiled young one … it does live in Marin County, after all.