Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis
by Bryce W. Robinson
I sat in the sun, waiting for the others. Of course I was on a high from the Townsend’s Warbler ten minutes earlier. I had been looking for the bird for a week. People had been telling that the Townsend’s had been seen regularly across the desert for the past week. I’d never seen the bird, so I spent the week with my eyes out, actively checking every tree for the hyperactive warbler. Finally on Saturday morning the bird found me.
After seeing my first Townsend’s, more began showing up. I realized that there were other warbler’s migrating through the area that I had never seen. One bird in particular was a close relative to the Townsend’s, the Hermit Warbler. It was the next on the list, I had to see it.
So, sitting in the sun, talking with a friend Jeff, I began voicing my wishes to see the Hermit Warbler. I raised clenched fists, exclaiming to the sky, HERMIT WARBLER! Jeff responded in the same fashion, but exclaiming MANIFEST IT! Afterwards, I explained that I knew that the bird migrates through southern California, however, I didn’t know if it came through the desert. It was my next life bird to see. Literally seconds later a shadow flew overhead. Jeff and I both raised our glasses.
The bird had landed in a Palo Verde only ten feet to the north. It took a while for the spastic warbler to show itself enough to glean anything. When it finally came forward from the green shrubbery, it was unmistakable. Jeff and I had manifested a life bird, the Hermit Warbler. Possibly the most miraculous birding experience I have ever had.
Jeff loves warblers. I give him credit for turning me to my most recent interest in the bird world. After seeing the Hermit, he kept mentioning how incredible it would be to find a Townsend’sxHermit hybrid. As rare as the bird is, I couldn’t help but think of the possibility of finding the cross. After all, we had manifested my last life bird.
Today we saw many warbler’s, and believe it or not, one bird made us think. At first I thought it to be a drab Hermit, but after some research and consultation, I’ve decided to settle on a hybrid. Given the streaking on the flanks, and the markings on the auriculars, I am fairly confident the bird we found is a first spring HermitxTownsend’s Hybrid. Migration is a beautiful thing, especially in the warbler realm.
I also thought I would include a photo of a Townsend’s Warbler I found. These birds are striking. Hope to see more.
It’s been quite the spring migration, and it is only the midpoint. Tomorrow undoubtedly brings more!
I’ve never seen a Spotted Owl in person. I’m sure the day will come, whether it be the Mexican Spotted Owl, Californian, or Northern, I’m sure it will be incredible. I’m currently working on a job with a guy named Jeff, who has spent the greater part of the last eight years in northern California working with the Northern Spotted Owl. He tells endless stories of his nightly wanderings amidst the redwood giants of Humboldt County. I love telling my own stories of wilderness wanderings, but even more, I love listening to others.
The other night over some beer, Jeff showed me a number of videos he took of Spotted Owls. I couldn’t believe the footage, and the narrative he provided with each clip. It made me anxious to get out and find the bird. After some time went by, I realized I had to paint an owl for Jeff. I respect his work, and truly envy the time he has spent working with this creature, so the next day I sat and painted the Norhtern Spotted Owl. I gave it to Jeff to thank him for sharing his passion.
Currently the Spotted Owl is facing a new threat. We all know of the controversy between environmentalists and the logging industry about the removal of old growth forest timber so important in the lives of the Spotted Owl, but this new threat is not man. The Barred Owl- Strix varia, has now moved into the territory of the Spotted Owl. As the Barred Owl is more adaptable, and outcompetes the Spotted Owl, concern has risen that the fate of the Spotted Owl is again reaching a critical state. The topic is very complicated, as all things ecological are. Managers are now discussing the possibility of shooting the Barred Owl to eliminate it from the area. Such an ardent management policy is of course highly controversial, and requires a great deal of discussion and contemplation.
I would love to research the topic more thoroughly, and make an actual report and analysis of the issue. I have my own opinion, however I will admit it is not a truly educated opinion. In the future, I will gather some research papers and some background on how the Barred Owl has come to the areas of the Spotted owl, and what I think should be done in attempt to solve the problem. Until I complete that essay I’ll have to stay away from forming a public opinion. I would, however, love to hear how people feel about the issue.
Over the weekend, I found myself once again at the end of the continent, facing the expansive Pacific Ocean. Something about the ocean draws my spirit, and I feel the desire to answer and explore its waters. There will be a day when I make the journey aboard a boat, and explore what can be found above and below the sea, but for now I find myself satisfied with what lives along its shores.
Years had passed since I last saw the ocean, and I could tell. I watched the waters as if I had never known the sight. The excitement of the bird life that I could see riding the waves and flying about gave me the familiar giddiness that birding often brings. I was in a new place, with new birds, and I was happy.
Previous trips to the beach had no focus on birding. I was a young member of a rowdy crowd of miscreants who focused more on the simple fun that the waters bring. This trip was different, as I found myself solely focused on finding birds and testing my knowledge. As it is in the depths of winter, the crowds were minimal and the birds were active. This provided the perfect setting for photographing the birds and learning the new species that I found.
The shores of southern California house many wintering birds. As I scanned the waters with my binoculars, I was delighted to see the large groups of Western and Clark’s Grebes. Scattered about I found a few members of a bird that is new to me, The Red-throated Loon. I did not expect to see the bird, and at first sight I celebrated with a few strange noises of excitement. Loons wear drab basic plumage, and it is often difficult to identify specific to the species. Still, the Red-throated Loon is distinctive and I feel confident with my ID. I was unable to photograph the loons due to their distance from the shores. I was fairly disappointed, but there will surely be a time and opportunity for me to photograph the bird in the future.
Another bird that I saw but was unable to photograph was a bird that I originally set out to find. I am, of course, a raptor enthusiast, and I had never seen the White-tailed Kite before. In the distance I saw a hovering kite hunting. It was incredible to watch it dance through the air with rhythmic wing beats as it looked for food. Other raptors engage this technique, but the kite is king as its form is unmatched. I will make it a point to find the bird again and photograph the scene of the hunting kite, but for now perhaps a painting will have to suffice.
Overall the birds were friendly and I was able to have many enjoyable photo shoots with numerous birds. I would rather let the pictures speak for the birds than summarize the experience with each species. The delicate detail of life is incredible, and I encourage you to take the opportunity and time to truly experience the birds by engaging the photos, zooming in and exploring the detail. The birds are photographed as one would see them, and many are acting in behaviors precisely as the guidebooks describe.
I hope these photos communicate the beauty of the birds, and encourage you to get out to enjoy and appreciate them as I do.
Long-billed Curlew- Numenius americanus
Willet- Tringa semipalmata
Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa
Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola
Sanderling- Calidris alba
Heerman’s Gull- Larus heermanni
Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis