Andy Stepniewski steppie at
Wed Oct 11 22:30:27 PDT 2000


Adrizzly morning cleared into a calm and warm afternoon, prompting me to
hatch a plan to go after Boreal Owls this evening. Ellen and Denny
Granstrand, and I left his home in Yakima at 5:30 PM; we arrived just above
Clover Flats Campground along the upper Middle Fork of Ahtanum Creek an hour
later at the 6,000' level on the east shoulder of Darland Mountain in
western Yakima County.

At dusk we played the primary call of the Boreal Owl and within a few
minutes had at least two birds in nearby Subalpine Fir and Whitebark Pines
uttering their typical "Skieuw!" call, occasionally one bird uttering the
mournful "Moo-a!" call. I strongly suspected Boreal Owl, but wanted visual
confirmation. Patience paid off and within 15 minutes, both Denny and I had
a good view of a Boreal Owl through a small window in the fir branches with
a spotlight. Unfortunately, Ellen couldn't see into this area of the tree
from her vantage. Denny and I were elated; it was a county bird for both of
us and, apart from Randy Hills sightings from the nearby North Fork of the
Ahtanum, only the third report for the county.

A few minutes later we heard the distinctive chattering call of
White-fronted Geese overhead, seeming to be coming from the northwest and
heading southeast. I wondered if these birds were Yukon River delta breeders
that had just reached landfall along the northeastern Pacific Ocean after a
2,000 mile flight across the Gulf of Alaska to the coast roughly in
southwestern Washington or northern Oregon, their ultimate wintering grounds
being the Central Valley of California (after crossing the Cascades and
stopping over at McNary, then Klamath NWR area refuges). The pleasant
conversational calls of these birds overhead was a nice bonus to an already
wonderful evening.

We decided to make one more try for Boreal Owl amidst dense firs in the
campground proper, in hopes Ellen would get a look. We heard a response
shortly after playing the tape, but, as the moon was rising and full (or
nearly so), I feared the owls would be skittish and not come in. After a few
minutes of only distant "skieuws," then silence, I suggested we bag it and
head on home. Denny, panned the spotlight one last time and suddenly
exclaimed "There it is!" We then had at least two, possibly three minutes of
point-blank range views of a Boreal Owl in plain view - not 25' away! It was
an "All Field Marks" study: a medium-sized (that of a Western Screech-Owl,
earless owl, with a distinct blackish border to its facial disk on a white
face, and light-colored bill. Now this was too much! Never have I had such
perfect looks at Boreal Owl, especially with so little effort. Maybe the
countless nights of fall owling in the Okanogan are finally paying off;
this may be an acquired skill.

Together with the fairly recent discovery of Boreal Owls at Sunrise (a very
local "Snowshadow" of Mt. Rainier), also in the Okanogan Highlands (where
breeding was proven in 1992), and northeastern (the Selkirks) and
southeastern (the Blues) mountains of Washington, it's becoming evident this
species may not be uncommon as a resident in "Continental" subalpine forests
of the state. These are distinctly drier than the snow-smothered "Snow
Forests" of Mountain Hemlock that typify the Cascade crest generally in
Washington. In these maritime forests, Boreal Owls would be expected only
rarely in my opinion, and perhaps not at all as breeders.

Andy Stepniewski
Wapato WA
steppie at

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