[Tweeters] Thoughts on Seattle's Arboretum Owl

mattxyz at earthlink.net mattxyz at earthlink.net
Wed Oct 17 17:32:21 PDT 2007

Hi all -
I'll just chime in with a couple personal thoughts on the question
that seemed to be posed by Larry & maybe some others.

I don't really see the question he implicitly poses - why focus on
the possibility of a Great Gray and ignore the Pochard - as a valid
one. But I do have some thoughts on why I bother to look for birds
like this one, despite the odds being against it....

I was out twice looking around the Arboretum for the owl after it was
reported - and I don't believe anyone I spoke to there was searching
without a good measure of doubt over what the species the owl might
be. We all held high hopes, but we weren't just assuming it was a
Great Gray --

It isn't like anything more than a little time was spent in our
efforts -- The Arboretum is close by, and I found this to be a great
opportunity to finally become a bit more familiar with a spot I've
almost never birded. If I waited around for a rarity to be confirmed
every time before I went out looking for it, I'd feel like I was
admitting that all I care about is seeing the rare birds. Instead, I
try to look at these wild goose chases as good chances to find the
motivation to learn a bit and to try some place new.

Besides the fun of coming across regular birds in a mostly new [to
me] place, I find the conversations at rarity-searches to often be
enriching. We weren't finding a Great Gray, but we were working
through our knowledge of Great Gray & Barred behavior, and trying to
apply those bits of knowledge to a new puzzle. Sure, I enjoy going to
'the spot' in Havillah to see staked out GGOWs, but when trying to
find a bird away from a stake-out, you get a chance to think through
the behavioral patterns of birds and test hypotheses -- Would a
wandering GGOW favor more open areas as it does on its territory?
What are the past patterns of the wanderers that have shown up in
western WA? What are the differences between where a GGOW sits in a
tree and where a Barred Owl will sit? What time of year did those
wanderers show up?

I think I learned more about Great Gray Owls by not seeing this one
than I would have if I had just gone over to Havillah again. You
don't really have to consider behavior or habitat or anything if you
have a good map! I think it more of a challenge to keep my mind
active on those 'stations of the birding cross' ticks than when
grasping at long-shots.

I suppose by searching for the owl I missed out on some computer time
or perhaps a shot at some good birding elsewhere, but the trade-off
was well worth it to me. It would have been just as fun probably to
head up and try to track down Gary's Pochard, but that would have
required more time than I had available and wasn't ever really in
play in my mind. Maybe I'll still make it up there before long....

Finally, one obvious other element comes into play when trying to ask
questions like 'why is there so much talk about the Seattle Owl and
so little about the Samish Pochard?' The words 'Seattle' and 'Samish'
in the framing of that question ought to make it clear why sightings
from one place get heavier traffic on a list like Tweeters -- there's
just way more of us living here than there.....

That's about all that comes to mind at present - No offense intended
(or given I hope)!


Matt Bartels
Seattle, WA

>From: Larry Schwitters <lpatters at ix.netcom.com>

>Subject: Re: [Tweeters] re: Seattle Great Gray Owl

>Date: Tue, 16 Oct 2007 20:05:40 -0700


>Scott and Tweeters,


>I've had the same thoughts. Of course it's possible, and the

>Arboretum is close and easy for us Puget Sounders to get to, but has

>not the vast majority of Tweetersville been reluctant to approach

>this as a probable sighting? Has a Great Gray ever been recorded in

>urban King County? Your average non birder is doing well to get the

>owl part right, and a big gray owl is pretty close to a Great one.


>Then there is Gary Bletsch who gives a very thoughtful and in depth

>description of a Pochard-like duck on Samish Island. He begs for

>others to get involved and is largely ignored. How come?


>Larry Schwitters






>On Oct 16, 2007, at 7:03 PM, Scott Downes wrote:



>>I don't want to rain on anybody's parade. Seeing reports of a "pale Barred

>>Owl" in the area and the observer was a novice or non-birder; John did you

>>hear any details from your co-worker that would eliminate Barred Owl over

>>Great Gray? To a beginner they could look quite similar and obviously there

>>is a Barred in the park already. Not saying the Great Gray is a Barred just

>>a likely possibility is all and Great Gray is quite rare in urban King Co.


>>Scott Downes

>>downess at charter.net

>>Yakima WA



>>Tweeters mailing list

>>Tweeters at u.washington.edu





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