[Tweeters] Sunrise Boreal Owls

mvbh at nym.hush.com mvbh at nym.hush.com
Fri Oct 2 17:46:30 PDT 2015




Before I begin my second missive to you, dear Tweeters, I just want
to thank all of you for your kind words on my maiden posting. I'm so
happy that some of you were able to see the tridactyl woodpeckers that
I had found last week in Pierce County.
I also should say right away that the title of this missive is rather
deceptive in that the Boreal Owls viewed were not observed at sunrise,
but rather at the Mount Rainier section called Sunrise. I actually
observed the owls at sundown.
My original attempt to view these birds was done on Sunday evening at
Sunrise (the place, not the time) and I was delighted to see so many
people with cameras, binoculars and even telescopes all intent on
finding the owls! I never knew how wild you Northwesterners are about
birds. I introduced myself to several of you, although you probably
had not read my post yet given your confused looks. Sadly, it
appeared that all the commotion probably also confused the owls who
did not show up… for me at least. Oh well, the lunar eclipse was a
delicious consolation prize for our vain searches.
Thinking that a weekday night may have less people looking for the
owls, I returned to the park last night and as I was driving through
that misery called Renton… traffic… I realized I had forgotten my
binoculars! I had a powerful flashlight, I had enough food to last a
Napoleonic siege of Samarkand and enough clothing layers to keep the
soldiers of both sides warm, but no optics. Weighing the slow drive
back through traffic against the likelihood of failure (you see, owls
avoid me), I opted against a return to my befuddled husband and
carried on as it were.
I arrived at Sunrise towards sunset (that sounds odd, I know!) and
was thrilled to find my young friend with the good Austrian name
sitting in the picnic area … READING of all things. He told me he
was waiting for the owls and I managed to convince him to lend me his
optics (Pentax… what a shame…). I went off on some trail,
occasionally looking up at 'the Mountain' and spied a strange sight.
At first I thought they were reflections, but when I looked through
the binoculars, I saw two steam plumes on the northwest side of the
crater. I knew 'the Mountain' was volcanic, but did not think it was
so active. I suppose this happens quite often and I suppose I was
only able to witness this event because of the waning light reflecting
off the mountain top. I didn't know if I should raise an alarm or
feel concerned but as the light dwindled, my thoughts focused on the
owls.
As I reached the picnic area, my young friend was still reading,
albeit by a headlamp, and immediately saw an owl flit past him. It
was too quick and too far away to identify. Several minutes went by
and I heard a definite owl tooting but it was quite faint and
although it was the same pitch as a Boreal owl, it was not a constant
pitch but rather three different pitches. A bit like the food delivery
call that is available at the Cornell site, but more of a phrase. If
this sounds confusing, yes, it was.
I approached my young friend who also heard the calls and could not
place them. We waited several minutes and then saw another owl flit
by in the gloaming. Distinguishing features include a whiteish head
that had a pronounced forehead. It reminded me of the Frankenstein
forehead - a feature that would frighten me as a little girl whenever
my cousin Hartmut would show the old movies of Boris Karloff. I could
make out the coloring of the wings and back in the failing light and
found it to be a uniform chocolate brown with hints of white
speckling. Both the wings and tail seemed quite long and large. The
body seemed a dirty white, but the speed of the bird and poor lighting
did not allow me to observe any markings on the body. Moreover, the
position of the bird did not allow me to view details on the bird's
face.
I continued to prowl about the picnic grounds and surrounding area,
but the temperature began to plummet and a cold wind started up. I
decided to give up the hunt and return the binoculars to my young
friend, but he was no longer reading his book nor did I see his
vehicle in the parking lot. So if you read this, please email me for
the return of your Pentaxes young man!
When I returned home, I consulted the Sibley's and believe through a
process of elimination that the bird observed was indeed, the BOREAL
OWL. It was much darker than a Barn Owl which lacks that
'Frankenstein' forehead prominence. The coloring on the wings was a
uniform brown and the face was quite large so I eliminate Short-eared
and Great Horned owls. The face was quite light and the wings had
'fingers' and lacked the smooth, forward angle of the Strix species.
The only other owls that have a white face would be the Northern
Saw-whet Owl, but the wing and tail appeared much larger in flight and
the primary and secondary feathers did not appear lighter than the
coverts.
And so therein lies my reasoning for my identification which I agree
is contentious, but one with which I am sufficiently comfortable and
happy to defend before any and all.
All my best!
Margot von Boosen-Helmer

Beaux Arts, Washington


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