While we were out on Ruh-red Road a couple of birders told us about a long-eared owl nesting in the rocks at Page Springs Campground. It seemed too good to be true, but we still drove the extra 35 miles south to Page Springs, 60 miles south of Burns.
It was too good to be true, but we aren’t disappointed. Two great horned owls are spending the day on the basalt cliff that borders the campground. One sits in a rocky alcove half way up the face of the cliff. Sleepy fellow. Beautiful. He is relaxed and close enough I can almost feel his delicate feathering. I’ve nuzzled a full grown great horned owl often enough to know how soft those feathers are. There is a surprising amount of air between the outer smoothness of the feathers, and the hidden warmth underneath. Owls like their head gently rubbed. I suppose it is an area difficult for an owl to scratch with great finesse.
It took me awhile to find the second owl. I end up asking for help from a birder. No wonder. The owl was pressed into a crevice. Only about half an owl shows, just part of his back and often the back of his head -- sometimes a sleepy face. I switch my attention back to the first owl and start drawing.
Somewhere along the way the registered campers for the site I am standing in have returned. Fortunately they are happy to share their owl and soon I am chatting as much as drawing. Very nice couple -- Jan and Rodger.
I look up from my sketching and my owl is gulping a little; but I am too late. The owl has just coughed up a pellet! .... and I missed it! Big, dark and shiny pellet. The new pellet lies on the rocky shelf at the owl’s feet.
While the sun drops lower I realize there is a chance the owl will soon be basking in late afternoon sun. Right now the overhang above him keeps him in shade. But Mr. owl is in no mood for a sun bath. Just as the sun reaches him he moves about four feet into a shadier spot. The crevice owl is still safely out of the sun.
By now Jan an Roger have invited us for supper! Jan disappears into her camper for awhile and comes out with a wonderful meal: fresh salsa, browned hamburger and pinto beans on a bed of lettuce, warm tortillas, fresh oranges and mangoes. Yum!
Just before we sit down to eat the owl comes out into the forward edge of its ledge. For a few minutes the dropping sun glows on his soft feathers.
While we eat we can keep an eye on the owls. The sun slips lower, putting all of the rock face into shade. First one owl stretches and then the other. The owl on the shelf is in a better position for twisting and turning. He preens, he stretches again. He doses, but he spends more and more time awake. Wonderful to be so close to a pair of wild owls, ones who live close enough to the campground to be people-tolerant.
While we eat dusk deepens. Time for robins to sing. Off in the distance I hear a poorwill call.
Big hoot! The owl I sketched hooted, then off he flies. His evening of hunting has started. Too dark to see if the second owl is still in his crevice or has left to hunt too.