Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Muddle of Owls

In early October we spend three nights in the Klamath Basin .... I started virtually all my art on location, but just finished the final touches on my journal art.  This post will be snippets of our four days down there.  
Oct 8:  When we arrive in ‘The Basin’ shadows are long and the three quarters moon rides high above the horizon.  Most aspen are still yellowish green; a few pop with color.  All quiver and shake in the cool breeze. 

We stay in a motel in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and in the morning head down to the Tule Lake Refuge.  At this time of year both barn owls and great horned owls are expected.  One particular crevice is a favorite spot to check:

It’s a muddle of barn owls!  What else can I call it when I see so many I have to count three times to assure myself there really are eight owls all packed together. 

Every time I pass this spot I want to check for barn owls.  For many years one or two were common, then red-tailed hawks filled the bottom of the crevice with their stick nest (owls don’t build their own nests).  I was disappointed. 

This year the barn owls are back.  What a family!  I’ve read a pair can support lots of owlets provided there is plenty of prey.  This is the first time I’ve seen it.
In the evening we have another treat.  Most of the refuges have fewer waterfowl than we expect .... but then we find the mother load.  This section of Lower Klamath Refuge is gradually being flooded.  We’ve been watching the evening flight as hundreds of ducks, are dropping in. I think it is ‘Indian tobacco’ that is providing copious feed.

The evening flight continues on and on and still no end to it.  10 thousand?  20 thousand?  50 thousand?  I’m glad I’m not counting.  Far better to enjoy.

A couple of times masses of ducks rise back up – reminding me of the time one of our girls said, “It looks like someone scribbled ducks all over the sky with a crayon.”
It is nearly 5 PM now.  This amazing show has been going on for an hour and still goes on.  Cool. Breezy.  Awesome.  The air is filled with marsh music.

We stay until darkness takes over.
Oct 10:  We return to the barn owls and watch for about an hour.  We can watch Tule Lake at the same time.  About two hundred white pelicans have been working their way towards us.  At first they were a spattering of white dots strung out in a far off line.  Now I can see them dipping, dipping their monstrous beaks into the shallow lake.  Often a gulp follows – caught a fish.  Gulls and grebes keep the pelicans company.  Every so often the activity becomes more frenzied, packed and productive.  They swarm over a school of fish.  There is a constant murmur of grebes and grebe chicks.    
1 PM:  We are on the Tule Lake dike road, not far from where we parked earlier.  Small groups of pelicans are rising in long strings, first low over the lake and then high and higher.  Group after group join together until I have 200 pelican swirling over me.  Their bright whites sparkle against the deep blue sky.  The pelicans flash white, then almost disappear when they turn against the light. 

The pelicans swirl and swirl, gathering more and more birds.  When close and turning just so, I hear the wind whirring in their wings.  Gradually they soar higher into the sky until they are just specks.  Are we witnessing the beginning of their journey South?

6:30 PM:  We are back at the barn owl nest.  Sunshine has left the Basin, but there is enough light to see the muddle of owls.  Still sleepy time.  Two nights from now the moon will be full.  It is big right now and already above the horizon’s rosy glow.  Tule Lake picks up the greys and lavenders of the sky.  Pelicans still fish and grebes still yammer.  Two great horned owls are hooting back and forth. 

6:45 PM:  Dusk deepens.  A red-tailed hawk flies to a rocky ledge beneath the owls.  I loose him as soon as he lands.   

7 PM:  This may be a bust.  The great horned owls are awake, but not the barn owls.  I can still write, but I can’t see my owls – just a faint glow inside their crevice.  Interesting how barn owls are more nocturnal than great horned owls.  We expect to see great horns down here at dusk, but never the barn owls even though they are common here.

7:10 PM:  I hear a young barn owl begging!  Finally the barn owls are awake.  The moon gives enough light for me to a ghostly flapping of wings.  One flies to the rocky crevice to the left.  As the moon rises higher, I see more.   A couple more owls fly out.  One flies to a juniper tree just 50 paces from me.  Another flies to the same tree and both leave.  They are just light blurs in the darkness. 

High on the rocks I hear begging from multiple locations.  I even hear one suddenly beg frantically ... and then silence.  I’ve been around owlets enough to know that one just got fed. 

It is hard to track an owl when it flies in front of the rocky ridge, but I can see their dark silhouettes against the sky.  I’m tracking one with my binoculars when suddenly there is a flash of brightness!  The owl flew right in front of the moon! 

7:30 PM:  Darkness is fully upon us and we have an hour of driving back to our motel and supper.  Time to go.


  1. Elva, another wonderful pause of Discovery of Nature with you. Not only in vivid wording but visually with simple swipes of a brush with paint!
    Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Thanks for taking us along to the Great Basin. It must be a marvelous place.

    Your description of the massive bird flights reminded me of times when we would drive to Bosque del Apache (a wildlife sanctuary), arriving just before dawn. We sit patiently on one end of the area as the sun rose. Then the honking began and soon the sky was filled with sandhill cranes, ducks, geese, and the occasional whooping crane - a sea of birds flying to grain fields for breakfast. It was an awesome sight.

    1. We've heard such good things about Bosqsue del Apache. I wish it wasn't so far away! Maybe someday.