Way back in December I promised a follow-up to my ‘Back to the Basin’ blog post, this one about seeing a long-eared owl. Some things just don’t happen very often – and seeing this owl was one of them..... and posting my blogs in a timely fashion is another.
When in Yellowstone, it is always a special plus when anyone has a ‘three dog day’ -- wolf, coyote, red fox. For me a three owl day is even rarer. Thursday, November 21, turned out to be a three owl day. It has been a long time since I had a three owl day … and then it was great horned owl, barn owl and a short-eared owl. This time the third owl was a long-eared owl, one I haven’t seen for about forty years.
It not that long-eared owls are exceedingly rare, but they are hard to see. They know how to hide. I’m still amazed that Dale spotted this one tucked in the jumble of a gnarly willow along the edge of Tule Lake on the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, northern California. Fortunately the refuge doesn’t have much traffic, and so we get to putz along at about 30 miles an hour. The owl was buried in branches, tucked in to snooze the day away.
* * *
We park and I get out of the car. The owl is already in ‘skinny mode.’ Part of why long-eared owls are so difficult to see is they are experts at camouflague. They skinny down into just looking like another branch. As I try to get a photo I walk back and forth on the road a couple of time. No opportunity for a clean shot and I wasn’t about to really disturb the owl by dropping down into the ditch. I itched to get closer, because I’d have a much better opportunity to photograph from down there …. But I’d disturb him even more. We soon leave the owl, buried amongst the few willow leaves that the wind hasn’t blown away. His evening hunt will be starting soon.
* * *
Next morning we are back, putzing down the same road paralleling Tule Lake.
Drat! Cars are parked in front of the owl tree and several people out. Apparently this owl is no secret. We stop and find out the owl has been hanging out here for several days, first in the tree just to my right. At this time of year the willow leaves are falling and that tree lost most of its leaves first. The current ‘owl tree’ has lost a lot of its leaves too, but holds enough to provide some privacy.
I feel a little sheepish, but after seeing that everyone else is going down into the ditch for a better look, I do too. Skinny as ever, he just glares at me, then turns and looks away, as if dismissing me with haughtiness.
Soon the others leave and we do too. I hope that is the last of people presence.
Late in the day we pass the owl again, on our way back to Klamath Falls. This time stay in the car and pause only briefly. Such a different look!
Dusk is coming to the marsh. The sun has slipped behind Sheepy Ridge, leaving Tule Lake half in shadow. Tucked in the shadows of a large, gnarly willow sits the long-eared owl. He has moved a few feet from his daytime perch, out onto a more exposed perch. The owl looks rather sleepy, all fluffed up and looking content with his world.
This is the view I hold in my heart …