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Looking for Spring Owls

Some Success
by Dan Hartman

March 15, 2018

     After a good night listening for boreals, Cindy and I drove up to the Three Forks area.  Our objective was to check out a location we checked in the past for saw-whet owls.

     Some quick history.

     Some twenty years ago, we stumbled on this piece of good owl habitat that lies beside the river.  It's littered with cottonwoods and thick stands of pinyon.  The owls would roost in the pinyons and nest in the cavities in the cottonwoods.  It was perfect and we could pretty much count on finding a couple saw-whets each time we look.  Great Horned and long-eared also frequented the area.  This went on for a dozen years, then the town of Three Foks put in a paved nature trail which then became a dog walking area.  Owl sightings became rare, though I would find some sign every year.

     As my wife and I started up the trail, Cindy suddenly stopped and whispered.

     "I see an owl."

     I looked to where she pointed.  High in a cottonwood sat a great horned owl! We took a few photos and moved on.  I began checking out the thick pinyon mistle-toe balls for owl sign.  (Pellets and white-wash.)  Time after time I found nothing.  Then Cindy called from back in the trees.

     "I've got a perch!"

     I finish looking, checking out my area, then walked over to where Cindy was checking out the ground beneath a pinyon.  She has just discovered a pellet.  And just above on a low limb dripped white-wash.  I peered up into the thick ball of mistle-toe into the eyes of the tiny owl.

     "Got him!"

     I got a couple photos and we climbed back out of the thicket.  Checking more likely spots, we found nothing.  Then a hundred yards farther on, I came across a bevy of large pellets.  A couple dozen lay on the ground and still more were caught int he branches above.  This was a great horned owl perch, probably the one we spotted on our way in.

     We continued searching but found only a feather now and then.  On our way back out, I spotted the horned owl again, but on a different perch.  Then I realized it was a different owl, the mate to the earlier one we had seen.

     Obviously they are not nesting yet, but probably any day and close by.

     I think by the little sign we found, the saw-whet has only just now arrived.  Will he stay in the area?  We'll probably have to drive up and check on him again.


View slide show

Saw-whet owl Tucked Away

Owl Roost

White Wash From The Saw-whet

Great Horned Female

Great Horned Male

Horned Owl Pellet

Pellets Caught In Tree