Thursday, July 01, 2010


Calling night stations for owls can often seem monotonous and you find yourself trying to make every little noise in the forest into something much cooler than it actually is.  Although you do hear and see the occasional black bear, porcupine, raccoon, and of course elk and deer. However, on that rare, or should we say endangered, occasion.... a faint 4-note of a Spotted Owl filters through the canopy. This is it, you tell yourself. This is a moment to be savored. All of your senses become heightened and alert. Now it is time to track the sound of that owl and try to get a visual on it...that is, if your smiling eyes would open up large enough to see anything clearly....

Luck is on your side...or maybe it is skill. The undergrowth is no match for you tonight; after all, you are on a mission. Moments later, you find yourself standing underneath a ball-of-fluff predator who musters enough strength for his tail feathers to twitch with each call.

Unfortunately you have to say goodbye for now to your new acquaintance.... there is more work to be done tonight. You know you will be back tomorrow, mice in hand... so you hike back to your truck, high on nature.

Day two.... a return trip to find the Spotted Owl, this time in daylight. You have brought along 2 co-workers and 8 mice. The terrain is steep and you cross your fingers hoping the sleepy owl will awaken and show himself off somewhere close-by.

Once again, the owl responds to your calls and is found relatively quick and easily.

Now it is time to mouse.
Click to see a past post about how and why we mouse, etc.)

A stick is gathered and you place the unsuspecting mouse upon it 
and make squeaky mouse imitating sounds.
The Spotted Owl leaves his perch and you catch a glimpse of its outer toe swiveling from the front to face the rear and grasp it's cylindrical prey....... an easy meal.

For the next hour and a half you follow the owl from perch to perch while juggling mice on sticks, mosquitoes, and cameras.  You're there to see what he does with those mice.

What an exquisite creature.... You could sit for hours and hours just watching.  
Even if the owl decided to close its' eyes and sit motionless.

Nonetheless, there is more work to be done and the evening is coming to a close.  A once in a lifetime experience?  Certainly hope not.  You spend the rest of the night calling stations nearby wishing, for the Spotted Owl's sake, not to hear a Barred owl too close by.


Janelle said...

I have to say - there probably isn't many jobs out there where you take mice to work with you...

Do the Barred and Spotted owls not play nice? I love calling in Barred owls, it amazes me that they respond to a tape deck!

Ben and Carrie said...

Barred owls do seem to be called in quick and easily, nothing seems to phase them!

As far as not many jobs involving bringing mice to work, you're right. It isn't everyday you see a banker walk in with a sack lunch and a box of mice....

We are always sure to let the mice know just how important of a role they are going to play in the events of the day. :)

Unfortunately, Barred and Spotted Owls do not play nice. Barred Owls have, over the years slowly encroached on Spotted Owl territory. Their presence, along with logging, infrastructure, etc... has added to the decline of the Spotted Owl. Barred Owls are simply bigger, more aggressive and opportunistic than Spotted in both hunting and habitat. They will eat just about anything and also have chosen to live just about anywhere. Spotted Owls are the opposite. In simple terms, they are picky. They want only the best habitat (100+ year old growth trees to nest in) and do not produce offspring multiple times a year like the Barred.

Because Barred owls are larger and more aggressive, Spotted Owls are driven away from their habitat and/or mated with producing hybrid and genetically altered Sbarred owls. (There's a post in May about this)

Check out this link from Smithsonian for more info if you are interested. ...Spotted Owls New Nemesis

sheila said...

Eeek ! He caught a mouse! And then again, HOW COOL that you got a pic of that?

Ben and Carrie Tracks said...

Hey Sheila - we were actually feeding him mice... Whenever a Spotted or Sbarred (hybrid) is found, mousing, is a common practice to see what the owl does with the mouse after it has been killed. Does he pass it off to young? A Mate? Kind-of gives us perspective as to who else might be in the area - all while he takes us right to them :)

Jen said...

Wow this post is fascinating! I love that this is your job :) I have found you via flog yo blog friday and will be following you from now on. My kids would be intrigued by this too I think :).


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