Recently my family and I went hiking at a local state park while I was off from work for Christmas. We had heard buzz from a number of bird watcher friends that they had been seeing Saw-whet owls near the bird blind and feeding station. My wife has a special fondness for these tiny owls because she did her ground breaking senior theises on their nest success rates on an aspen plantation in Oregon.
So on a gray, late-December day we bundled up the squeakers (aged 2 years, and 4 years) and made the trek down the road to the state park. We parked the van near the trailhead that leads to the bird blind and made our way as quietly as one can with a 2 and 4 year old along.
We sat for a couple of minutes in the bird blind and enjoyed the sights of the common winter feeder birds, White-breasted nuthatches, Black-capped chikadees, Dark-eyed juncos, Red-bellied woodpeckers, American goldfinches, Downy woodpeckers, Mourning doves, Hairy woodpeckers, and Northern cardinals.
We then began to thread our way through a miriad of trails that criss-cross the flood plain forest that is the state park. We were searching for clumps of Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) where the Saw-whets like to roost during the day. We had checked all the prime spots closest to the main trail but my wife, ever the birding adventurer, wanted to follow a deer trail deeper into a stand o cedars that we both agreed looked promising.
While she tore off in search of the eluzive owl the girls and I stuck with the main trail and more-or-less walked along and the girls shouted to each other and practiced their Barred owl calls (which need A LOT of work). In spite of the girl's best efforts I did see some game. Namely a very nice looking white-tail buck. We continued on our merry way until I felt my wife would have had ample time to check the cedar grove I tried to talk the girls into heading back. No luck. We had been that way already. Then wanted, neigh NEEDED adventure! So we opted to bushwack it through the timbers and find our way back to mommy and eternal glory! Which we did, and I am very glad. Because if we had not, we never would have stumbled upon our owl.
We made our way into the backside of the cedar stand when I heard my wife give the family "locator whistle" so we veared in the direction of the Bobwhite call and there we found Mommy who stated she had not found an owl. The girls were getting a tad bit cold so we decided to head back to the van, but with heads held high. For even though our goal had been thwarted by the elusive boreal visitor we had spent time in the woods as a family, and there is no loftier goal than that.
The oldest and I took off down a deer trail as Mommy helped the youngest with a mitten emergancy. Just before we were about to emerge from the cedars onto the main trail my oldest stopped randomly (she dominates at doing things randomly, ask anyone that knows her) and started to shake a small tree back and forth vigourously. That was when I caught a flas of yellow out of the corner of my eye. I looked to the yellow flash, and there, 4 feet from me was a very surprised little owl. Had it kept it's eyes closed, we never would have seen it.
I called the oldest back to me and had her sit just off the trail to prevent her from doing anything excessivley random that migh scare off the owl and called my wife up. She was elated, and took the picture you see at the top of the blog from about 6 feet away.
Needless to say we were some happy hikers on the van ride home, and we were all very excited to see what other adventures awaited us during Christmas vacation...