Small owls warm my heart. On a day when we had to push through too much brush, soak our shoes thoroughly, and see few herps in the cold air….a little owl sighting made it all worth it.
Matt and I drove into central Columbia County and took an ancient logging road into some medium-young forest. Elk sign was abundant, with deer, coyote, and black bear sign also mixed in. Undergrowth varied; some sections were easy to walk while others were quite difficult to push through.
Occasionally a grouse would burst out of the brush on the side of the trail. This happened four times but I never saw it soon enough to catch a photo.
After a while the trail opened up to the creek, which held a constant series of beaver dams. They’re hard workers!
We were hoping to see some salamanders, but as I noted above it was quite cold (likely a freeze the night before) and few were active. All we found on the ground was a single newt, a few Yellow-bordered Taildropper slugs, and a lot of snails.
The star attraction ended up being a surprise owl. We were halfway back from the turnaround when I saw its form alight onto a nearby branch. I popped off an excited whisper, “Matt! An owl!” It was a little Northern Pygmy-Owl, a diurnal species that often hunts in mornings. The owl allowed us a close approach, so disinterested that it often didn’t even watch us except when we got its attention for a photo!
Pygmy Owls nest in holes in old, rotten trees. Thus their ability to reproduce is threatened by forest management practices which don’t allow trees to mature, as well as by the destruction of old snags. For whatever reasons they don’t take well to human-placed bird nest boxes. This means they are not easy to find outside of the deeper woods, and each sighting is a special treat.
Sometimes the best-laid plans amount to nothing, while Providence has something else wonderful in store for the day.
No “at a glance” section?
We typically include a brief summary of the area we visited with information that allows others to make the trip themselves. Unfortunately, the above hike took place on land which is not open to the general public. While Matt and I had official permission to be there, for now I’ve decided it is unwise to tempt others to traverse such land when they may not be able to acquire the same permissions. Columbia County is 94% private land and thus this is a recurring issue for those who enjoy the outdoors here.