Saturday, February 20, 2016

Another Owl?! Great Gray in Prairie Creek

OK, now I'm just getting spoiled. (Apologies in advance if this post causes owl envy in any readers. I'm even a little envious of myself, if that makes sense.) In late January, a Great Gray Owl wandered down into Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and it stuck around. Great Gray Owls apparently nest in small numbers not too far away, in southern Oregon, but this was the first individual seen in Humboldt County in 34 years, and people were coming from all around to see this bird. For context, here's an eBird map of Great Gray Owl sightings in 2015 and 2016 (the orange mark on the lower left is the Prairie Creek owl):

In short, the Great Gray Owl's range does not easily overlap with mine, and who knows if and when I'll ever be near one again! So last Saturday morning, I drove the 45 minutes to Prairie Creek in hopes of seeing this rare northern creature. (Have I mentioned how much I love and admire owls?) When I got to the field where the owl had been hanging out, a flock of devotees was already present:

That figure in a bare tree near the path... could that actually be a...?

Oh my goodness.

Yes, that's a Great Gray Owl. Just right there!

The owl seemed thoroughly unconcerned with the people clicking cameras and murmuring praise at it from not very far away. I talked with some people in the crowd who had driven down from Washington to see this bird. That's some celebrity status.

Here's a video of the owl doing its thing:

Wow. I have to say, I prefer to encounter owls on my own, without crowds of other people around, but it was well worth the trip to see this magnificent creature so calm and so close. The owl spent some time on a grooming session, displaying a super fuzzy leg and a much less owl-like face with all that beak showing:

Every one of the owl's movements set off a cascade of shutter clicks from the surrounding admirers. I hope the owl didn't mind too much! Here's a grooming session video:


I spent a good long while hanging out with this beautiful bird in the chilly morning shade:

Another view:

Eventually, I wandered off to warm up in the sunlight and see what other creatures were hanging out along the field's edge. A couple of Steller's Jays were making a big presence; we were close to a campground, and these guys seemed pretty used to people. I see Steller's Jays fairly frequently on the campus where I work, but I've been hoping for a good opportunity to get close to these fancy birds with my camera. What a strange-looking bird, like someone dipped a Blue Jay head-first into a pile of soot:

That black crest and those neon-blue forehead stripes are just too cool:

Steller's Jays certainly stand out among bare tree branches!

Hello, fancy bird:

A male Spotted Towhee popped up from the underbrush at the edge of the forest for a few glorious sunlit moments:

And again!

Goodness, what a handsome bird:

I also spent some time admiring the backlit moss-and-spiderweb-covered trees that still look so alien to me:

When I made my way back along the path, the Great Gray Owl was still sitting in the same spot, but now the light was totally different. So I had to take a few more pictures!

Oh wonderful owl:

You are beautiful from every angle:

I feel so amazingly lucky to have met this owl while it was hanging around. As I'm writing this, I don't believe anyone has reported seeing the owl in several days. Wherever you are, wonderful creature, I hope you're healthy and finding all the small rodents you could want.


  1. Awesome! What a wonderful bird to see!

  2. Now that was quite a good birding day!