Readers may recall that WC and Mrs. WC are volunteers in a Short-eared Owl Survey Program. Twice each spring, we travel to our designated study areas to count Short-eared Owls along a designated route, at a designated time. One such area is in the Weiser River valley, and we ran the second of two surveys this past weekend. For the fourth time, we didn’t see a single Short-eared Owl – the absence of birds is, after all, still data – but we did see some interesting stuff and photos were taken.
Western Meadowlarks were singing. Their delightful song is a favorite of many birders, including WC. The males perch on the highest point around, usually sagebrush or bitterbrush in this part of Idaho, and sing their lungs out.
The most common birds, as WC has lamented before, are introduced upland game birds. We saw a flock of 30 or more Wild Turkeys, and, in the course of the 1.5 hour owl survey, and unbelievable 42 Ring-necked Pheasants.
There’s a game ranch a few miles away and, presumably, a lot of those pheasants were escapees or the offspring of escapees.
There were native birds, too, of course. Including this pioneering Burrowing Owl. The species usually nests in enlarged ground squirrel burrows. But this inventive fellow and his date had a different idea.
He’s found a small cave under the cap rock in the wall of an abandoned borrow pit. A cliff-nesting Burrowing Owl!
Finally, here’s an early-arriving flycatcher, a Say’s Phoebe.
Say’s Phoebes really, really like manmade structures, nesting in buildings and under bridges, and using them as platforms for hawking insects. This guy’s timing was pretty good; there were bugs, including early evening mosquitoes during the survey.
To avoid reader accusations of being a speciesist, WC will include a mammal photo, demonstrating he does photograph something besides birds and interesting rock formations. Elk were driven down into the river valleys by the unusually harsh winter. A few are still hanging around, including this small herd of females.
Yeah, there’s an out-of-focus fence post in the middle, but sometimes you don’t see the defects until you get home. These girls were panting, not from running but from their winter coats in the high 50s temperatures.
Other than the utter absence of Short-eared Owls in the survey, the trip was a success. Birds were photographed. Citizen science was accomplished. Yes, there’s still an immense amount of water coming down the creeks and rivers, but the roads are mostly open, very nearly dry and the spring migrants are starting to arrive.