Tag Archives: USA

Burrowing Owl #2

Following on from my first blog, Burrowing Owl #1, the excitment continued as I photographed these comical little characters for a day-and-a-half while I waited for Maria and the kids to fly in from Copenhagen.

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Like a lot of owl species, the Burrowing owl is a fierce looking little guy and a firm defender of territory. They are so fearless it is possible to get within a few metres, so with a little patience (and the right light conditions) I felt confident I could get some good images.

Burrowing Owl 2

Now for the facts:

As can be seen from the images, the Burrowing owl is a small, long-legged owl found in grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, deserts, or any other open dry area with low vegetation. They nest and roost in burrows, such as those excavated by prairie dogs or ground squirrels. As stated above, the Burrowing Owls are often active during the day, although they tend to avoid the midday heat. But like many other kinds of owls, burrowing owls do most of their hunting from dusk until dawn. Living in open grasslands, the Burrowing owl has developed longer legs, which enables it to sprint as well as fly when hunting.

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Adults have brown heads and wings with white spotting. The chest and abdomen are white with variable brown spotting or barring, also depending on the subspecies. Juvenile owls are similar in appearance, but they lack most of the whit spotting above and brown barring below. Although I could hear the juveniles calling from the burrows they never appeared above ground, so I may have been a week or two early before they fledged.

Males and females are similar in size and appearance, and display little sexual dimorphism. Adult males appear lighter in color than females because they spend more time outside the burrow during daylight, and their feathers become “sun-bleached”, this was the case for the owls I photographed, where I mainly saw two males, with occasional sightings from one female.

The burrowing owl measures 19–28 cm (7.5–11.0 in) long, spans 51–61 cm (20–24 in) across the wings. As a size comparison, an average adult is slightly larger than an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) or the Common Blackbird (Turdus turdus) of Europe.

Before European colonisation, burrowing owls probably inhabited every suitable area of the New World, but in North America they have experienced some restrictions in distribution since. In parts of South America they are expanding their range, one bonus from deforestation.

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In North America the Burrowing Owl range from the southern portions of the western Canadian provinces through southern Mexico and western Central America. They are also found in Florida and many Caribbean islands. In South America, they are patchy in the northwest and through the Andes, but widely distributed from southern Brazil to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

The burrowing owl is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in Florida and most of the western USA. However, the Burrowing Owl is fairly common and widespread in open regions of the Neo-tropics and area’s bordering the Amazon Rainforest. Due to this the Burrowing Owl is of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

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San Juan Islands

During our West coast road trip in the USA, we spent quite a number of days in and around the San Juan Islands, and for the first time for me and the family, we spent 4th July in the San Juan Islands with extended family and friends, and as can be seen from the below, the view is not too bad.

For those that have not travelled to the North West Coat of the USA, the San Juan Islands are an archipelago in the far northwest corner of Washington state. In the archipelago, four islands are accessible by passenger ferry and these four islands are inhabited by a few thousand people..

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Sunset over the San Juan Islands

To the north of the San Juan’s lie the open waters of the Strait of Georgia and mainland Canada, namely British Columbia. Vancouver Island lies to the west, with the capital, Victoria, stretching further south than the southern most point of the San Juan Islands.

History shows, the islands were heavily logged in the nineteenth century but now have an extensive second-growth forest of Coast Douglas fir, Pacific madrone, Red alder and Bigleaf maple. In the highlands there are also Grand fir, Western hemlock and other subalpine trees.

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A number of key locations claim this fact, but I will state the fact hear, whether true of not, I am not the judge on this one, and maybe it varies from year to year. “The San Juan Islands host the greatest concentration of Bald Eagles in the continental United States.” For the record we also visited Klamath Basin on our tour and the same claim is made there as well! Many other birds are found throughout the different seasons, including Herons, the relatively rare Black Oystercatchers and numerous shorebirds are found along the shore and in winter, the islands are home to thousands of Trumpeter swans, Canada goose (the wild ones, not like the parks of the UK) and other waterfowl. Peregrine falcons, Northern (Hen) harriers and various species of owls and other birds of prey are found. In addition alcids such as Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemots and endangered Marbled Murrelet frequent the surround seas. With a large amount of luck you could see the stunning Tufted Puffin, unfortunately I didn’t.

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Orca – San Juan Islands

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Orca breaching to stun salmon – San Juan Islands

The islands are also famous for their resident pods of Orcas. There are three resident good-sized pods from memory, that mainly eat salmon. In the above image an Orca is purposely breaching to stun the salmon. The area also holds transient orcas that come to take Harbor seals during certain times of the year. Other marine mammals include the River otter, Steller sea lions, Common minke whales, Dall’s porpoise and other cetaceans, some of which we were luck to encounter.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle – San Juan Islands

Remnants of beaver dams number in the hundreds across the archipelago. Gnawed stumps and beaver sign are now seen on Orcas and other islands, and recolonisation by this keystone species is likely to lead to increased abundance and diversity of birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects.

Maybe an excuse to come back and visit? Although, Washington State including the San Juan Islands are also a mecca for owls in Winter, so more than one reason to start thinking of future travels to the NW coast of the USA! Plus there is also the Tufted Puffin.

Burrowing Owl #1

I have had a fascination with owls for many years, and I am sure I am not the only one. They are mysterious and most species often never seen, or at least not seen clearly or mostly in the dark. One owl species of interest to me is the Burrowing owl, an owl that is often active during the day and thus can be found more reliably. However, the Burrowing owl is decreasing in numbers mainly due to habitat loss, especially in it’s western ranges in the USA, so extensive research is needed to find and track them. Before our summer vacation to the West coast of the USA, I did some research and found a reliable site just over an hour inland from San Francisco. Unfortunately this site was not accessible due to the suspicious death of a pair of owls when a drinking bottle seemed to have been purposely been pushed into the entrance of a breeding burrowing! After more extensive research during my NY business trip I found a second possible location, so this was going to be the chosen location. 

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The search began after a late and delayed flight into San Francisco from New York and an arrival at the hotel at 2 a.m. The late arrival did not deter me and I was up bright and early after a “solid” 3 1/2 hours sleep. After driving for approx half-an-hour I arrived at the “hotspot” and set about locating the owls. Wandering around down a couple of tracks for a couple of hours resulted in no sighting, but then out of the corner of my eye, there hiding in the longish grass was my first Burrowing owl.

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 To be continued………………………..