Monday, March 17, 2008

Owl Prowl

We got two new birds this weekend, but no photos.

Part of our "studies" in the Sea and Sage "Learning California Bird Sounds" class are a number of field trips, which we are gently encouraged to attend. One of Saturday's trips was an evening owling trip to Starr Ranch, which I've decided is one of the great unheralded treasures of Orange County: I'd only been there once before, but have never forgotten how ruggedly gorgeous it is.

The evening started inauspiciously. As Glenn and I left the house (running late, as usual), it was cold and windy out, and black clouds tumbled ominously across the sky. And when we got to Starr Ranch (only 5 minutes late!) it had gotten even colder.

We couldn't have chosen a worse night to go on a hike.

But once we hit the trails (a fearless Audubon biologist leading the way with a flashlight, a CD player and speakers, and a disturbingly large stick whose purpose we didn't want to know), the climate suddenly mellowed: the wind died down, and the air felt agreeably brisk. And the moonlight (most likely augmented by light pollution from nearby Rancho Santa Margarita) made it pretty easy to see the trail without the flashlight.

At regular intervals, the group would stop as our leader played Western Screech-Owl calls from the CD player. And most of the time, we got only a chorus of frogs in response.

Then we got our first night bird—a lifer for me: a Common Poorwill, which had been sitting in the middle of the trail and was flushed out by our arrival. We got a brief look at it as it flew off. Alas, no vocalizations, so we no extra points for our class.

A while later, we played the Screech-Owl call again and to our delight, heard it echoed back, softly. It was audible, but sounded quite far away; I imagined the bird was way off on the other side of the ranch.

Then someone pointed a flashlight into a nearby tree and from behind the leaves glowed a pair of round yellow eyes: he was right there, not ten feet away from us. We were all still, watching him; and he stared back in apparent bafflement before flying off.

As we walked back to our starting point, the moon started to peek out from behind the clouds. The wind had died down completely. On the way home, we treated ourselves to an elegant late night supper of Double-Doubles and extra-well-done fries.

Another perfect Saturday night.


doug said...

Imagine that! I read your blog and I didn't even know you were there on Saturday night. My wife Carrie and I were there as well--and we were late too, though I think a few minutes later than you.

I attend Sylvia's Wednesday class, so I don't suppose we otherwise cross paths.

Felicia said...

Wow, that's funny! I'm glad we got to (sort of) meet in person.

Two more classes to go...!