Bright and early the next morning I flew out to Boise, Idaho and stayed the night with Katie McVey. Katie was an intern of Marge Gibson’s at the Raptor Education Group (where I got Alice), had the same college advisor at Luther College as me (Tex Sordahl), and is now finishing her Master’s degree doing research on Burrowing Owls. She took me out and showed me a Great Horned Owl nest the day I arrived, and I was able to record some of their vocalizations for my study on regional variations in the territorial hoots of Great Horned Owls. She also introduced me to some of the “owl guys” at the raptor research facility where she works. I had only corresponded with Mark Fuller by e-mail before, so it was good to meet him in person. Carl Marti would have been good to meet also, but he wasn’t in his office when we were around. I also met one of Eric Forsman’s students. Eric is a world authority on the Spotted Owl and was in Houston a few years ago for our International Festival of Owls.
The next day I drove through the mountains to the Owl Research Institute, north of Missoula, Montana. It was an interesting 10.5 hour drive for this girl who’s never been in the mountains to drive through them in a rental car with snow in a couple of the passes. But I made it safe and sound, even if my knuckles were white for parts of the trip. But I had already decided by then that I'd rather look at mountains than drive through them.
Shortly after arriving at the Owl Research Institute (ORI) and having dinner, founder Denver Holt was out showing me Great Horned Owls. I kept telling him how much trouble I had finding Great Horned Owl nests around here, and he kept saying he could show me 10 nests in an hour. He wasn't kidding! There are so few trees there that the owls are in the trees in people's front yards. And the trees are so short and the nests so conspicuous that they are really easy to find. And the owls are highly tolerant of people, something I'm not used to. Plus Denver has a resident female who's mate disappeared early this year, so my first night there I recorded his female and the pair to the north.
One of my main goals in visiting with Denver Holt was to see how he conducts educational programs in the field. He allowed me to tag along and assist with the grunt work for a two day course he was teaching through the Glacier Institute while I was there.
After my visit to ORI, I'm starting to think more seriously about getting together a group of volunteers to help with owl nest finding and perhaps owl surveys around here.
I drove back to Boise through the mountains with beautiful weather. I managed to have another "mountain" experience on the way back through: There was a medium-sized rock in the middle of my lane and a car coming toward me in the other lane. Being used to a Chevy Tracker that has a little clearance, I thought I could straddle the rock. But there was a horrifying thud as the car lurched when I hit the rock.
I was late getting back to Katie's in Boise that night. The next day I spent at the World Center for Birds of Prey, which is part of the Peregrine Fund. This is an organization that got it’s start breeding Peregrine Falcons to release back to the wild when their numbers were so low. They’ve now moved on to breed other rare raptors, like the Aplomado Falcon and the California Condor.
Katie wanted to show me some other owls too, so we went to another site in the Snake River valley. We checked a Barn Owl nest box (it only contained pellets) and flushed a couple of owls, but didn’t get good looks at them. Then I climbed up a tree to check a Western Screech-Owl nest box that was active last year. Sure enough, there was Mom and 5 young chicks inside! (See the photo above.) Katie asked me to pick up Mom to see if she was banded, but warned me she would poop. Mom didn’t resist in the slightest when I picked her up, and just as Katie said, she pooped. I expected a small poop, since this was a small owl. But this owl dumped a huge load of pudding-consistency poop that landed all over my binoculars and jacket. Then as I lowered her down for Katie to photograph the band on her leg, the owl let go of another massive poop that landed on my jacket, jeans, and shoe.
Katie laughed and apologized for the mess. I couldn’t care less—it’s not like I haven’t been pooped on by an owl before! I was just so happy to see my first ever Western Screech-Owl, see the chicks, and get to hold her. Too cool.
Besides the owls at this site, we were also treated to the sight of a male Northern Harrier doing his courtship flight. He would fly nearly straight up in the air, flip over, then dive straight back toward the ground over and over again. It was amazing to watch, and I couldn’t help but think he must be having a bit of fun too.