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Guess Whoo's Barred?
A National Geographic photographer I am not. As providence would have it, however, I spotted a "Barred Owl" in our pasture the same week I was testing a new (powerful zoom) digital camera. I was able to get some decent photos and now I'm sold on the camera. (It was an expensive owl sighting!)
Barred Owl Spotted at the Hutton House
I happened to be taking our guest dog for a pee break, in the pasture, when I spotted this Barred Owl (Strix Varia) in a large Douglas Fir tree. I quietly and quickly went back to the house and grabbed the new Lumix TZ5 digital camera I'm testing this week (it has 70X digital zoom).
Sometimes, lady luck smiles broadly in your direction!
The Right Place at the Right Time
It's not often that we get a chance to spot interesting birds, much less take a decent portrait of them, so I was excited to both spot the Barred Owl, as well as get a few photos!
Apparently, they're quite bold birds and the proof of this is the fact that I was able to get within range of this guy. I had walked through the pasture, directly under the tree it was in, with the "Sasha" (the dog) bounding and running around. It wasn't until we were leaving the pasture that I even noticed the owl and the only reason I did, was because a number of Robins were putting up quite a fuss. They were dive-bombing the owl and it was so well camoflaged against the brown of the Douglas Fir trunk, that at first, I didn't see it.
When I did, I hurried back to the house and grabbed the camera (certain that it would be gone by the time I came back). This had happened a few days earlier, when Rachel returned from her run and excitedly told me about spotting an owl. (I never got to see it, as it flew away by the time we both returned).
I stood under the Alder tree, zoomed in to 10X zoom (photo on the front page) and then zoomed in even further (photo on this page). It was hard holding the camera steady, so I placed it up against the tree.
The Robins continued to pester the owl (you can see one on the branch, in the background, of the photo on the front page). The owl seemed to take it all in stride, though ducked and dodged a bit, when the Robins dive-bombed him. Its head would twist and turn, this way and that, looking for the Robins.
After nabbing a few good pictures, I tried to get it to look at me, with a sharp whistle. It did, but only for a second and I never did get a photo with the owl looking directly at the camera, as it flew off, shortly after.
Wow! How cool! Spotting a Barred owl in broad daylight (11 AM or so), on our own wooded lot (and getting pictures)!
The Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Apparently, the Barred Owl is a relative newcomer to the Pacific Northwest (which we affectionately call, the Pacific North). It's migrated here over the past few decades, from the central plains States and Provinces, competing with the Spotted Owl for habitat.
"The Barred Owl either eats [spotted owls], kicks them out of their habitat, or mates with them—and sometimes the offspring are fertile," said Steven Courtney, vice president of the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute (SEI) in Portland, Oregon, in this National Geographic article.
The Barred Owl is a large owl, with a round head and no ear tufts. Its eyes are dark and underparts are whitish with dark streaks. The back is gray-brown with dark streaks and wings are 'dirty' with white barring. The ruff of feathers under its chin has horizontal barring, while the chest is vertically barred. Both male and female appear quite similar.
Barred Owls are opportunistic, bold hunters, eating small mammals, rabbits, birds, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates. They'll even wade into water to catch crayfish. Some Barred Owls have a pinkish coloring on their belly feathers, which is thought to be the result of eating lots of these crayfish.
They nest in the cavities of deciduous trees or utilize open nests abandoned by hawks or crows. They're also known to use nesting boxes. Their eggs are pure white and females will lay a clutch of 1-5 eggs.
The greatest threat to Barred Owls are another owl - the Great Horned Owl. Although they're known to live in the same areas, the Barred Owl will avoid parts of its territory that is occupied by a Great Horned Owl.
We've heard these Barred Owls at night, but don't often see them during the day. Apparently, they hunt mostly at dawn and dusk, though they're also known to hunt during cloudy days. Of all the North American owls, the Barred Owl is the most likely to be active during the day.
I was patting myself on the back for having taken (what I thought) was such an excellent photo of a Barred Owl, when I came across the Barred Owl Wikipedia entry. There, I saw a photo (also taken in Canada) that put mine to shame. Well ... a world-class photographer I'm not, but I'm still pretty jazzed to have spotted one and gotten some decent pictures!