Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Owls at Market Lake, Idaho

The hooting coming from a dot high in the air sounded like an owl, but the fluttering sound resembled a small flag in a high wind. After several descents, I finally recognized the high-flying dot as a Short-eared owl.

The male with its long herky-jerky wing beat would climb high above the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area marsh only to make short dives. These dives were accompanied by several “toots” followed by the owl bringing its wings below its body, clapping them together before pulling out of the dive. The clapping of the wings below its body caused the fluttering sound as it would dive.

A female would join the male; chasing, diving and locking talons as they journeyed to the marsh floor, landing on humps of grass on the ground.

After one display, the male landed on a fence post near me. I was intrigued as it hooted time and time again, only to stop short, quickly leaving its perch, diving into the matted marsh grass but missing the rodent.

Back looping its aerial displays, the owl was soon joined by eight others as the air over Market Lake. The Short-eared owl migration to the north was in full swing.

While observing the migrating owls, I heard the soft but distinct hooting of a Great horned owl in the windbreak at the end of the marsh.

Courting and breeding in February and early March, Great horned are in the midst of hatching their young. Last week I viewed young owls in two of the three Great horned nests located earlier in the trees at Market Lake. Windbreaks are natural areas for these raiders of the night to nest and hunt.

Great-horned owls are year around residents of Market Lake while Short-eared are summer residents.

Two pair of Short-eared has apparently set up nesting areas a couple of miles away from the Great-horned nests. This may be critical for the survival of the Short-eared nesting success.

The “world is a smorgasbord for the Great horned owl” and this includes both adults and chicks of Short-eared owls. With the distance between the nests of the two species, the larger owls have many opportunities for prey including rodents, ducks, snakes, muskrats, skunks and insects. A couple of years ago I saw a full jackrabbit draped over a limb next to the nest with three fledglings.

Great horned usually only have two or three eggs per nest and their population continues to increase in the United States. Short-eared average from five to seven eggs and often produce two clutches each year and their population is decreasing and is of concern to scientists.

Nesting on the ground, Short-eared is susceptible to predation from many sources. Skunks, weasels, predatory birds as well as Great horned are dangerous to their nests.

The migrating Short-eared owls have moved on and dispersed throughout the area. Pairs have set up nesting near Chester, Osgood, Camas National Wildlife Area as well as other agriculture/grazing lands in the area.

Courting displays of the Short-ears are still available to watch as one travels the back roads of Southeastern Idaho.

1 comment:

Lynn Scott said...

Love the Owl pictures as well. Great capture sitting on the post and great depth of field. I have a friend that has owls from time to time in his yard but forgets to tell me they are there. Would love to shoot them and the Sage and Sharpies. Any time you want to take me :)