We took a very brief trip (2 nights) during mid-May to see the Yosemite owls. We principally timid our trip to correspond with the peak calling period of the Flammulated Owl. Also by planning a trip before end of May you can avoid masses of people that arrive for Memorial Day. What we did not plan for was the moon phase and rising. As it turned out there was no moon and overcast skies. Managing to photograph this sparrow sized owl on a pitch-black night, in a dense forest is almost impossible. We spent several hours on our first evening trying to locate this very small owl. Modifying our search, we decided to look for some of the other Yosemite owls.
Great Gray Owl – A Miss
Great Gray Owl in Yosemite Wawona Meadow
On our way into the park we had heard Great Gray Owls calling in the Wawona meadow. We headed back to this location to see what we could find. Two Great Gray Owls were calling in the forest across the meadow. WE spent about a half hour trying to entice the owls out of the forest. Finally one of the owls flew over to the tree that we were standing under. The problem was that he was about 40 feet up and there was no clear view to the owl. After another half hour of trying to get him to fly over to the next set of trees, that we had walked over to, he flew back across the meadow into the forest. At this point we decided to try another location just outside the northwest side of the park. Continue reading
American Pika in Sierra Nevada Mountains
Finding American Pika
On a quest for the American Pika (referred to below as just Pika) we recently hiked above the tree line into the alpine zone of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We chose the high elevation region near Conness Lakes just outside Yosemite National Park for our search. Our arduous hike to almost 11,000 feet was rewarded with the bustling activity of the Pika (Ochotona princeps), preparing for the rapidly approaching winter months. Continue reading
Northern Pygmy Owl in Yosemite
Two of us managed to get out of work, after many failed attempts, for a very quick trip to Yosemite. On the nights of September 27-28, we set out to find Great Gray Owl, Spotted Owl, and Northern Pygmy Owls. Although we did have good views of both Spotted and Northern Pygmy Owls. We did not spend the majority of our efforts looking for these species. The roads inside the park were also under “post-summer” construction which inhibited our movements in finding the owls. We only got out one morning, for a short period, to look for pygmy owl. That is when I took the photo here. This is a particularly good month to find this species because of post fledging vocalizations. Maybe next year we will have more opportunity to search for this owl thoroughly. Hopefully we will also take better photos and some video.
Great Gray Owl
Great Gray Owl in Yosemite
Fortuitously, timing of this trip was coincident with the release of recent research findings on the Yosemite Great Gray Owl. While older taxonomy had all Great Gray Owl as belonging to one of two subspecies: Strix nebulosa nebulosa of North America and Strix nebulosa lapponica found in Europe and Asia. Genetic analysis of Yosemite area Great Gray Owl has shown them to be a unique subspecies: Strix nebulosa yosemitensis, according to lead researchers John J. Keane and Holly B. Ernest. They also estimated that the Sierra Nevada population had not interbred with the northern populations for approximately 26,700 years. We got very close views and were able to take high quality pictures. This was pleasing and made our short trip a success. This is Yosemite’s rarest resident bird with population estimates ranging from 50 to 200 individuals in or within fairly close proximity of the park.
We did pull up right next to a female Spotted Owl sitting on a snow pole but didn’t get photos. She was along one of the main highways inside the park. The owl was obviously hunting the road. Given the dangers of such behavior on a main road this is a bit sad.
A Quick Trip to Yosemite
Yosemite Coyote with thick winter coat
On Saturday/Sunday May 22-23 two of us made a quick trip to Yosemite National Park to do some spring owling. This is generally a very good time to go to Yosemite because the Flammulated Owls are calling. I usually try to head up to Yosemite the weekend before Memorial Day. This way I don’t hit the big crowds. This is also the perfect time to find Flammulated Owls.
This year, it proved to be the wrong time for this because of cold weather. The Flammulated Owls were calling. Although it was only 35°F at night and often snowing. This is far too cold for this Southern California boy to be out owling! This does not include the curve it throws into taking pictures. As a brief summary we did find a lot of Flammulated Owls, as I would expect. Unfortunately, the owls seem to be much more secretive in the cold weather and I didn’t manage any good photos. We also saw a Great Gray Owl but once again did not get good pictures. He (actually she!) flew in very close, I think just to tease me, and then continued on into the forest to call at us from a distance. As a last owl for this quick trip we heard Northern Saw-whet Owl.
Try Again Soon
I generally expect to find and take pictures of Flammulated, Great Gray, Northern Pygmy, and Spotted Owls. On a good trip, or if I am looking to find species, I will add Northern Saw-whet, Great Horned, Western Screech and Long-eared Owls. This means I will return in the next few weeks so stay tuned. I don’t often miss, look for photos here soon! This handsome coyote above gives a feel for the weather and was taken with my Canon 7D camera using a 100-400mm lens.