Friday, July 2, 2010

Barred Owl on Lummi Island

 I spent part of yesterday on Lummi Island. Lummi Island is in Whatcom County, but geographically is part of the San Juan archipelago. I had been looking forward to some great views but the cool wet weather led to only very murky scenes. I could barely make out Bellingham across the bay.

Murky view of Bellingham Bay from upper slopes of Lummi Island

On the positive side I barely broke a sweat despite the hard physical effort my project involved. With the temperature at 50 degrees or a little less I stayed comfortable. Given that it was July 1st I am not sure if I should complain, but it does seem to be very cool even for northwest Washington.

I did see a barred owl that my partner was able to photograph.
Barred owls are a relatively new species in Washington State. They have moved into the northwest across the forests of Canada from the east. They are a relative to the northern spotted owl. Spotted owl numbers have declined and the species is listed as endangered. Barred owls out compete spotted owls in most areas where they overlap. Furthermore the owls are close enough relatives that they interbreed further reducing spotted owl numbers. Spotted owls need old growth forest to survive. This has led to areas of old growth forest to be removed from timber harvest primarily on National Forest and State forest managed areas with a few on private lands. The protected areas are referred to as owl circles.

This barred owl was observed in a stand of second growth forest. There is some old growth forest on Lummi Island that is now protected, but I do not know if there are any spotted owls. There are peregrine falcon nesting areas on the cliffs of the west side of the island that likely has led to protection efforts and much of the public land in the San Juan Islands is set aside as protected areas. 

I have only seen a spotted owl once. I was sharing a camping site on the Cascade River in the North Cascades with a team of biologists that were calling spotted owls and enticing the owls with mice. I saw an owl come in to grab a mouse. I only saw the silhouette as it was night, but according to the biologists it was a spotted owl.

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