Guest post by Leigh Calvez, author of the new book The Secret Lives of Owls. Join us Thursday, Sept 22, at Village Books for a free reading from this great new title from Sasquatch Books, the first event in our Fall 2016 Nature of Writing Speaker Series in Bellingham.
Perhaps the most iconic of all owls in the Pacific Northwest is the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis). I was excited to look for these owls in the wild, in the ancient trees where they live, before they disappear altogether. Sighting one seemed to me to be as epic, and just as improbable, as sighting a unicorn. Yet from all I’d heard from the biologists called “hooters”—for the hooting call that they make either electronically or with their own voices to determine if Spotted Owls are nesting in the area—these owls were still out there. Still, even the experts were finding only one or maybe two nests in their survey areas each year. Tracking them would be more of an adventure than I could yet imagine.
Through the grapevine of owl biologists, I contacted Stan Sovern, a Forest Service biologist who has been monitoring the Spotted Owl population in Washington State, both on the Olympic Peninsula and in Central Washington, for the past twenty-eight years. He invited me out for an afternoon check of one active nest site. I met Stan and Margy Taylor, another longtime Forest Service hooter, at the Cle Elum Ranger Station. Then we drove east along I-90 to the forest edge, where the habitat abruptly turns to shrub-steppe, as if a line had been drawn through the state.
Just before we took the Taneum Creek exit to the interstate, I could see fields full of tall windmills turning in the breeze blowing down from the eastern Cascade slopes. There are spotted owls here? I wondered.
We then turned and headed west into some of the last remaining old-growth forest in Central Washington. It was here that we met William Meyer, a biologist from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who knew Margy from the days they had counted Spotted Owls together on the Olympic Peninsula. He now specializes in restoring beavers—once an integral part of the landscape—to their natural habitat and reclaiming watersheds that have dried up since beavers were removed from the land.