Our fourth week of the Flammulated Owl Survey season brought a new twist - new partners in the field. This is the 5th field report of my work on surveying for Flammulated Owls in and around the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho. You can read all the previous posts in The Life of a Field Biologist, Meeting the Locals, Back in the Wilds, and Drizzle, Rain and Mud.
To help get more coverage before the end of the Flammulated Owl breeding season, this week we were supplemented with a BLM raptor crew. Therefore Jack and I split up, each to take on and train a new BLM crew member. My partner, Heidi (different Heidi than I usually work with), is from New York. She was a quick study in the area of owl surveys having worked the past few months looking for raptor nests in the canyons across southern Idaho. We got along great and she was strong in the mountains.
The first night up at the headwaters of the south fork of the Boise River was a total bust - no owls, no nightjars. Null surveys can be just as important as having many detections. They inform in which habitats the owls are not present. These forests were dominated by Lodgepole Pine and Sub-alpine Fir. The Aspen present was reasonably young. Not the best habitat for cavity nesting owls. The highlight of the night was watching a Dusky Grouse display for his date. This was a first for me to observe a male Dusky in action.
The location for day 2 didn't work out due to very high water. Therefore we transferred to Featherville to repeat one of our top 5 sites. The top 5 priority sites we will visit a total of 3 times each. This will help determine how detectability changes through the season. We ended up detecting 5 Flammulated Owls and 1 Barred Owl. On the way we observed a lesson in poor parking form. This is not a good place to leave a truck. Apparently everyone made it out ok, but that looks like a nasty swim.
For day 3 it was back to the headwaters of the Boise River for a road survey. This would be another null evening. The only thing we detected were Methodists at the Methodist camp out cruising the woods at midnight. Hmm. That was unexpected. We played the owl call for them but they did not respond.
Day 4 was on to BLM sites. We couldn't access our primary site, so it was over to a backup site. As it ended up the Idaho Bird Observatory songbird crew surveyed that site the same morning. They provided us critical information that made our life easier. Some of the survey points we had targeted were near streams. They told us which ones were too loud for detections. This save us hiking a lot of vertical terrain. Before heading out to our points a massive hail storm hit, piling up hail on the ground. The storm would clear just before our time to head out. As we waited in the truck a buck mule deer walked up and licked mud off my drivers door. Apparently there was salt in the mud. Fascinating. It was finally time to go. The storm had passed but the wind remained. We would not detect any owls, likely the result of wind noise interference. I'm not sure we will have the opportunity to repeat this site under more optimal conditions. After a short weekend, its back up into the wilds with my buddy Jack.