April comes to a close, and May begins.
While May is the month of passerine migration and shorebirds, April is the month of owls and Nocturnal Owl surveys in the Yukon. This year I conducted my own three surveys (Carcross-Tagish, Windy Arm, and B.C South Klondike Highway) with family and friends, and joined Jukka on two of his four (Atlin Road and Morley River). It was a productive year, with both of us counting a total of 66 owls of three species.
The weather was great for most of the counts though a bit windy during a couple, which affected the results of those surveys due to noise produced. It was difficult to pin down a date for the B.C South Klondike Highway Nocturnal Owl Survey due to the rapidly changing unfavourable weather, but the final date chosen worked out perfectly. Last year we had to cancel it part way through due to excessively high wind. This year we experienced only a bit of wind, and mostly clear skies.
Saw-whet Owls – considered rare, but are likely regular in the Yukon – were the highlight owls of the season. They are typically reported every other year in low numbers; this year there have been three Saw-whets recorded so far. All three owls are lingering in their spots and respond enthusiastically to mimicks. Boreal Owls were plentiful and expressed a wide variation in their vocalizations this year; a few even had ‘song deformities’ such as a break in the voice through the highest notes, or hiccups at the end of a song. It was interesting to hear, and something I’d never noticed in previous surveys. Great Horned Owls seemed low in numbers, but likely because they were already nesting and fallen silent.
It’s always nice to conduct the owl surveys with a small company – thank you to Jukka for having me along again this year, and thank you to Marilyn, Patrick, Regan, and Toren for attending my surveys!
Here is a brief summary of the productivity of each survey conducted by Jukka and myself:
Carcross-Tagish Nocturnal Owl Survey, April 28 2014, 10:00PM – 11:56PM. 18stops, 4 participants:
1 Northern Saw-whet Owl, 7 Boreal Owls, 1 Great Horned Owl.
B.C South Klondike Highway Nocturnal Owl Survey, April 19 2014, 10:05PM – 12:20AM. 21stops, 2 participants.
5 Boreal Owls (+1 Boreal Owl after the survey)
Windy Arm Nocturnal Owl Survey, April 11 2014, 10:05PM – 12:30AM. 16 stops, 2 participants.
1 Northern Saw-whet Owl, 5 Boreal Owls, 3 Great Horned Owls
Morley River Nocturnal Owl Survey (Jukka), April 12 2014, 25 stops, 2 participants.
17 Boreal Owls, 1 Great Horned Owl
Atlin Road Survey (Jukka), April 21 2014, 26 stops, 2 participants
10 Boreal Owls, 1 Great Horned Owl
Jake’s to Judas Creek Survey (Jukka), April 14 2014, 15 stops, 1 participant.
1 Saw-whet Owl, 5 Boreal Owls, 3 Great Horned Owls
Tagish Road Survey (Jukka), April 14 2014, 12 stops, 1 participant.
1 Boreal Owl, 4 Great Horned Owls
Nocturnal Owl Surveys are nocturnal point counts. You have a specific start and end point to your route, and each stop in between those two points are exactly 1.6km apart. These points need to be kept as accurate as possible year-to-year; GPS coordinates help with that. At each point the surveyor listens in silence for two minutes, recording each owl heard per minute, or if nothing is calling, then noting that down as well. If an owl is heard, the direction and estimated distance it is calling from needs to be noted. Weather is examined at the beginning and end of the survey, and start/end times and put down. Other information taken down in the notebook are moon visibility, the number of cars that passed during the two minutes, the noise level, the kilometer/point number, and any other noteworthy thing.
It is a simple count, and one that is usually very rewarding if you enjoy late nights and make sure to dress warm! Bringing a good friend and a pile of snacks is highly recommended. You really never know what you will encounter during these surveys. This year we saw Moose, Porcupine, mice (Voles and Deer Mice), northern lights, shooting stars, satellites, and even the Space Station. Plus we heard owls! 🙂
More NOS surveyors are needed in the Yukon. If you are interested in starting your own Nocturnal Owl Survey route, please check out the website. You can contact the NOS regional coordinator, Dick Cannings, at: email@example.com . You can also contact me if you would like to know more about how the surveys work and what they are like: firstname.lastname@example.org .