This area is for general discussion on Birds and Birding.
#83648
I want to see a Pygmy Owl. I have only seen pictures of it. I have read that the mountains are a good place to find them. Is this the right time of the year to look for them or should I wait.

I am also wondering about what to prepare or the best trail to take. I don't have a season pass nor snow shoe equipment. Are hiking boots good enough? Do I need a pass to walk to Goldie lake? Thanks for any help. Figure that I should ask and any information to avoid seeing me on TV from the mountain rescue will be awesome!
#83658
Don't we all! ;)

Well no one can tell you where to find a Pygmy-Owl on Cypress at this time of year. I have the best success in the mountains in October when the young are dispersing to find their own territories. On Cypress some good spots to check are all along the road up, the picnic area, Yew Lake and Bowen lookout trail. Yew lake and Bowen Lookout are not open to people who rent snowshoes from cypress and are in the Nordic ski area. But they are good places to try later in the year (fall).

If you go now you need to rent snowshoes and when you rent snowshoes you must stay on designated trails. It's 26$ for the rental and pass. Don't go with the hope of seeing a Pygmy-Owl though because it's far from guarantee ranteed. Most likely you will just see Gray Jays and Ravens etc. Most Pygmy-Owls move to lower elevations as hunting in the snow is not as easy but they are found in the local mountains all year long including winter where they mostly eat hoarded food.

When you go on a hike like that you need a first aid kit, waterproof and warm snow clothes, snow boots, toque, emergency blanket, whistle, flashlight, and you should have a cell phone with extra battery charger and let someone know where you are going. Also tell the people at cypress when you rent (especially when travelling alone) just let them know what trail you plan to go on etc.

Take lots of water and snacks as well like granola bars and trail mix. At this time of year bears aren't a concern. Bring plenty of nuts to feed the gray Jays. You can have gorgeous views of Vancouver from the trails and it's gonna be a great day regardless. Listen for small birds that may be mobbing a Pygmy-Owl. Listen also for a Pygmy-Owl call. These are tiny owls, check trees thoroughly you may walk right under or by one without even knowing it.

Good luck! You will see one before you know it. Usually you see one when you least expect it. For instance last October the kids and I were hiking in Whistler and were feeding the Gray Jays, when a Pygmy-Owl flew right in and perched in front of us to check out if the Gray Jays were a good meal or not. It was pretty cool. The fun part is finding your own Pygmy-Owl. If you are in the mountains enough, in places like Manning Park to Vancouver Coastal Mtns and the Interior, you will find one. They really aren't as hard to find as you may think.

Due to past problems with too many people descending on certain Pygmy-Owls in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, where some people came back daily to the same owls for hours on end and some crowds of people got too close, flashed owls and prevented their hunting, giving out exact locations is discouraged. They are also a blue listed species in BC. So if you do find one it is best to keep its location to yourself for the sake of the owl. However, if you come across one on your own in the mountains while hiking and take a few photos and move on, that isn't any pressure to a diurnal owl like this. They do seem to tolerate humans pretty well.

Cheers,
Mel
#83680
Thank you for all the information, Mel. Your tireless work on this forum not only helps me but the whole birding community. Your enthusiasm and helpfulness actually get passed along to others and even more importantly, the next generation of young birders!

Yes, learning not to be obsessive with a specific bird and especially the owls is very important. Brunswick Point is an area where I saw frequent friction among people, birders vs bird photographers and hunters vs birders, etc.. I have myself made those mistakes at some point in the past but had stopped after understanding its implications.

Through birding, I am not only seeing birds but learning to appreciate/respect the land, nature and the little things that all can do to slow down the loss of habitats for the birds. I am also 'seeing' lower mainland and appreciating BC from a whole new angle.

Thank you all!
#83687
Yesterday I read a very disturbing blog about a Great Gray Owl sighting in the Ottawa region from an Instagrammer I follow. She had a lifer with this Owl but witnessed 20 photographers baiting the Owl with store bought mice. They had the mice in a cooler and the Great Gray Owl was landing on people's tripods and then the cooler to try to get the mice while they were all taking photos. She was too afraid to speak up as there were about 20 men participating and left. She didn't know what to do about it and said it is a common practice there. Apparently she feels there is no recourse in Ontario to stop this. I am so glad that this is not a common occurrence here in Vancouver and most people will step up if it does to prevent it. I think this site has helped educate people against this kind of thing and although it does get crazy at times here, it's not as bad as this girl witnessed in Ottawa. Thanks Mel for promoting ethical birding and bird photography - it really is working.

Wilma
#83694
Then there was the time a little old lady and her lapdog spotted a Long eared Owl in the bushes along the dyke at Bbay. She tossed a ball into the ditch, the dog ran down and flushed the bird for some flight fotos...
#83704
wilm wrote:Yesterday I read a very disturbing blog about a Great Gray Owl sighting in the Ottawa region from an Instagrammer I follow. She had a lifer with this Owl but witnessed 20 photographers baiting the Owl with store bought mice. They had the mice in a cooler and the Great Gray Owl was landing on people's tripods and then the cooler to try to get the mice while they were all taking photos. She was too afraid to speak up as there were about 20 men participating and left. She didn't know what to do about it and said it is a common practice there. Apparently she feels there is no recourse in Ontario to stop this. I am so glad that this is not a common occurrence here in Vancouver and most people will step up if it does to prevent it. I think this site has helped educate people against this kind of thing and although it does get crazy at times here, it's not as bad as this girl witnessed in Ottawa. Thanks Mel for promoting ethical birding and bird photography - it really is working.

Wilma
Thank you kindly, Wilma.

Unfortunately, owl baiting is not unique to Ottawa. It is a problem in all our provinces. You just hear more about it in places like Ontario, Quebec and Alberta for instance, because they have a higher concentration of Northern Owls like Great Gray, Snowy and Hawk-Owls. I have seen owl baiting with mice right here at Boundary Bay, so it is also occurring in BC. Baiting owls puts the owl at risk and makes them too accustomed to humans and some have been hit by cars. Also, it is pretty cruel to the pet store rodent that gets thrown into the snow and eaten or pierced by a fishing hook and dies a painful death. You can see many owl baited photos on Flickr for example. I think many people are unaware that the photo they admire so much is one of a baited owl. Most of those photos with the owl coming right at the photographer with the talons extended is one that is baited. Yes, some people have been really lucky to catch an owl hunting like this without baiting it but it is exceptionally rare, they can't all be that lucky.

Baiting owls is unfortunately not illegal in Canada, except in all National Parks. Let's hope that one day soon the Government will make it illegal everywhere.

Here is a great article that came out last year on how to ethically take owl photos. It is by a very ethical owl photographer from WA State, named Paul Bannick.

http://www.audubon.org/magazine/winter- ... owl-photos

Cheers,
Mel
#83719
I don't have the heart to use a live rodent just to get a shot of an owl.
Using meal worms to get shots of flycatchers from a blind is one thing, feeding worms to antpittas in Ecuador is another, using fruit to bring toucans or other birds in is also another thing, as is using a hummingbird feeder to get shots of hummingbirds and i know some will say its no different than using mice (after all snake owners feed their snakes with live mice) but to me it draws a line.
I'll tell you a story from Thailand, when i was there a Amur Falcon was spotted near where i got shots of the Bluethroats and everybody was getting amazing full-on frontal shots of the bird in flight and i thought wow, how cool. When i finally got to the site i found out the FB friend i was with had brought along a bag of crickets in hopes that if the falcon was still around we could get some shots.
I naively asked him "how do you get a falcon to eat your crickets anyways" he replied "well, it may seem kind of cruel but you break their hind legs off" hmmm, that explained how people were getting these amazing shots, they were throwing the crickets onto the path and they would set up and wait for the bird to come in.
It kind of ruined it for me though and in a way i was glad the falcon was a no show that day.
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