Monday, June 20, 2011
Monday June 20 2011
Finneas and I were riding back to our home canyon after marking trail for next weekend's Cheap Thrills ride, when, approaching the trail down off the ridge, we saw an agitated prairie falcon, screeching and diving at something on the ground just out of sight over the ridge. It was making enough of a commotion that Finneas noticed and watched it.
Must be another raptor? Or a coyote? Something eating its young? (Prairie falcons nest on cliffs, not on sagebrush-covered ground, and the nearest cliffs were 3/4 mile away.)
Finneas and I walked to the edge of the rim and stood there looking down and watching. We didn't see anything, but here came the falcon again, "kree-kree-Kree-Kree-KREE-KREE-KREE-KREE!" Swoop! on the sage-covered slope below us.
The falcon's claws grazed a sagebrush - and something flopped up - an owl - a juvenile Great Horned Owl! It disappeared behind the sagebrush again, but I could just see his feathers. Finneas was snorting because he'd seen not a bird but a monster. He was sure we should flee, but I made him stand there with me a while to watch. Was the owl hurt?
The prairie falcon flew to another ridge, still screeching, then shortly he made another round and dive-bombed at the owl. It flapped and jumped again, but stayed put.
We left, so as to not stress it more, but I worried about it. Why was this owl on the ground, far from the nearest tree (about a half mile), and farther still from his likely nest spot (about 3/4 mile at the least), from which he probably fledged over a month ago?
Then I remembered Steph saying two days earlier, she and Judy had seen a hawk yelling at and chasing an owl - on the ground, very near here, but she was pretty sure the owl had flown off the ground and toward the canyon. Was this the same owl? Was he injured? Lost? Abandoned? What's he doing out here on the ground in the daylight again?
Later in the day I went out prepared for an owl rescue, and hiked back to where I'd seen the owl. I first saw the prairie falcon, chasing two Ravens; just a few minutes later, I saw two Ravens chasing an immature golden eagle! But the falcon wasn't harrassing the owl anymore - if it was still there.
I saw no sign of it - until I got within 30 feet - at which point he jumped up in the air. He was in the same spot where Finneas and I had seen him; he flapped his wings 2 or 3 times and came back down on the other side of the sage. There was no visible damage to his wings, no obvious injury that I could see.
He was probably 'grounded.' I'd consulted with my bird biologist friend Karen, who said the parents may have overfed it, and he's just too full to fly. Just his luck a prairie falcon found him because "prairie falcons HATE Great Horned Owls, because GHOs kill prairie falcon fledglings," Karen said.
I took some pictures then moved away, leaving him alone. He was panting from the heat and I didn't want to stress him more by staying too long or getting closer. I worried about him, but I probably didn't need to, because Mother Nature was taking care of him. The desert-colored owl blended perfectly with his surroundings, and unless something like an eagle flies within a few feet of him, or a coyote passes within a few feet of him, they'll never see him. I was just lucky I got to.