Short-eared Owl Survey #1 Grid #47

Birders across Idaho are participating in the Idaho Conservation Partnership 2015 Short-eared Owl Surveys and luckily I got on board in time to be assigned one of the survey grids. Rob Miller one of the research biologists at the Intermountain Bird Observatory in Boise, Idaho is heading up the Short-eared Owl Survey project. There are a total of 79 grids across the state of Idaho and Rob had no trouble locating volunteers to complete one survey in March and a second one of the same grid in April. My grid is #47 and it begins 5.8 miles east of Dietrich, Idaho.

Each grid is 6.2 miles square and the protocol calls for a five minute observation of the surrounding habitat at a minimum of eight point count spots with a maximum of eleven. The survey should begin twenty minutes after the onset of civil twilight. The survey points are located every half mile along a five mile stretch of road within the grid. At least eight points must be completed in 90 minutes, once darkness sets in the count must stop.

Highway 24 runs right though grid #47. Highway 24 is not a busy thoroughfare so it is safe to pull off to the side to conduct a bird survey. I travel this road at least twice a month and have seen Short-eared Owls on many evenings. On several occasions I have pulled off the road to enjoy the sight of one or two of them silently drifting overhead like giant moths canvassing the sage brush steppe for their next meal.

Rob has requested that we submit some photos of the habitat that we survey. If possible, he also wants pictures of the Short-eared Owls that we see. However, now that I have completed a survey and have experienced how rapidly the time flew by I wonder how I could control my love of photographing owls and stay on task! This remains to be seen.

On the evening of March 7th shortly before civil twilight my friend Marian and I arrived at the starting point of grid #47. I was thankful that she had agreed to accompany me because having a driver that would also assistant with time management was a big help!

At point #1, a short distance from the vehicle I found the best vantage point of the area and at 5:23 p.m. on the dot I began scanning the surrounding area. My scanning included the ground, the tops of the sage brush and the sky for the presence of any Short-eared Owls. I examined the area using binoculars, my naked eyes and I was of course listening for Short-eared Owl hoots, barks, screams, wing claps and bill snaps.

My time at point #1 was uneventful – – no Short-eared Owls were seen here.


At point #2 my search of the terrain was accompanied by the evening chorus of a large number of Western Meadow Larks and the first hints of pink sunset light touched the clouds. I saw a Northern Harrier here and also saw and heard my first of the year Killdeer. I hadn’t seen any Short-eared Owls at point #1 and I didn’t see or hear any at point #2 either. I made note of the Northern Harrier on my data sheet as we drove point #3. Documenting of other raptors is required.


At 5:46 p.m. I began point #3. Scanning to the north I spotted something light in color and studied it hard. It was a Short-eared Owl perched on a sage brush! With great pleasure I added the owl to my data sheet and noted that it was observed during minutes 4 and 5 of the five minute count. The owl was way too far away for any kind of a photo and in my excitement I spaced taking any pictures of the area.

At point #4 Marian took a picture of me intently searching for Short-eared Owls.


We continued east on highway 24 making the prescribed stops for the survey as the sun dropped lower and lower in the west. The calls of Horned Larks joined the sunset chorus of the Meadow Larks and coyotes howled to the south of me. Meanwhile, voles darted back to their burrows, but a Short-eared Owl was not the cause of their frantic dashing about, it was just me!


At point #7 the tint of the light of the sunset made the features of the desert glow.


By the end of the five minute survey at point #8 the sun had nearly completely set making it clear that #8 would be our last point of this survey.


I was glad that I had observed one Short-eared Owl at point #3 and wondered if the other birders out on this beautiful evening had seen some too. I must add though that I was a bit disappointed that I had not seen any hunting or displaying since I have seen them so often at this time of the year right in this very area. But then, that’s birding and truly our efforts had paid off, we had not dipped. There was one Short-eared Owl visible at point #3 and heaven knows how many more were around but were not apparent.

I have been so lucky in the past to have experienced some very special moments with Short-eared Owls. Perhaps you have too and this image will bring back that wondrous experience. For those of you that have never seen a Short-eared Owl in flight here is a lifted frame of video. The Short-eared Owl in this frame was in the midst of displaying for its mate. I would dearly love to witness this glorious flight again sometime. A few of the birders that completed their counts earlier in the first week of March saw Short-eared Owls displaying. Maybe next time I will be one of the lucky ones!

12 Short eared owl

I look forward to heading out again in April to grid #47 to complete the second and final count for 2015. I will let you know how it goes.


Birding In A Gentle Snowstorm

When Monday December 1st arrived it was snowing and it had been way too long since I had made or found the time to get out for some birding. Recent reports of swans at TNC Silver Creek Preserve and Harris’s Sparrows at the fish hatchery north of the preserve were calling me. I loaded up and headed out.

Driving south on Pumpkin Center Road I saw a mixed flock of American Robins and European Starlings imitating a minimalist way of decorating a bush for the holiday season right next to a blow-up snowman in a front yard. Then I saw some Black-billed Magpies. Next came a Blue Heron in that odd looking hunchbacked position that they sometimes assume while solitarily standing in a field.

Then next came this Red-tailed Hawk on one of the power poles along the road. It was wasn’t snowing very hard at this moment so the hawk had a fairly good view of the surrounding bare fields. The snow did interfered with me judging when the hawk was in focus. Snow does that.








I continued southward and saw several more Red-tailed Hawks perched on wheel lines, and a couple of Northern Harriers as well. Mallards were dabbling in Loving Creek.

I crossed highway 20 and continued into the western section of Silver Creek Preserve. At this point in the preserve I saw very few birds other than some Black-billed Magpies and two Song Sparrows. As I neared the rise to drive up the west side of the hill to overlook Sullivan’s Pond I saw several pairs of American Kestrels. They are so flashy in the snow!

I parked on the road above Sullivan’s Pond and glassed the waterfowl foraging in the various sections of the pond. Mallards, Gadwalls, Common Goldeneyes and American Wigeons were the predominate species. The snow was now falling more heavily. I took a few photographs of some wigeons and I found the results of the influence of the snow quite pleasing. To me the scene was now painterly, impressionistic, soft and lovely.

American Wigeons







Driving further into the preserve I found what I was hoping to see, Trumpeter Swans, adults and cygnets. Swans are beautiful in and of themselves but through the falling snow they are ethereal.

Trumpeter Swans







Trumpeter Swans







I spent about 20 minutes in the vicinity of the Swans. The amount of falling snow changed a few times while I was here altering the mood of the area and the visibility significantly. While I was appreciating these changes I took a few photographs of the habitat.

Reeds and Cattails in the Snow







In the midst of taking the habitat shots this happened.

Trumpeters Flying Through the Snow







I heard them trumpeting their fly-by and it was very hard to find them in the sky through the falling snow.

Back to the interesting habitat.

Oval of Thin Ice







This perfect circle with a thin layer of new ice forming looks to me like some big ole duck recently sprang to flight just before the ice reached it.

Along the road exiting the preserve I noticed another Red-tailed Hawk blending in very well with the last of the fall leaves. Good try hawk, I see you even though the falling snow makes you look blurry, bark-like and fragmented like a bunch of leafs.

Red-tailed Hawk in a Tree







My next stop was the Hayspur Fish Hatchery. Several of my friends have reported the presence of the two Harris’s Sparrows at the hatchery so I stopped and got out of the car to walk around. Just as I took my first steps a Wilson’s Snipe sounded its alarm call and frantically flew from one edge of the hatchery pond to the other. I could hear Black-capped Chickadees and I heard a couple of notes from a Virginia Rail.

I had walked about three fourths of the loop we birders travel on the grounds of the hatchery when I saw a small mixed flock of birds containing Dark-eyed Juncos, a Song Sparrow and hum, two other sparrow species flying. The little flock landed between the concrete fish raceways offering me a chance to take a closer look at them. Sure enough there were the two Harris’s Sparrows.

Harris's Sparrow with Juncos 1







Harris's Sparrows with Juncos 2







Harris’s Sparrow are just so elegant!

At this point I decided that it was time to head home. The snow was still falling at a pretty good clip and along the way I stopped for this shot.

Bald Eagles in the Falling Snow










Bald Eagles are a stand-out even when falling snow makes them appear to meld into the flat gray sky.

The last treat for the afternoon besides seeing about 7 more pairs of American Kestrels was this Prairie Falcon. The snow had almost stopped making it easier for it to see its prey and off it dove.

Prairie Falcon







Birding during the gentle snowstorm on December first was a good start to my winter birding adventures. I am so glad that I ventured out to enjoy the sights, sounds, the crisp air, and the impact of the falling snow. 

Up Close and Personal

Last Thursday I pulled off the road in front of a cliff dirt bank to take a closer look at the swallows that were flying back and forth across the front of it and darting in and out of nooks and crannies. I wanted to get a closer look to determine if the swallows were Bank or Northern Rough-Winged.

It was quite warm so I opened the car door for some additional movement of air. I picked up my binoculars and soon determined that the swallows were Rough-winged. Pretty soon the swallows started circling the car and flying up in between the open door and me like they wanted to get a closer look too.

My Coolpix was handy and I thought it would be fun to see if I could get some shots of them flying up to the car. The next thing I knew two of them flew in, landing feet first in true swallow style on the door frame. I was astounded as they sat there looking at me all the while singing away.

It then dawned on me to push the video button on the camera that was still in my hand. My hope was to record this interesting occurrence, after all who would believe that this actually happened without video! I recorded the birds for a about a minute and then they flew away.

I was sitting there thinking about how special it had been to have the two swallows stop by for a visit when they flew in again and sat there chattering just as before. This time I simply sat and enjoyed this up close, personal, and for me spiritual moment.

Here is the video: Northern Rough-winged Swallows



Peru: Some of the Hummingbirds of the Madre de Dios Rio Basin and Manu

Now that my documentary Connecting with Owls is finished I have some time to review my images and video from the Majestic Feathers 2013 Tour to Peru. While doing so I decided to edit a short video featuring a few of the hummingbird species that can be seen during the tour when we are traveling down the Madre de Dios River and stopping to stay at some of the remote lodges.


This region is some of the most species rich habitat on the planet and I think there is nothing better than traveling down this river to view the birds, and wildlife that reside along the banks and fly over head. Well, maybe it is equally wonderful to disembarking from a motorized canoe and spend a few days and nights soaking up the wonders of being at several of lodges in the heart of the rainforest.


There is so much to enjoy and to be astounded by. Among the astounding are the hummingbirds. They are phenomenal. Watch this 7 minute video featuring a fraction of the species that we have see, and that are possible in this region and you will have an inkling of what you are in for when you take a Majestic Feathers tour to Peru.


Humming Bird Bliss a 7 minute video



Majestic Feathers’ 2014 Peru September 19 to October 4 is now open for reservations.


Click HERE  for full details about our Peru 2014 tour and to reserve your space today!

I look forward to hearing from you and to making all the arrangements in Peru for your unforgettable birding adventure!




Connecting with Owls Premiere Hagerman, Idaho Bird Festival


Lynn Cameron snapped this shot of me just a few minutes before the premiere of Connecting with Owls. I was bursting with excitement, nerves, and happiness!
Lynn Cameron snapped this shot of me just a few minutes before the premiere of Connecting with Owls. I was bursting with excitement, nerves, and happiness!

Showing my film Connecting with Owls to kick off the Hagerman Bird Festival was a thrill!


I first began shooting the footage for this project in 2004. The majority of the filming was complete by 2007 and for many years stacks of video tape cassettes sat on the shelf and I wondered when the impetus would hit me to sit myself down and do the editing work to complete my documentary about owls.


Some people knew that I was working on an owl documentary, most people had no idea. In 2009 I made mention of the stack of video tape cassettes on the shelf in casual conversation during one of my Majestic Feathers Tours. Delores Smith was on that tour and she was within ear-shot. Apparently she remembered that stack of raw footage because in December of 2012 at the compilation dinner following the Hagerman, Idaho Christmas Bird Count she said to me. “Kathleen, we are thinking of having a bird festival in 2014. If we do would you consider finishing your owl documentary and premiering it at the festival?” I thought for a moment and my inner voice said, “you know, a deadline would be a good thing.” I said yes I would accept the challenge and the offer to premiere the film at the festival.


So that is a bit of the history as to how I found myself filled with excitement and wondering how the film would be received on Valentine’s night 2014 at the Hagerman Bird Festival.


My uncle Lynn Cameron came to the festival and he was very kind to respond with a yes when I asked him if he would shoot some video during the premiere with my point and shoot Coolpix. I know he would have been happier to have a pro camera in hand because of the limitations of the point and shoot. Like me he is used to being able to manually focus, adjust exposure and aperture and to basically have much more control. However, he did not have that camera in hand. So when you view the attached video about the premiere you will see that the camera was having its way with the situation at a few points, especially when the autofocus “decided” to just go wild! Fortunately in the editing process I was able to cover for some of these issues but not all of them.


Click here to see the short film that we made about the premiere of Connecting with Owls.


After seeing the movie several viewers shared their thoughts about the film with me and here are some of the comments I have received.


I was impressed with your presentation – loved your voice. Do you know what you did? You nobalized the owl, without anthropomorphizing.  What a fantastic film! I showed it to my kindergarten/first grade classes and they were as enthralled as I was at the Hagerman Bird Festival.  W. Money ,Washington


I was privileged to be present at the Hagerman Bird Festival for the debut of Kathleen Cameron’s film “Connecting with Owls.” Owls are amazing creatures that have captured the imagination of mankind since the beginning of recorded history, but most people don’t know how to find them. “Connecting with Owls” captures not just the imagination, but the heart and mind of all who watch it. I really enjoyed the footage of a wide variety of owls in their natural habitat. Fantastic moments of owl behavior were captured and presented with wonderful music and insightful information. I can’t begin to imagine the hours of filming and editing Kathleen put into this impressive project, but it is simply amazing.

Robert Mortensen


Kathleen I have watched my DVD of Connecting with Owls 3 times now so that I would not miss any of what you have captured and felt in this tribute to owls.  Clearly you have put every day into this film for a very long time. I want you to know that I think you are a real teacher and even better, a lover of life.

K. Lang



“People were totally blown out of the water by that movie.”

Delores Smith

Hagerman Bird Festival Chairperson

Quote from the Times News, Twin Falls, Idaho 2/20/14


It is very gratifying to me that people that have seen Connecting with Owls are taking the time to let me know what they think of it.


You can see a preview of the Connecting with Owls by clicking here.


Majestic Feathers now has an Online store for purchasing the DVD, click here Connecting with Owls DVD.


Thank you Delores for the deadline! You and your committee did a wonderful job!