Friday, July 13, 2012

Owling - Revisited

Last Thursday (July 5th) I talked about going to Madera Canyon looking for Western Screech Owls and coming back empty handed. Today Christine and I headed out to Miller Canyon looking for Spotted Owls. This time we were lucky. 

Miller Canyon sits in the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains. Last year one of the three big fires that burned over 1 million acres in Arizona was the Monument Fire. Named so because it destroyed much of the Coronado National Monument just south of Miller Canyon. Miller Canyon was also devastated, not just by the fire but by the flooding that came after the fire. While the landscape still show scars from the fire, it is starting to turn green again (albeit without the 100 + year old oaks, sycamores, and cottonwoods). Flooding changes everything. It creates new washes, creeks, and streams while rendering previous creeks completely dry. Both Miller Canyon Road and Miller Canyon Trail were wiped out in many spots. The Federal Government (NFS) did a great job repairing both. It is still pretty tricky to traverse Miller Canyon Road. A 4x4 vehicle is the best choice at the moment since our summer monsoons have arrived and continue to wash out the road at some of the switchbacks. The Miller Canyon Trail has been repaired in places but now is much more "rocky" than before. The good news is that the Spotted Owls have returned and are only 1/2 mile up the trail.

We arrived around 7:00 am and talked to Tom Beatty. Beatty's Orchard is at the end of Miller Canyon Road and the starting point for Miller Canyon Trail.  His apple orchard was completely destroyed in the fire and the entire area fell under thousands of tons of rock and dirt. Tom's done an amazing job at clearing out the rock (though tons remain). He's planted new apple trees and the trail is now open. Tom gave us a good idea of where to look for the Spotted Owls, and he was right on the money. We first came across a young Owl, then in a nearby tree found a younger Owl, with the mother about six feet higher up the tree. Here is a sequence of photos of the three Spotted Owls:

The older Spotted Owlet

The younger Spotted Owlet

Mom feeding the young Owlet

Mom comforting the baby

The two more relaxed

Mom flies back up a couple of branches away leaving the little guy for one last nice photo

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