Another season of the BC-Yukon Nocturnal Owl Survey has wrapped up. Since 2000, Bird Studies Canada has been monitoring owl populations in British Columbia and the Yukon, contributing information to the National Nocturnal Owl Survey database. Volunteers across the country select a route in their neighbourhood and survey for owls in the spring and late winter.
On March 31st, this year’s spring owl survey is what brought me to be standing 1.6 kilometers north of Mount Currie, alone in the dark. I was surveying for owls on the Birkenhead route. The route consists of ten stops positioned along Pemberton Portage Road, from Mount Currie to Poole Creek. At each stop I listened for two minutes. Or at least that was the correct protocol. I had carefully studied the calls of the 14 or so owl species that I might possibly encounter, though that is probably about ten more than I was likely to encounter. In addition, I brushed up on grouse and pigeon murmurings, so as not to be confused in the cacophony of late night bird calls. I was concerned I might mistake the k-k-k-k-k of the western screech owl for the co-co-co-co of the northern saw whet owl.
The stars that night were phenomenal. The frog song was beautiful. But not a single owl was heard. I ended up staying at each station ten minutes or more, hoping to hear something.
After the survey I spoke with the program coordinator and asked about my results. Apparently 2016 is shaping up to be a low owl year for surveyors across the province, and my results are not unusual. I know all is not lost because I hear Great Horned Owls in the vicinity of Signal Hill and One Mile Lake on a regular basis. The low survey results across the province make me more appreciative than ever of those few owl voices I do hear.
Not long after completing the owl survey I was driving my car up the Sea to Sky highway listening to CBC radio. The traffic reporter was bantering with the radio show host. They were discussing nature. The traffic reporter announced that she didn’t give nature much thought. In her mind, nature was simply ‘the space between her car and her apartment.’ The conversation moved on, but her words stuck with me. It’s a fascinating perspective, where knowledge and appreciation of our natural surroundings is reduced and effectively replaced with another body of knowledge. Weekday traffic patterns on the Pattullo bridge? The detailed inner workings of the iPhone 6? I can’t help but think however, that the natural world is intrinsically linked to our well-being, and the extent to which we observe, contemplate, and appreciate the natural world will determine the fate of generations to come. The observation of late night owl calls is one small part of that.
If you are interested in participating in the next year’s Nocturnal Owl Survey, contact Bird Studies Canada, or send me a message via the Birding Pemberton Facebook page. Birding Pemberton is a place to share local birding photos and videos, and let the community know what birds you have seen around the valley, or from trips abroad. Everyone is welcome. Show your kids, and hopefully one day they’ll be listening to spotted owls in the dark, 1.6 kilometers north of Mount Currie.