Barred Owls and Flying Squirrels

Posted by Dan Arndt


The last few weeks have been filled with preparations, failed attempted, botched attempts, and finally a successful and soul satisfying observation of the Northern Flying Squirrels in the Weaselhead. You may remember that back  in November, Bob Lefebvre and I made an attempt to view these little critters. Well, given our success, we felt that given a couple weeks of lead-up, and a few nights leading up to it of concerted effort, we’d stand a very good chance of leading a larger group down there, on behalf of Nature Calgary. Two weeks before the big night, a few of us headed out and spent a few hours waiting, watching, and waiting again, but ultimately, we chalked up the failure to the constant, though relatively low wind keeping the animals down, paired with the fact that it seemed that the regular folks who fill the feeders down there hadn’t been keeping it up over the winter.

That week, a couple of runs were made down to the feeders to fill them, and the following Saturday, two of us headed down to the feeders to set up a bit closer, but with better views, and hidden from view off the main pathway. While we weren’t entirely successful that night either, we did get a few brief glimpses, and I managed to get my best photo of the squirrels so far.

Not 5 feet from me...

Arguably, the best shot I've ever taken of one.

Unfortunately, I took the shot too early, which spooked it, and the next two times we saw the squirrels were almost an hour later, but they were still incredibly flighty.

That week, I took a few excursions out to fill the feeders. Wednesday, Thursday, and just as I was heading down on Friday, Bob called to tell me that there was a Barred Owl spotted just on the south side of the Glenmore Reservoir, not 10 minutes from the Weaselhead. Given that it is one of the rarest of owls in Alberta, and another life bird for me, I couldn’t say no. I’m just happy that the home owner whose spruce tree the beautiful little owl was roosting in was so accomodating, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get these shots:

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

So peaceful.

Such an intimidating stare!

The last shot was taken just after sunset, and from there I headed straight over to the Weaselhead parking lot. There, with 15 others in tow, we headed down to the pathway to the feeders. Once there, we waited. And waited. And waited. The patience of those with me was incredible, as was the silence we were able to keep for nearly an hour before many began to get restless. The sky conditions were perfect. There was no wind, no moon, and quiet overall, except for the geese on the Elbow River, just down the pathway. We decided to head down there to take a look at them, so we would at least see something for the night, and there were easily 20-30 Canada Geese on the river. We played a few Northern Saw-whet Owl calls, and didn’t hear any replies there either, so dejectedly we began heading back to the feeders for one last glimpse before heading out.

It was then that we heard the first Northern Saw-whet Owl calling back to us. Then a second, further up the hill, followed by a third behind us. We were so caught up in trying to track where the calls were originating that, before we realized it, we were incredibly close to the feeders. And then we saw them. Not one, but two Northern Flying Squirrels at the feeder. One, frozen on the trunk in front of me, and the second further up!

We backed off, letting them get to the feeders, and get a little more relaxed before we turned the red lights on them. The theory is that the Northern Flying Squirrels can’t see certain wavelengths of light, so putting filters on flashlights at, or below that wavelength makes the light essentially invisible to them, but makes them clearly visible to us. The only downside to this is that the red light is completely overwhelming to the camera’s sensor, so the only way to make the photos usable is to convert them to black and white. Here are a couple that I shot that night:

Flying Squirrel on trunk

Flying Squirrel on trunk

Flying Squirrel at feeder

Flying Squirrel at feeder

They glided, and fed, and climbed, and scrambled around for a good half hour before disappearing again into the night, and as we left the valley, we were once again serenaded by the “hoot hoot hoot” of the Northern Saw-whet Owls all around us.


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