This week’s photo, taken February 15, 2014 in Okanogan County in north central Washington, features a GREAT GRAY OWL, North America’s largest owl.
This past weekend, I am one of 17 participants on a 3-day Washington Ornithological Society bird trip to Okanogan and Douglas Counties. As we travel together in a caravan of five vehicles, stopping often to check out known hot spots, everyone has two things on their mind: birds and bathroom breaks. Unfortunately, rest stops tend to be infrequent when the mission is to find as many birds as possible.
On day one, while we are taking our first potty break, our leader tells us that the next relief station will be in 45 minutes. However, when we eventually approach the turnoff for that second rest stop, our leader radios to all the cars that – if no one needs to use the facilities right now – he would prefer to keep driving because we have many, many miles to cover today. 1 person out of 17 speaks up and confesses that he really needs to “go” now, so all 5 vehicles turn off the highway and take a 1/2 mile side trip up a hill on a snow-covered road to an outhouse. After that quick stop, during our slow descent back toward the main road, a woman in the very last car notices a bird perched in a tree. She’s the only person in our group to initially spot what will be the highlight of the weekend for virtually everybody. It’s a GREAT GRAY OWL, possibly the first one reported this year anywhere in the entire state.
When the driver of that last car radios their discovery to everyone else, the other four drivers turn their cars around as fast as they can and head back up the road. Thanks to one person’s weak bladder and another person’s keen eyesight, we all get magnificent looks at a Great Gray Owl – a life bird for many of us and a great life experience for all of us.