By Sharon Gibbons
Owl Hunting In The East Bay Hills
Do you sometimes wish for adventure to break up your daily routine? After weeks of rain and cold weather, I was feeling hemmed-in and ready for a change. I found such an adventure one night recently as I drove up Redwood Rd., passing Merritt College and continuing on over the other side of the hill.
If you continue up Redwood Rd, instead of heading to Merritt, it quickly reaches the ridge line as you cross Skyline Boulevard, and then drops down the other side towards Redwood Park. I had never gone over the hill until a recent evening when I joined my Audubon owl classmates who had special permission to be in Redwood Park after dark to go owl hunting. A group of us gathered outside the park entrance in a canyon bordered by redwoods and a rushing creek, clutching our flashlights and loaded up with warm layers.
While owl hunting, our teacher, Dave Quady, cautioned us to be quiet, stay together, and take our cues from him. In class, we had studied three types of owls we were hoping to hear and see: the Great Horned Owl, the Western Screech Owl and the Northern Saw-whet Owl, who all share the canyon and the surrounding ridges. It felt like a treasure hunt where the rules of the game change in the dark.
Dave Quady has studied owls for more than thirty years and has traveled as far as the Indonesian islands and the Northern Canadian Taiga to “hunt” owls. Dave teaches the owling class through Audubon and people repeat it to go owl hunting with him. We were fortunate that we heard all three types of owls that night although we never saw them. I was moved to hear so many owls calling in the dark, signaling their wild world so close to our more-urban one. Our adventure showed me a mysterious night-world, large and alive, right over the hill from my normal, daylight routine of work and school.
For BCC students interested in getting away and into nature, both Tilden and Redwood Park have wonderful trails nearby.
Local EBRP Naturalist Anthony Fisher says, “Redwood Park is a good place to hear owls. Arrive at dusk, or rise early and start before dawn. Check the park hours first. I was recently rewarded with the calls of four species in one outing: Great Horned, Saw-whet, Screech, and Northern Pygmy Owls.”
East Bay Regional Parks has free guided birding walks and hikes which are listed in their newsletter, “Regional in Nature.”
Golden Gate Audubon also offers birding classes and free guided walks.