Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 12, 2011

Owl, Kestrel, Eagle

Desert paintbrush startles the senses when you happen upon it in the backcountry

I looked up just in time to see a large silent mass of feathers lift off toward the alcove, the rocks of which were covered with decades or centuries of whitewash. A small insistent bird was scolding the Great Horned Owl harshly, having blown its cover. Mr Owl took flight and vacated the area to find a gentler location for his sleep. Training my binoculars on a hole in the sandstone nearby, I could make out the shape of the upper half of his mate’s head, immovable and dark, ear tufts rising unmistakably. We are eager to see owlets later this month, and thrilled to find this nest active.

Caves always beckon me to scramble up and explore them. This one had a large mammalian rib bone in the packrat midden.

A small rise on the slickrock beckoned us to set up our spotting scope at a distance. Sitting quiet and motionless, I soon heard a sharp killy killy killy killy killy approaching high and from behind me. As the male American Kestrel vocalized loudly while approaching this large alcove, a female dropped from a crack in the ceiling and the two met on the top branch of a nearby juniper to copulate. After mating for a few seconds, and sitting in the treetop for a few minutes, he went off to hunt; she returned to the alcove crack, and my partner and I scribbled field notes. Nature unfolds for us when we have eyes to see it.

My perfect raptor trifecta was completed when my boss telephoned me on her way home from work saying that she needed my help immediately with an eagle acting strangely. I drove to where she was and an adult Golden Eagle was moving from telephone pole to the main highway passing through Moab to the rock cliff to the highway surface again to the pole… almost getting run over in the process. Eagles don’t normally act that way. Tricia was late getting somewhere so I kept watch over Mr Eagle to try to see what was up. He flew okay, stood okay, but just wasn’t right. I wonder if he was sick, or weak? After 20 minutes or so he disappeared where I couldn’t follow him.

What a day! My housemates admitted to job envy. I ate dinner with a grateful heart.

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