Monday, August 10, 2015

A Barred Owl in the Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

Owls are hard. Most of course are nocturnal, and so by definition they can be hard to photograph. Owls live in many different habitats, but deep forests are especially preferred by some, and in the darkness of the forest floor, even in daytime they can be hard to focus on.
We were on our first visit ever to the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park in Washington. We only had a short time, but we made sure to stroll through the Hall of Mosses Trail near the park visitor center. The trail winds through typical (read: extraordinary) rainforest, with Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir, and gigantic maple trees. Moss seems to hang from every branch, but in the drought conditions, the moss was brown and dry as paper.
Mrs. Geotripper spotted the owl before I did (how does she do that??). It was mostly ignoring us and watching the forest floor. After a few moments it flew into the ferns, possibly catching a bit of dinner, and then heading off through the forest.
The closely related Northern Spotted Owl is a rare and endangered species that has been controversial because of its need for old-growth forest habitat for survival. The closure of various regions to logging and other uses has led to court cases over the continued existence of the species.

The Barred Owl, on the other hand is not threatened at all, and indeed has been expanding its habitat. It is primarily a species of the eastern United States, but reforestation and abandonment of farmlands across the midwest (and to a certain degree, global warming) has allowed the owl to expand westward and come into direct competition with the Spotted Owls. It tends to win out, being larger and able to survive in a wider range of habitats. It was first seen in the Olympic rainforest in 1985, and has been expanding its range to the south (see my note on Barred Owls in Muir Woods), mostly at the expense of the Northern Spotted Owls
This one looks a bit ashamed of what it's done, don't you think? But I would never anthropomorphize an animal, of course. Actually, despite the role it has played in the disruption of ecosystems in the northwest, it is a beautiful animal.

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