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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It's the place to note any observations you have made of the natural world around you. New birds passing through? No-see-ums making your daily walks difficult? Frog music? You can report anything of interest going on in your natural neighborhood. All we ask is that let us know where you are located, as close as is comfortable for you.
Seattle. May 13, 2014.

The Forest's baby Barred Owlets have appeared around Mother's Day every year for almost a decade. Those of us who watch begin the vigil in late April. We stand and we listen and we watch and we share the gossip when we meet.

By late April we can usually depend on the Crows bring us to the Barred Owl adults. They scream and they swoop through the canopy at their hidden targets. Sometimes the Little Birds set up the alarm before the Crows arrive, chipping out their danger calls - Hummingbird right in front, Robin and Jay in near proximity, Chickadee a bit farther out, Nuthatch in the rear. With luck and time we'll sometimes see an owl flush from the scrum, and if very lucky, we'll be able to follow it to a possible nest location.

There's been almost no sound this year. Last week brought the first little bird cacophony. Yesterday was first day of Big Crow Talk. Neither was near any of the previous nest sites. Those have been silent, too, and we've all stood for long periods of time, watching. Our dogs know this routine now, and sleep at our feet while we watch. Few owls have been seen or heard, anywhere.

It wasn't quite quiet today when we began our walk. We entered the Forest through a hidden trail to the sound of Junco trilling from the tippy top of the canopy, then sat to listen to those trills subside into a soft "chip chip chip", all around us. Bumblebees rose up from their holes in the soft duff, buzzing. We startled a Pileated Woodpecker as we worked our way up to the main trail. Woodpecker let us know.

And then there was silence, again. No Crow talk. No Little Birds. Just the sound of motorboats and children on the lake below us on this first summer-like day.

We made our usual meander, down from the main trail to a suspected nest site where there was no activity, then up to last year's middle nest tree, which was also silent. We continued along the trail that traverses the west side of the Forest Peninsula, down by Grandmother Tree to the north end of the peninsula, and up again, cutting back into the Forest along the trail where Starflower is just blooming and Trillium is setting seed, then up past the Stump towards the place where we never found the new nest that the Owls made last year - and I think I hear the hissy whine of a baby Barred Owl.

Yes! ....

We stand for a long time, listening, but the only sound is the first note of a Brown Creeper's song. I was mistaken, greedy for baby owls.

Bill-the-Dog has begun to lag in his elder dog way. We've been walking for two hours now. It's time to go home. It's a 20 minute walk back to the the car.

But this is the beginning of Cottonwood fluff time, and I'm delighted by the drifts of pale fluff on the path before us. I kick it up as we walk, and then stop.

There are no cottonwoods in this vicinity, and unless some errant wind has brought a drift of cottonwood fluff up from the lake and deposited it right here, I'm not kicking up cottonwood fluff. I look down and realize that I'm kicking up feathers. Soft, white, downy feathers. Some are stained with blood. They weren't here yesterday. The only Forest creature I can think of that is covered with this kind of soft white fluff is a newly fledged Barred Owl.

I squat down to see more. Pale white down ...  but scattered among them are a few more mature feathers, some just brown, some brown and tipped with pale stripes. I jdon't know what I'm looking at.

Last year was the first when the Watchers used 21st century communications to keep one another posted on what was happening. There's no going back.

b to m and a. May 13, 4:26pm. Diagonal trail. Lots of pale down feathers on ground. Fresh.

b to m and a. May 13, 4:29pm. Unfortunately, they're the remains of a meal...

m to b. May 13, 4:30pm. I hope it's not babies!

b to m and a, 4:31pm. Not sure. Owlet? Need second opinion.

m to c, 4:32pm. J and I will be there in a couple of hours.

b to m, 4:54pm. Let me know what you think after you see the feathers.

"a" happens to be my neighbor, who headed out to forest shortly after getting the texts. A few hours later I was in possession of a handful of feathers from the scene, half pale fluff and half more mature brown, as well as a message from "m", who they'd met while looking at the scattered remains.
Maybe not owlet - maybe duckling or gosling....
Which make sense. Eagle's nest is very close to this place, and Eagle will definitely serve baby duck or goose to her babies, or she might well perch in a nearby tree and enjoy a meal on her own.

May 13, 2014. To be continued...

I'll be here after about 9am PDT, then off to look for Owlets in mid afternoon and back again around dinnertime. Everyone is welcome to add their observations to the Bucket, and it's not necessary to talk about baby owls.

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Originally posted to Backyard Science on Fri May 16, 2014 at 06:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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