Walking on the Wild Side

Great Gray Owl

Whoo Are You?

July 7th was my first monitoring visit of one of Legacy Land Trust’s conservation easements. Owl Ridge, southwest of Water Valley, is nestled under the canopy of aspen and spruce. 

The day began with picking Tall Buttercups for Legacy’s annual Buttercup Blitz event. Every year volunteers come out and aid in eradicating this noxious weed which covers most of the open fields on the property. We had a great group of volunteers join in on the event accompanied by a warm day. 

After a lunch break, we headed out to walk the property and complete our monitoring duties.

One of my duties as a summer student is to visit each conservation property and complete a stewardship and monitoring assessment. This includes following coordinates on a GPS to specific points where the same photo is taken every year and compared to the original baseline.

I was the designated photographer, which proved to be more difficult than I expected as it is sometimes quite hard to replicate an exact photo.

We also perform health assessments to determine the overall health of the property. Then we create a report to decide if the easement regulations are being upheld.

As we walked the trails and trekked through the bush, we found evidence of moose and other animals that inhabit the area. On July 8th, I noticed a hulking figure in one of the aspen trees. It almost resembled a cat but I realized that it was in fact an owl. Upon further research I learned that it was a Great Gray Owl

These owls are year-round residents on the property and are mostly owls of the boreal forest. As well as residing in North America, the Great Gray Owl can be found in Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia, and Mongolia. Their diet consists of small animals such as mice, moles, and gophers. They are active in the morning and evening and use their excellent hearing to identify their prey.

I was surprised to learn that the ears of Great Gray Owls are asymmetrical. The left ear opening is higher than the right which enables them to hear their prey even under a thick blanket of snow.

Although they are fairly large in size, I was very fortunate to see this owl as they are quite elusive birds. Owl Ridge is well named and is a beautiful setting to view such a striking creature. 

Nova Van Soest
2021 Summer Student