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March Audubon Program Spotlights Great Gray Owls

Written by Len McKenzie —

The charismatic Great Gray Owl, an iconic species in Yosemite National Park, is the largest owl in the world by length, and for most birders seeing one is a breathtaking experience.

With a wingspan that can exceed five feet, these majestic, nocturnal birds of prey typically perch in trees on the edges of meadows at dusk and dawn and use their keen sense of hearing to listen for small mammals, preferably rodents such as voles, then swoop down to pursue and capture their prey.

Great Gray Owls usually nest in the broken tops of snags (dead, standing trees), and intensive timber harvesting can threaten their population by reducing their breeding and perching habitat as well as the conditions they need for hunting and their young need for protective cover.

In some areas of their Pacific Northwest range where their natural breeding habitat has shrunk, volunteers have recently placed nesting platforms to provide Great Gray Owls surrogate sites to raise their young.

Professional birding guide, author, television commentator and volunteer Harry Fuller, now living in the Portland, Oregon, metro area, has co-written a book, “Great Gray Owl of Washington, Oregon and California,” with writer and photographer Peter Thiemann to document for the first first time the species’ use of human-made nesting platforms. Fuller and Thiemann spent many hours with the owls during nesting season and in the colder months and interviewed dozens of field biologists and owl experts across the western U.S., as much of what is known about this elusive species had never been published.

Fuller will feature this project in a slide presentation with the same title at the monthly program of the Yosemite Area Audubon Society at the Oakhurst Methodist Church on Road 426 in Oakhurst on Thursday, March 10, beginning at 7:00 p.m.

Fuller graduated from Carleton College, Minnesota, with a BA in history and from Stan-ford University in California with an MA in communications. Harry was elected KBO board president in 2013.

From 1969 to 1998 Fuller worked in television media, mostly for San Francisco TV stations. During his time in television, he won two local Emmys for news coverage and a national Peabody Award for coverage of the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake. He then worked for an internet cable start-up before moving to London to work with CNBC news for four years. He returned to the U.S. in 2005.

In addition to his work in media, Fuller has worked as a volunteer and professional birding guide for more than 20 years. He is the author of “Freeway Birding,” a guide to birding spots along Interstate 5 from San Francisco to Seattle. Fuller blogs about birds and birding at www.atowhee.wordpress.com and serves as the president of the Klamath Bird Observatory.

He also leads bird seminars and field trips for the Point Reyes National Seashore Association.

Like all YAAS programs, Fuller’s presentation Mar. 10 is open and free to the public, although donations to defray program costs and to support the chapter’s local activities are welcome.

YAAS is co-sponsoring a field trip with the Sierra Foothill Conservancy on the Stockton Creek Preserve on Saturday, Mar. 5. Visit www.sierrafoothill.org for more details.

YAAS will also lead a Tuesday Trek field trip Tuesday, Mar. 15, in the Merced River Canyon. Participants should meet at the Midpines County Park at 7:30 a.m. to carpool. The trip is free and the public welcome. Visit www.yosemiteaudubon.org for additional details.

Call (209) 742-5579 for additional information about the program or (209) 742-5181 for more information about the field trips, or visit www.yosemiteaudubon.org, for additional information about either.

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