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“Ventriloquist” Owls Kick Off Audubon Program Season

Contributed by Len McKenzie –

Owls hold a fascination for people. Perhaps it’s their nocturnal habits (of most species), their hunting prowess, their haunting nighttime calls, their silent flight or the sense of mystery they evoke in us. In popular mythical culture and children’s stories they symbolize wisdom and nobility, yet they are, along with spiders and bats, among the most celebrated of spooky Halloween creatures.

Of the 205 species of owls in the world, 12 occur in central California. While many foothill residents are familiar with the hooting of the great horned owl and perhaps the chortling whistle of the western screech-owl, few are likely to have heard or recognized the “ventriloquist” call of the secretive flammulated owl, a small (6” – 7”), dark-eyed neotropical migrant of open coniferous forests named for the flame-colored plumage within and around its facial discs.

David Arsenault, executive director of the Plumas Audubon Society in Quincy, has studied flammulated owls—cavity-nesting birds that eat only insects—in the western United States for the past 15 years—and their mysterious lives continue to captivate him.

A wildlife biologist, Arsenault manages the Plumas Audubon Society’s long-term study of flammulated owls at Lake Davis in northern California, the largest known population of this species in the Sierra Nevada, having previously studied the species in New Mexico and Nevada. He will share what he has learned in a slide presentation, “The Ventriloquist Owls of Lake Davis,” about this project at the first program of the Yosemite Area Audubon Society’s 2015-2016 program season on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m., at the parish hall of the Mariposa Methodist Church in downtown Mariposa.

Arsenault has studied wildlife, with a focus on birds, throughout the western United States and the Americas for more than 20 years. He became involved with Audubon 18 years ago, leading field trips for the Lahontan Audubon Society as a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno. After moving to Quincy 10 years ago, he served as the Plumas Audubon Society’s field trip coordinator, then as chapter president for five years. Now, as executive director, Arsenault leads Plumas Audubon’s science-based conservation and education program.

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

The YAAS also invites area residents to join them in Point Blue Conservation Science’s 38th annual Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon on Oct. 10 and 11 (or other dates by arrangement). This longtime fall fundraising event has generated $2.9 million in donations that support Point Blue’s award-winning bird and ecosystem science research efforts.

Last year the YAAS team—the Great Grays—birded several different areas during the 24 hours of the event and hopes to have enough participants this year to cover those and other routes. Contact Lowell Young at yosemite.birder@gmail.com or (209) 966-2547, or Cheryl Johnson at cdjohnso@biotacalifornia.com or (209) 742-5181 for instructions and materials about participating in the bird-a-thon.

Visit www.yosemiteaudubon.org for more information about the program or the bird-a-thon or call (209) 742-5579 for more information about the program.

The mission of the National Audubon Society, the namesake of noted 19th-century naturalist and bird painter John James Audubon; its state affiliate, Audubon California; and local chapters such as the Yosemite Area Audubon Society is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.

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