Yosemite Great Gray Owl

Northern Pygmy Owl in Yosemite

Northern Pygmy Owl in Yosemite

On the nights of Sept. 27-28, after many failed attempts to get out of work and back up to Yosemite National Park, two of us managed a very quick trip to look for Great Gray Owl, Spotted Owl, and Northern Pygmy Owls. Although we did get good views of both Spotted and Northern Pygmy Owls, the majority of our efforts were not spent looking for these species. The roads inside the park were also under “post-summer” construction which inhibited our movements in finding the owls. We only got out one morning, for a short period, to look for pygmy owl where I took the photo here. This is a particularly good month to find this species because of post fledging vocalizations. Maybe next year we will have more opportunity to search for this owl thoroughly and to take better photos and some video.

Great Gray Owl in Yosemite

Great Gray Owl in Yosemite

Fortuitously, timing of this trip was coincident with the release of recent research findings on the Yosemite Great Gray Owl. Older taxonomy had all Great Gray Owl as belonging to one of two subspecies: Strix nebulosa nebulosa of North America and Strix nebulosa lapponica found in Europe and Asia. Genetic analysis of Yosemite area Great Gray Owl has shown them to be a unique subspecies: Strix nebulosa yosemitensis, according to lead researchers John J. Keane and Holly B. Ernest. They estimated that the Sierra Nevada population had not interbred with the northern populations for approximately 26,700 years. We were pleased to get very close views and take high quality pictures of this owl on our visit. This is Yosemite’s rarest resident bird with population estimates ranging from 50 to 200 individuals in or within fairly close proximity of the park.

We did not get photos of Spotted Owl on this trip but we did pull up right next to a female sitting on a snow pole along one of the main highways inside the park. The owl was obviously hunting the road, which is a bit sad given the dangers of such behavior on a main road.

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