Here are a few images from last weekend’s event at the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival. If you haven’t checked out the Verde Valley in north central Arizona, you should — it’s beautiful green country, with big trees and lots of year-round water like the Verde River, as well as surrounding mountains, good restaurants, hiking trails and birding areas, and amazing archeological sites like Montezuma Castle and Well, and Tuzigoot. Sedona, Jerome, and Prescott and their amenities are all within striking distance, and it’s all only two hours north of Phoenix and even less from Flagstaff.
The weather last weekend straddled the turn of the seasons, with winter making one last stand in the form of a cold wet storm that left us shivering in the big event tent, and the peaks above Jerome dusted with snow (photo above; by A.Shock). But warm weather arrived in time for the weekend, which brought out crowds and cottonwood wool alike.
<< Hoarfrost and frozen raindrops on the tent; it was 24F at night! Brrrr… (Photo A.Shock)
This is one of the few sales events I camp at, because it’s held in Dead Horse Ranch State Park, just outside of Cottonwood AZ. Here’s the view from the campground, of Tuzigoot National Monument. The rangers from the Montezuma Castle/Well/Tuzigoot parks complex had their info booth next to mine, and I heard them calling this park “the Goot”. Unlike in the low desert, where the mesquite are newly green, the bosque in the foreground was still quite bare and gray. (Photo A.Shock) >>
This made it easy to spot the early-returning migrants, such as this Gray flycatcher. If you despair identifying Empidonax flycatchers, rejoice in the easy-to-ID Gray, whose gentle downward tail wag is distinctive, along with other field marks such as gray back, bold eyering and wingbars, and yellow lower mandible. (Photo E.Shock) >>
Along with gila monsters, coatis, roadrunners, and lots more, the Three Star Owl booth was positively stuffed with owls, maybe even more than usual. Below are some owl jars, effigy vessels, whistles, and salt and pepper shakers.
It was a good event for “The Owl”, and my thanks to everyone who came by for a visit, or to take a new treasure home with them.
See you at Southwest Wings in early August!
…finds songbirds a nuisance.
…crankiness to an artform.
There’s a property of owls I call “Half-Dome Head.” It’s a shape that’s noticeable in the profile of all owls, particularly the larger ones. The Barred Owl to the right is exhibiting major Half-Dome Head. If Half-Dome Head can be achieved when making owls in clay, the resulting effigies will be Especially Owly.
The name derives from the famous granitic dome formation, Half Dome, in Yosemite Valley, California, which bears an obvious resemblance to an owl’s head in profile. The geologic Half Dome is forming largely by weathering: eons of sheet-exfoliation on the fragmented face of an exposed granodioritic batholith gave it the shape we see today. (Appropriately, one of the most Half-Dome-Headed owls ever, the regal Great Gray Owl, is an uncommon resident of Yosemite Valley, see photo below: the color and texture even match).
In owls, the “Half-Dome Head” effect arises from the front of the Owl’s head (in other words its face, to use the technical term) being shaped like a radar dish, to be efficient at gathering sensory input — in other words, light and sound. But take away the feathers and an owl’s cranium is shaped pretty much like a hawk’s, or even a chicken’s skull (check out these images). An owl is after all a bird, albeit a fairly specialized one, so it’s built like a bird. The forward-oriented flat face that we humans find so fascinating (probably for anthropocentric reasons) is due more to posture and feather-arrangement than underlying skeletal structure: the owl generally holds its bill slightly downward rather than forward like other birds. This gives prominence to the distinctive “facial disc” — the specialized array of radar-dish-like plumage around an owl’s eyes and ears — and positions it so it functions optimally.
The owl’s Facial Disc is a precise specialization for nocturnal hunters who require every available bit of light and sound directed into their sensory apparatus to ensure the highest possible success rate while hunting. Several features of the facial disc are noticeable: short flat-lying feathers sweep away from the eyes and “cheeks” so as not to impede forward vision; stiff vertically-arranged feathers edging the facial disc help funnel sound into the ear openings, which are asymetrically arranged on either side of the face behind the eye to create aural parallax (and are nowhere near the cranial tufts we commonly call “ears”); and rictal bristles (“whiskers”), which are specialized sensitive filamental feathers on either side of the gape (the flexible corners of the mouth which allow the beak to open and close), that enable the owl to perform preening and feeding activities — including the feeding of owlets — by feel, since their large eyes are immovable in the skull and so can’t focus efficiently at very close ranges.
But that’s just the flat front of the “Half-Dome”: the round back, the helmet-shaped fullness of feathers on the back of an owl’s head also transmits owliness to our perception. This is also due to the owl’s skeletal configuration: the bird’s upright posture is possible because its skull is joined to a nearly vertical spine. Most birds’ backs go off at a more or less right angle to their necks (think of a dove), somewhat shortening the curve at the back of the head. But the feathers on the back of an owl’s head arc smoothly down to the back, which continues downward steeply. The photo above shows Half-Dome head creating Owliness in an MLO (Moderately Large Owl) I’m currently working on for a client.
Photos: from top to bottom: IBO barred owl, A.Shock; Half Dome Yosemite, Carroll Ann Hodges, USGS; Great Gray owl, Canada (Sorry; don’t know who to credit this photo to); Three Star Owl “eared” owl effigy in progress, A.Shock. And finally, a Gratuitous Cranky Owlet chillin’ with the Big Boys…