Photo by Jennifer Holmes                                A short-eared owl glides over Crockett Lake Preserve on Central Whidbey.

Photo by Jennifer Holmes A short-eared owl glides over Crockett Lake Preserve on Central Whidbey.

Crockett Lake Preserve takes wing in winter

  • Tuesday, February 4, 2020 1:44pm
  • Life

By Ron Newberry

Special to the Record

Short-eared owls are unlike most owls. They flutter through the air like a giant moth, dipping and rising as they scan for movement in the grasses below. Sometimes, they’ll perch on a post or snag to groom themselves, seemingly without a care in the world.

But what’s most unique about short-eared owls is they do all of this in plain sight. These owls live in open terrain and are often active during the day, usually around dawn or dusk.

Each winter, they show up at Crockett Lake Preserve on central Whidbey Island, where they hunt for voles and other small mammals.

They’re a favorite of wildlife photographers because of their striking appearance and accessibility.

“I love their ‘eye-liner’ and piercing yellow eyes,” said Coupeville photographer Jennifer Holmes. “I love to watch them hunt for voles. Did you know they dive head first toward the ground before they extend their feet to catch their prey? When they’re flying, their wings move like silent paddles through the air. I can’t get enough of them.”

Holmes is a regular visitor to Crockett Lake and the adjacent Keystone Spit, where she photographs birds and other wildlife (many appear on her Facebook page, Jennifer Holmes Wildlife Photography). She generally sees short-eared owls at this location from December to March.

This winter, she’s seen three short-eared owls, the most since she started photographing them three years ago.

Holmes regards Crockett Lake and the Keystone Spit as her “wildlife Mecca.” Crockett Lake Preserve, permanently protected by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, stretches over 423 acres. It is located along the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south flyway for migratory birds, and is designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

More than 230 species of birds have been recorded at Crockett Lake. On a recent drive along the highway between the spit and the lake, one Land Trust staff member witnessed three bald eagles, a red-tailed hawk, two great blue herons and three short-eared owls on an unseasonably warm late afternoon.

One of the owls was flying low while the other two were perched not far off the highway.

“They’re so fun,” said Sarah Schmidt, a Whidbey biologist and avid birder. “They’re so mothy the way they fly.”

Schmidt said she’s seen short-eared owls at Crockett Lake every winter for the past 20 years. They’re also sometimes seen at Deer Lagoon on Whidbey and at the Davis Slough on Camano Island. Sometimes, they have company.

“Short-eared owls and northern harriers seek the same prey in the same habitats, and it’s not uncommon to see them hunting over the same meadows and even battling over food,” Schmidt said.

n The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is a nonprofit nature conservation organization that actively involves the community in protecting, restoring and appreciating the important natural habitats and resource lands that support the diversity of life on our islands and in the waters of Puget Sound. For more information, call 360-222-3310, visit www.wclt.org or email info@wclt.org

More in Life

Photo by Cara Hefflinger
After Coupeville resident Geri Nelson saw these two Great Horned owlets and their mother, she posted to social media to see if there was any local photography interest. Cara Hefflinger came to the tree, camera in hand.
Coupeville owl family makes an appearance in photographer’s lens

O ne woman’s discovery of a brood of owlets in Coupeville caught the eyes of many admirers on social media, including one South End photographer.

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Third grader Laszlo McDowell gets up close and personal with a gray whale skull.
Students learn about being ‘whale-wise’

South Whidbey Elementary School students got a taste of what it would be like to live as gray whales.

The Oystercatcher’s owner and chef, Tyler Hansen, prepares a dozen 3 Sisters beef bolognese lasagnas to go on the shelves at 3 Sisters Market. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Chef liaises with other business owners

A Coupeville chef has expanded his partnership with local business owners to… Continue reading

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop in Langley, hangs a purple neon star he made on the wall of his arcade. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
Neon art show colorizes Machine Shop’s reopening

A cacophony of happy buzzers and bells and a riot of glowing… Continue reading

Rishi Sharma checks levels in his camera before interviewing WWII combat veteran Frank Burns of Freeland last Saturday. Sharma travels the country interviewing WWII combat veterans for his oral history project and nonprofit, Heroes of the Second World War. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Recording for posterity tales of WWII vets across the U.S.

Rishi Sharma has met more than 1,100 World War II combat veterans to document their stories.

Rockin’ A Hard Place | All aboard for my big, post-jab Rock adventure

All aboard for my big, post-jab Rock adventure!

Freeland’s July 3 celebration canceled for 2021

The Celebrate America organizing team from South Whidbey Assembly of God had… Continue reading

Sarah Santosa is surrounded by some bovine residents of Ballydídean Farm Sanctuary, including ‘Rez, Dahlia and Poco. Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Animals put out to pasture, but not forgotten

A South Whidbey farm is welcoming those who may be interest in a COVID-safe spring photoshoot.

An Anna’s Hummingbird feeds from a red-flowering currant on Whidbey Island. Photo by Martha Ellis
Native plant habitat a wild bird’s best friend

Spring couldn’t come soon enough this year, not for just the birds, but for the nature enthusiasts.

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Rolands Abermanis, owner of Freeland business SPUNKS, loads a box of pumpkin seeds for delivery. The business is hoping to move production to Whidbey soon.
Sowing success

Pumpkin seeds with a kick

Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
Christopher Baldwin, owner of Island Time Coffee Company, arranges a display in Payless Foods.
New business perks up South Whidbey shelves

Three new blends of coffee are available in stores.

Joe Hempel (right), and Kristin Galbreaith finish their 35-minute, one-mile swim from Seawall Park in Langley. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Scantily clad is the dress code for these cold rush swimmers

Immersed for 30 minutes in frigid water would kill most of us. It energizes these swimmers.