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

Chewbacca is affectionate, playful and full of energy. He is up for adoption at the Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation after being abandoned in a field off Highway 20 near Coupeville. (Photo provided by Shari Bibich)
‘Chewie’ ready for a home

A very good boy is searching for a forever home after being abandoned in a field off Highway 20.

See caption
Photos: Making a splash

Edmonds resident Janine Harles captured photos of orcas swimming along the Clinton shoreline.

From left, Sarah Gallella, Jill Jackson and Erin Tombaugh take a sip of tea during their bows. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)
Live theater returns to Whidbey Playhouse with three-woman show

The Playhouse’s first show of the long-awaited season will be “Tea for Three.”

Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Cadesha Pacquette sets up a pop-up picnic spread similar to one she created for a young girl’s birthday party. Pacquette said her new venture has been popular with military families celebrating a spouse’s return from deployment, anniversaries or just to have fun outdoors.
Pop-up beach picnics are a popular way to celebrate coming home

Navy wife’s new business a big hit for deployments, anniversaries

Season of live entertainment planned for Whidbey Island Center for the Arts

After a year and a half of online events, WICA is planning a season of indoor, in-person events.

Karina Andrew/Whidbey News Group
Oak Harbor's famous chicken dances with the crowds at the Oak Harbor Music Festival Saturday. Ever the trendsetter, it appears a flock of fans have copied his signature pose while he struts about the town during the multi-day music festival.
Free-range fun

Oak Harbor’s famous Chucky Chicken danced with the crowds at the Oak… Continue reading

Photo provided by Ted Mihok
Whidbey Lions clubs provide medical supplies to Mexico

The Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Central Whidbey Lions Clubs’ influence extends far beyond the island.

A virus, a trial, a judgment coming to Whidbey Island Center for the Arts

A one-night reading of “The Trial of Doctor Fuchetti” is coming to the WICA main stage this Saturday.

See caption
A rare glimpse: Gates to sculpture park open to public for two days

The Cloudstone Sculpture Park will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 4 and 5.

Most Read