As darkness falls, discover one of the most secretive owl species in North America. Join us on an expedition into the mountains of Northern Utah to hear the low-pitched "boop" of the Flammulated Owl. The pocked-sized insectivore is less than six inches tall with dark, searching eyes—and an expert avian biologist will help us find them.
This is a chance to join researchers in their search for active nest sites, and to provide assistance as they measure and band female birds and follow the calls of territorial males. You’ll help scientists understand resource needs in an ever-changing environment and shifting climate. In these four days, we’ll add important data to the long-term study of this unique, tiny owl.
This trip will be physically demanding. Participants should be comfortable hiking between five and ten miles per day, often on steep trails and in unmarked sections of the forest, and sometimes involving bushwhacking and the carrying of field equipment, such as ladders. You'll need sturdy hiking boots as well as protective clothing to prevent cuts and scratches on your arms and legs. We'll also be spending extended time in the forest after dark with headlamps and flashlights.
Note that Ogden, Utah stands at 4,300 feet in elevation, and much of our field work takes place between 6,000 and 7,500 feet, which can make physical work more demanding. Altitude affects some more than others; if you're sensitive to altitude, we encourage you to arrive a day or two early to acclimate.
For the four nights of the trip, our group stays in a spacious house located in downtown historic Ogden with shared bathrooms, a large communal kitchen, and various lounge areas. The house also features a large backyard with tables, a deck, and an outdoor hot tub. Depending on the composition of the group, single travelers should be prepared to share a room with another traveler of the same gender.
If flying by air, travelers should book flights arriving at Salt Lake City Airport anytime before 3 p.m. on Day 1 and departing after 12 p.m. on Day 5. If you'll be driving to Ogden, you should plan to arrive by 5 p.m. on Day 1 and leave after breakfast on the final morning.
Yes—and it's an important aspect of the trip for us! We're dedicated to supporting owls and their habitat, and we'll be donating 10 percent of trip proceeds to additional research through our friends at HawkWatch International. In 2018 and 2019, we were able to make a combined research donation of $3,918, which will go directly into further study of the Flammulated Owl.
There's no way of completely avoiding any disturbance to the birds when taking measurements for research. However, Markus keeps the stress to a minimum, firstly by avoiding the handling of the females during at least the first week after they establish their nests (which they do by laying eggs). After the first week, females appear to be quite committed to raising their young and the approach of trapping them in the box and returning them safely to the same location is not very intrusive. The birds realize that they're back on their eggs—or later in the season, with their young—and since they usually don’t escape after the handling, it doesn’t cost them much extra energy. In addition, this work is approved by federal and state biologists who check Markus' study design and make sure it's within accepted levels of intrusion at a nest site.
Yes—under the close supervision of Markus and his research assistant. You'll find that staring into the deep, dark eyes of a tiny Flammulated Owl is a very unique experience. It's incredible what these creatures manage to achieve, flying thousands of miles south each year and returning to Utah in the summer, often to the same exact nest boxes.
We're dedicated to supporting owls and their habitat, and you'll be contributing throughout the trip by helping our team of researchers collect important data. We'll also be donating ten percent of trip proceeds to additional research through our friends at HawkWatch International. In 2018, we were able to make a donation of $1,436, which went directly into further Flammulated Owl research.