April 1, 2015

by

I am a serious collector of hobbies. I have interests in art, nature, community building, ecology, and horseback riding. I’m also what you could call a joiner. If there’s a group of folks out there doing work or hosting activities surrounding one of my interests and I happen to get invited, I always say yes.

That’s how I ended up meeting the ranch’s resident birder, Bill Maynard. He maintains the Birding Blog for this site. I heard Bill needed some field reports from out in the pastures and I signed right up. As interns we’re out riding four to five days a week this time of year. I cover A LOT of ground on horseback, seeing and hearing just TONS of birds. Some I can identify myself, others I need to describe to Bill first. It’s a fun collaboration. I’ll tell him when and where I saw a bird and he’ll help me understand that bird’s relationship with the ranch – whether it’s a resident, or a migrant, or a newcomer.

Our most exciting collaboration yet was with the Short-eared Owls in the Sands. One afternoon several weeks ago, Michael and I rode through a stand of Russian thistle horseback, flushing out pair after pair of these big, white, slow-flying birds. We knew they were owls but not which type. A quick conversation with Bill confirmed that they were Short-eared Owls which are apparently, rare in this area. Bill put the word out to the local birding community and a few days later, more than twenty people caravanned out to the Sands to see the legendary owls.

Their excitement is contagious. Now, every time I spot a new bird, I wonder what its story is and thanks to my new hobby and the connections it has fostered, there’s a good chance I’ll get to find out. I’m grateful for the opportunity to feed so many of my interests – both old and new – out here on the Chico.

By Chico Basin Ranch intern Maribeth Gallion

Photography by Bill Maynard