Phantom of the North: The Elusive Great Gray Owl

A Highlands Wonders Event

TONASKET – Not only are Great Gray Owls the largest owl in North America with the largest wingspan, their stature and countenance spark a sense of wonder. With alternate names such as “Great Grey Ghost,” and “Phantom of the North,” they inspire awe and pique our curiosity. On Friday, Nov. 7, Highland Wonders will provide a view into how these amazing owls survive in the Okanogan Highlands. From unique adaptations for locating prey, to behaviors for defending their nests, to strategies for successful breeding, these masters of silent flight are sure to capture your interest.

The Great Gray Owl will be the topic of an Okanogan Highlands Association Highland Wonders presentation at the Community Cultural Center of Tonasket on Friday, Nov. 7.Lee Johnson/submitted photo

The Great Gray Owl will be the topic of an Okanogan Highlands Association Highland Wonders presentation at the Community Cultural Center of Tonasket on Friday, Nov. 7.Lee Johnson/submitted photo

“These owls are elusive but once you see your first, you’ll never forget the experience,” says speaker Matt Marsh, Wildlife Biologist with the Tonasket Ranger District. “I hope to share my knowledge and experiences with others who are curious about this incredible owl that hunts and breeds in our forests and grasslands, and also to learn from residents who live with them on their property.”

Matt Marsh is responsible for managing the National Forest lands in the Okanogan Highlands for a variety of species, which includes the Great Gray Owl. Every year the Forest Service surveys for Great Gray Owls around restoration projects to see where they are nesting and foraging. Managing the owl’s very specific habitat is important because the Okanogan Highlands has one of the largest populations in Washington State. The Highlands area provides the unique habitat of forest cover, intermixed with open meadows that Great Gray Owls call home. Matt has worked as a wildlife biologist for eight years, after working as a forester and firefighter in the area. Growing up in the Okanogan Valley, Matt has firsthand knowledge of where to find these charismatic owls and has spent many nights and early mornings out searching the forests for their presence.

The event takes place at the Community Cultural Center (CCC) of Tonasket, beginning at 6:30 pm, with a dinner benefiting the CCC at 5:15 pm. The theme for the evening’s food will be, “Fall’s Good Bounty.” Jean Pfeifer will prepare a bean and pumpkin soup recipe that was very popular last fall. Along with the soup will be bread, an apple/walnut salad with a cranberry vinegar dressing, and desserts in keeping with the theme. The dinner will be $7.50 for CCC members and $8.50 for non-members; there is no charge for the presentation.

OHA is a non-profit organization that works to educate the public on watershed issues. The Highland Wonders educational series features the natural history of the Okanogan Highlands and surrounding areas. OHA’s Education Program, which is offered free of charge, is designed to build the capacity of the community to steward natural habitats and resources by helping increase awareness of local natural history. Donations are always welcome. Details are provided on OHA’s website: www.okanoganhighlands.org/education/hw.