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science & nature

Meet Ranger Bob Donohue, Senior Park Ranger for the City of Chico. (That’s him, to the right.) If he looks happy, that’s probably because he really loves his job! He’s been a ranger for twenty-three years, sixteen of which have been right here in Bidwell Park. His duties mainly include enforcing the rules of the park to keep it a fun and safe place, managing the plant life (or “vegetation”), and assisting in rescues with the Fire Department. I caught up with him one hot summer afternoon and asked him about one of my favorite, but often hidden, residents of the park: the owl. “We have two types that are the main ones out here: the barn owl and the screech owl,” he informed me. “If you see big yellow eyes looking back at you in the park at night, that’s the screech owl,” he explained. What about barn owls, I asked-- are they really found in barns? Ranger Bob replied, “they’ll find any place to nest, but that’s where you find them all the time.”

The ends of a barn owl’s wings are specialized to be completely silent

Barn Owl * Relies on stealth to catch its prey * Head is smooth and round with no feathery “ears” * Face has conical feathers that act like a dish, picking up sounds * Ends of wings have a “comb” that deadens the sound of flapping Ranger Bob says: “Because of his enhanced hearing, and because he is flying silent, he can pick up the prey really easily and BOOM! he’s got himself a dinner.”

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growing up chico magazine

The screech owl has startling yellow eyes, tufted “ears,” and a grey or black bill Screech Owl * Looks like your “classic” owl * Can comoulfage themselves against a tree to hide * Screech owls aren’t silent like barn owls-they instead depend on flying very fast! Ranger Bob says: “With the screech owl, he’ll come flying out of nowhere at supersonic speed and pick insects right out of the air.”

The distinctive shape of a barn owl’s face acts a lot like a satellite dish, collecting sound waves


* Ground squirrels and many other small animals are beginning to prepare for the winter, so look for them feeding and gathering acorns.

bidwell park

There are a lot of changes that take place in Bidwell Park in the fall. The next time you take a hike in the park, see if you notice the following:

* Have you seen all the spiky black and red caterpillars covering the floor of the park? These are the larval stage of the Pipevine Swallowtail, a beautiful blue butterfly that only feeds on the Pipevine plant. These funny little caterpillars are only seen for a few weeks before they find a good spot to pupate and form their chrysalis. They will emerge again in full butterfly form in the spring. * The leaves will be changing from their usual greens to more fiery colors. “It’s nature’s lightshow out here,” describes Ranger Bob. “You get those neon yellows and reds out there, and it’s my favorite time of the year because the brightest colors come out then. It even beats spring!” * The water level in Big Chico Creek will be lower and the temperatures will be in the 70s and 80s. It will be safer to swim, but be forewarned: the lower levels mean increased danger when jumping in. Spots that were nice and deep earlier in the year are now shallow and may be host to submerged logs.

Want to take your own night hike in the park? Here are some tips, courtesy Ranger Bob Donohue: 1- Go with a friend. “Night hikes in the park are pretty neat things, but you must have at least one other buddy with you. It’s best to go in a group.” 2- Be quiet. “You’re going to want to be as quiet as possible while you’re out there, because nocturnal animals have heightened sensitivities and they’ll hear you coming from a mile away.”

4- Listen up. “Listen. That’s exactly what you want to do. You will hear a lot of things-- we have deer, raccoon, coyote, all sorts of different birds like eagles and hawks, as well as owls. You will never hear a barn owl, but with a screech owl, you’ll definitely hear something happening!” 5- Sit still. “Instead of walking all over the place, I would suggest picking out a spot during the day, and going back to that spot at night, and just sit, and listen. And you will see something, after some time, I guarantee it! You will see something moving towards water. I would go up toward Horseshoe Lake, and sit on Monkey Rock, because the stars are brilliant at night up there.”

growing up chico magazine

3- Lights out! “You’ll want a light that you can hood quickly, because you don’t want to lose your night vision-- you turn that light on for 30 seconds, and you can’t see anything. Better yet, have a red lens cover, as that does not ruin your night vision and it still allows you to see ahead for a little ways.”

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Night Owls  

Article from Growing Up Chico Magazine about the animals found in Bidwell Park. Author and photos (unless otherwise indicated) by MaryRose...

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