Hello, night creatures

Annual workshop teaches kids, adults about owls, bats

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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‘Oh look! Here’s a skull!” exclaimed Carrie Kraten of Oregon City, Ore.

She and her 5-year-old grandson, Cole Riehl, were intently dissecting an owl pellet, a golf ball-sized chunk of fur and bits of bone.

The owl couldn’t digest it, so it coughed it up.

Wildlife folks had sterilized the pellets, wrapped them in foil and passed them out to a crowd of about 150 kids and parents. The pellets were placed on paper drawings of a vole, and the kids wielded wooden picks to match up the bone fragments. A tiny webbed foot was among the fragments, forensic evidence of what the owl had gobbled up.

The occasion Wednesday night was “Creatures of the Night,” an annual workshop of fun and learning at the Water Resources Education Center on Columbia Way east of Marine Park.

The free event was sponsored by the Clark County Department of Environmental Services, the Fish and Wildlife Service and Columbia Springs, a nonprofit environmental education center.

And it was lots of fun, with cookies, apples, bananas, candy and juice on hand — and surprising things to see, such as dried bat specimens with their wings spread and pressed under glass. There also was a seemingly perfect bat skeleton that must have taken someone a lot of time to create.

The workshop began with kids coming up to the microphone and telling bat and Dracula jokes.

“How does a girl vampire flirt?” asked a dad who went up front with his young son.

As the boy flapped his arms, dad said, “She bats her eyes.”

Next came videos on a large screen with a hundred fun facts.

Did you know there are plants that are pollinated only by bats, including bananas in some places?

Or that bats gulp down thousands of mosquitoes, meaning fewer bites for us?

There were photos of all sorts of bats, some with funny expressions on their faces that made the kids laugh. A bat with a sort of Mohawk hairdo was shown, another with huge eyes and another with a tail like a mouse’s.

Don’t try to pick up a bat on the ground, a narrator warned.

Cathi Wright, a longtime animal specialist, spoke about owls, including the large great horned owl with feather tufts it moves back to show its mood.

Some owls have great night vision, and some can hear a mouse in grass up to 100 feet away.

Questions such as whether an owl can turn its head all the way around a full 360 degrees, as in “The Excorcist?” (No.)

And, why do owls turn their heads so much? (They have fixed eyes that can look in only one direction.)

“Why are owls so wise?” a child asked. (It’s a matter of skull capacity. They aren’t that wise, because their eyes are bigger than their brains.)

All sorts of owls and other birds can be seen at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a speaker said.

Not so wise, maybe, but larger owls are effective hunters HOOOO can fly slow and silent and use the element of surprise.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.