Winter and early spring is prime owling time, so it feels like a good time to make a post about the owls at Mines Road.
Upper Mines Road is ~2500 ft elevation, and farther inland, so some nights it gets pretty cold, and some mornings there is frost and ice. I suggest many layers.
There are also Mountain Lions, so do be careful, especially if you are alone (I’m deadly serious about this).
With those disclaimers out of the way. Late evening (after dusk) or very early morning (before sunrise) are good times to go owling. Northern Pygmy-Owls are less nocturnal and may be vocal (or even visible!) during daylight hours.
Owls can be anywhere along Mines Road. Great Horned Owls are widespread, occurring from the lowlands of the Livermore Valley up to the higher elevations close to the Santa Clara border. Western Screech-Owls mostly occur from mile 5 up. Barn Owls can also occur along much of the road, even up to higher elevations, but they are not as common as some of the other species.
Upper Mines Road is where the owl diversity is highest. Pygmy-Owls mostly are from about mile 9 or 10 up. Saw-Whets mostly mile 12 and up - recently pretty reliable around the Corral (mile 17.6).
There is one other species of owl that occurs at Mines Road, Long-eared Owls. This species has a very restricted range in Alameda County and is sensitive to human disturbance. Please do not use playback on them. They are restricted to the higher elevations similar to Saw-Whets, but are less numerous. February and March should be a good time to listen for spontaneous vocalizations. I don’t think birders patiently waiting for spontaneous vocalizations poses any threat or disturbance to these birds, but using playback could disturb them. Since the information about their location is publicly available on eBird, I don’t feel I’m threatening them by mentioning them here, but PLEASE respect the Long-eared Owls. We don’t want to jeopardize the success of the tiny population we have.
If you go owling at Mines Road, dress warm, keep an eye out for lions, and good luck! I would be very impressed if anyone can get all 6 species in one night.