Science in the Field: Tracking Utah's Tiny Owls - Atlas Obscura Trips
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Photo Credit: Markus Mika
Photo Credit: Tao Tao Holmes/Atlas Obscura
Photo Credit: Markus Mika
Photo Credit: Tao Tao Holmes/Atlas Obscura

Science in the Field: Tracking Utah's Tiny Owls

from $1,655 USD per person for 5 days, 4 nights
See Dates
  • 8 People Maximum
  • Moderate Activity Level
  • Road Trip
See Dates
Trip Overview

As darkness falls, hike into the forests of the Wasatch Mountains, ears perked for the low-pitched “boop” of the Flammulated Owl—a pocket-sized insectivore less than six inches tall with dark, searching eyes. Led by an expert avian biologist, you'll experience one of the most secretive owl species in North America. At four different study locations near our home base in Ogden, Utah, we’ll be helping researchers find active Flammulated Owl nest sites, measure and band female birds, estimate insect prey abundance, and follow the calls of territorial males competing over food and forest resources. We may also be lucky enough to encounter other small owl species such as the Northern Saw-whet Owl, as well as northern flying squirrels. Efforts at tracking nesting owl pairs and their offspring help scientists understand resource needs in an ever-changing environment and shifting climate, and the information we gather during our four days together will add important data to the longterm study of this population.

  • Up-close owl observations
  • Hands-on field research
  • Beautiful forest hikes
  • Night trapping and mist nets


Itineraries and daily schedules are subject to change. We expect to do everything listed in the itinerary, though the order may be rearranged based on weather or other local conditions.

Trip Leader

Markus Mika
Dr. Markus Mika is an avian biologist with a background in ecology, evolution, and conservation. For his doctoral research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, he traveled between southern Mexico and British Columbia for five years investigating the evolutionary history of bird populations, specifically small owls, using genetic markers. He worked on the Northern Utah Flammulated Owl project during the summer field seasons between 1999 and 2002 for his MS degree. After finishing his Ph.D., he picked up the project again in 2011, and has been gathering longterm nesting data on Flammulated Owls ever since. He worked as Science Director at HawkWatch International,  leading raptor conservation and citizen science efforts across the western United States. Currently, he teaches in the Biology Department at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse.

Additional Info

Activity Level

This tour will be physically demanding. Participants should be able to hike between 5 to 10 miles per day, often on steep trails and in unmarked sections of the forest, and sometimes involving bushwhacking and the carrying of field equipment, such as ladders. You'll need sturdy hiking boots as well as protective clothing to prevent cuts and scratches to your arms and legs. We will also be spending extended time in the forest after dark with headlamps and flashlights.


Note that Ogden, Utah stands at 4,300 feet in elevation, and much of our field work takes place between 6,000 and 7,500 feet, which can make physical work more demanding. Altitude affects some more than others; if you are sensitive to altitude, we encourage you to arrive a day or two early to acclimate.


For the four nights of the trip, our group stays in a spacious house located in downtown historic Ogden with shared bathrooms, a large communal kitchen, and various lounge areas. The house also features a large backyard with tables, a deck, and an outdoor hot tub. Depending on the composition of the group, single travelers should be prepared to share a room with another traveler of the same gender.

Arrival & Departure

If flying by air, travelers should book flights arriving at Salt Lake City Airport anytime before 4 p.m. on Wednesday, July 17 and departing after 11:30 a.m. on July 21. If you'll be driving to Ogden, you should plan to arrive by 5 p.m. on July 17 and leave after breakfast on July 21.

  • Four nights of lodging in double-accommodation rooms in a spacious, shared house. Single travelers should be prepared to share a room with another traveler of the same gender, depending on the composition of the group.
  • Daily breakfast, daily lunch, and three dinners.
  • The company of an expert avian biologist and research assistant.
  • Private van transport throughout the trip.
  • A brand-new headlamp for our after-dark forest excursions.
  • If arriving by air, flights to and from Salt Lake City Airport (SLC). If arriving by vehicle, then transport to and from Ogden, Utah.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including one dinner and all alcoholic beverages.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).
  • If applicable, applying for a U.S. visa.
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Trip FAQ

Yes—and it's an important aspect of the trip for us! We are dedicated to supporting owls and their habitat, and will be donating ten percent of trip proceeds to additional research through our friends at HawkWatch International. In 2018, we were able to make a research donation of $1,436, which will go directly into further study of the flammulated owl.

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An awesome, unique outdoor experience with hiking and OWLS!
—Karen K. (June 2018)

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