By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Cheyenne Lattin was mid-sentence talking about the great horned owl when fate and coincidence interfered.
People hustled over to the side of the Group Shelter at Oasis State Park with cameras and binoculars in hand, smaller children giving each other a lift to see over the ledge. It was none other than the owl itself sitting on a tree branch next to the shelter being harassed by mockingbirds who wanted it to leave its post.
Lattin, a seasonal employee of the park and a student at Eastern New Mexico University studying for her master’s in wildlife biology, gave a presentation about birds on Saturday at Oasis State Park. She said the owl couldn’t have made a better introduction.
The owl, a large brown-speckled bird with prominent ear tufts and native to the Americas, was one of many birds Lattin spoke passionately about at the park’s bird watching event and though she didn’t expect the crowd to actually see many bids in-person, the owl’s guest appearance worked out perfectly.
“I’ve never been exposed to an owl in my life,” said Logan Flynn, 12, of Canyon, Texas, who was camping at the park with his family for the weekend.
Spotting the owl was the cherry on top of what he considered a fun visit to Portales and he and his mother are wildlife fanatics, particularly when it comes to birds.
Flynn said he’s been bird banding, a technique attaching attach metal and plastic tags to legs or wings used in the study of wild birds, since he was a small child. He estimates he’s seen more than 500 types of birds in his life and the great horned owl was just one more to add to the list.
“I was born like this; we carry our cameras and books with us,” Flynn said.
Flynn’s mother, Serena Flynn, studied wildlife ecology and says her favorite bird of all time is the cedar wax wing. She came to the park hoping to see a towhee bird.
“The state park is darling,” said Serena Flynn. “We just liked it all.”
The Flynns were among good company with Lattin and others who shared the same affection for wildlife.
Lattin discussed the birds that could be seen at the park, including a roadrunner, the American coot, a house finch, quail and the owl.
Lattin says the house finch’s color derives from the diet it has so the redder their chest, the healthier they are. She also said the bird’s coloration serves as a hierarchy system, with those who have the least coloring being at the bottom of the chain.
The one American coot the park does have as an occupant flew in with a partner and never left and now hangs with the ducks of the park.
Lattin also talked about the killdeer, a bird that pretends to be injured to lead predators away from its nest.
“I thought she was hurt,” said Serena Flynn about one she spotted near her home in Texas.
Lattin said a scaled quail lives near the RV camp site at the park and one day she witnessed the mom act as a crossing guard hurrying her 15 babies across the road, an experience she cherishes.
“I sat there and counted them,” Lattin said. “They rather run than fly.”