Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Owl Walk

So, last night* we went on an owl walk, a thing I'd not done before. We'd learned about it from a piece in the HERON HERALD [Dec. 2008, page 5] around the time of Janice's birthday and arranged to take part, thinking it might be interesting and wd certainly be different.

When the night came, we were a little worried by the weather (in addition to turning quite cold it had snowed earlier and threatened to start up again) but still looked forward to the prospect of owling. We made it to the meeting place down next to the Soos Creek Trail, where we discovered that despite the weather they had a good turn out. Although the announcement had said group size was limited to fifteen, we had twenty-one counting the guide, so the little nature center building was packed. First we listened to an audiobook of Jane Yolen's little book OWL MOON, to get a quick course in Owl Walk Etiquette,** then we heard the calls of five owls that live in the area: a Great Horned Owl (the classic who! who!), the Barn Owl (a woman's scream), the Screech Owl (hoo-hoo-hooo-hoo-hooo), the little Saw-Whet (two cries: one rather like a chickadee's alarm call and the other like a crow's complaint), and thrown in at the last moment the Barred Owl (which I forget; I think it sounded a bit like cooing). Then after a little more talk about owls in the area and their habits, we were off, about an hour after gathering.

The actual 'owl walk' portion of the evening involved our walking a bit along the trail through the woods, then stopping while the guide played some owl calls on his little boom box, then looking into the darkness all around hoping to see an owl, all the while staining our ears to see if we heard an owl respond to the calls.*** Then after five or ten minutes we'd move on and walk a while before trying a new spot. Despite my being hopelessly night-blind (so much so that I avoid driving at night whenever possible) I actually didn't have much trouble seeing, between the gibbous moon and the snow on the ground. The stars were quite bright by the time we were done, though from where we were all I cd make out were the handle on the Big Dipper and Arcturus, plus the Gemini; I cdn't find Leo nor Perseus and Orion (the latter two being too close to the horizon behind the trees or already set).

The end result, after two full hours of this, was that the only owls we saw were the four stuffed ones back in the nature center building at the start of the talk, and the only owls we heard were the ones on the recordings and the audiobook. Still, it was a nice night for a walk, and I pretty much never walk in the woods at night (cf. nightblindness above), and I rarely make time to go out and see the stars, as much as I enjoy that, so I had a good evening. We'll probably go back for their Bat Walk this summer, but our next owl watch will probably be a quiet stroll by ourselves up at the Kent Wetlands just north of here.

It has been an interesting week for birds nevertheless: Thursday when coming back from having lunch with a friend I saw a bald eagle flying along the Green River (we do see them occasionally, but this is the first time this year). Then today while heading out to do groceries we saw either a v. large hawk or a smallish eagle sitting in a bare tree near the new bridge. Not quite as exciting as the Pileated Woodpecker Jeff Grubb has been seeing lately, of which I'm frankly envious, but welcome sights nonetheless (although the finches, crows, and chickadees we're feeding wd no doubt beg to differ).

current reading: FINGERPRINTS OF THE GODS by Graham Hancock [1995]

(*technically late last night and early this morning, since it started at 10.30pm and ran till 1.30 am).

(**don't talk once out on the walk, don't use yr flashlight, don't make any noise you can avoid. Above all, don't come back another night and play owl-calls; it upsets the owls no end and can cost them a night's hunting)

(*** I shd have asked where we shd be looking -- i.e. whether owls tend to come in high, or low, or whether it differed from one type to another -- but didn't think of it until we were already in medias.)

1 comment:

N.E. Brigand said...

The barred owl's call is "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?"