Sunday, March 05, 2006


(NOTE: I actually composed most of this on Feb 28, but hadn't gotten around to finish it for posting. Apologies for my unexplained absence.)

I got up very early this morning to do something I've never done before - go owling solo.

The biggest trouble of course is dragging yourself out of bed. It's nice and cozy there, whereas the outside world promises only cold and makes pestering demands of consciousness and mental acuity. Still, you can't get it out of your head that in the dead of night -there- -are- -owls- -out- -there-, so you force yourself up, even as the clock says 5 minutes after 3 a.m.

After the first 5 or 10 minutes though, the drowsiness gives way to excitement, especially as you become aware that virtually everyone else is still fast asleep, leaving you and only you as the sentinel. Pitch dark with the new moon, and no cars on the road - at least for a time, the world seems to belong only to you.

I drove up Rist Canyon Rd, since I'd heard that was a good area to look for small owls. I'm in dire need of seeing, or at least hearing, small owls, like Eastern Screech-Owl, Northern Saw-Whet Owl, Boreal Owl, and Northern Pygmy Owl. After driving a couple miles in, I got out of my truck and just listened. Silence. I then practiced a few of my Saw-Whet pip calls, and after just a minute, a Great Horned Owl some ways up the canyon hooted back. Wow! I'd never had a conversation before with an owl. Granted, I was probably just pissing it off, smack-talking like some intruder owl, but still, we were communicating. It sounds trivial, but it was surprisingly visceral.

I made a few other stops in the next hour or so, but hadn't elicited much else in response until I returned to more or less the same spot I started. I pipped again, and this time, I got a real Saw-Whet reply. It sounded fairly close, and I clambered a short ways off the road in hopes of getting my flashlight onto it. But it was far enough up the hill and in the trees to discourage me, and once it stopped pipping around 5:15am, I gave up altogether. I'll find the owl some other time - at least I now know where they are.

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