owltalk 2000


6 March 2000


Weather is the great equalizer. Conditions that were ideal on Saturday, have soured over the past two nights. It is a familiar pattern, yet unwelcome. It's not that the owls won't sing, it's simply that you have to be on their doorstep to hear them, and this early in the season, there aren't many doorsteps available.


Last night, I walked into an area that has historically supported great gray and boreal owls. In a normal year, the Hog Creek drainage is snow-locked until mid-April, and so it seemed foreign to move to the north without snowshoes. The creek is fed by Bill and Cook Lakes, and meanders among thick tracts of spruce and scrub shrub wetlands, bordered by stands of pine and aspen. It could be the poster child for boreal forest.


After a mile walk, I sat on a narrow spit of land next to the creek. The sun set and a billion stars fledged from a once blue sky. Unfamiliar warm winds swayed tree tops like a metronome. In two weeks, my stay here would have been brief, my patience stripped by the frenzied activities of owls singing elsewhere. This night, however, I had no place to go, and I went nowhere for three hours.


Waters that normally flow beneath a thick veneer of ice were open and noisy. I imagined a great gray flying to its perch on a dead-topped spruce, its head bobbing to locate its next meal, oblivious to my presence. I wished for that; wished for an observation that would reward my patience. Anything to lessen the feeling of complete isolation the North Woods can deliver.


There are times during the spring, when the North Woods seem devoid of life, save for an obdurate owl biologist. Yet in every forest tract you know that both predator and prey are active, intent on eating and not being eaten. On the walk back to my truck, I wondered if my footsteps perked the ears of a wolf pack, or sent a fisher into thick, protective cover. You feel their presence, regardless of the weather.


Copyright W.H. Lane