24 March 2000
Finally, the weather has relented and a triumvirate of low pressure systems is wreaking havoc elsewhere. Good for them. Monday night (20 March), conditions were ripe for an 8 hour listening session. I had already convinced myself that it would be a good night. It was overcast, but temperatures were comfortable. Even the puree of fog was welcome, if for no other reason than its affect. At my first stop, I was eager to see what the owls were up to, or not.
The night didn't wait long to show me the cards it was holding: a royal flush of silence. At 04:00, I stood at the last stop and tallied my count: 1 boreal, 1 saw-whet, and 23 drumming ruffed grouse. Not productive but interesting. I have seen this pattern before with the owls, but not with the grouse. The brown landscape is shouting "springtime for Bonasa umbellus" and they are responding.
In reflection, something, some external factor had shut-down the owls. Was it the fog? Was it the moon? Was it me? I may never know. In 1995, on an evening wrapped in warm temperatures and patchy fog I had located 18 boreal and 5 great gray owls during a 6 hour stint in the woods. Then, the fog didn't matter and the moon was one day past full, so conditions were very similar. Why then was it so ghostly quiet and why were the two owls singing when no others were? I already knew that a female saw-whet loomed near her suitor's territory, but the boreal was new, heretofore undetected. Yet he sang his telltale song when no one else would (yes, he did have a female present).
Last night (21 March), Rich Jordan and I completed another graveyard shift. Same temperatures, same calm winds, but no fog. The owls were speaking. Not a shout mind you, more like a normal conversation, but they were busy. After 72, 3 minute stops, my scorecard read: 3 boreals, 10 saw-whets, 8 barreds, and 13 ruffed grouse (hey, why ignore them?). It may seem like a bowl-full of effort for a thimble-full of results, but it keeps me eager and curious.
In the course of 24 hours, the owls of the North Woods had gone from reluctant to willing singers. They sang when the moon was tucked under the eastern horizon and when it was high overhead; when the winds stirred and when the winds rested; when my mind was attentive and when it drifted. Now another low pressure system is upon us (23 March) and for the next evening or so, I will be content making visits to the male owls who sing on some evenings, but remain mute on others. Both their silence and song occur for a reason. It is why I am here.
Copyright © W.H. Lane