owltalk 2001


18 April, 2001


I can't remember when the winds have blown like they have over the past two weeks. Ordinarily, as the earth warms in April, high pressure systems start to spread their shoulders and keep out the riff-raff (low pressure systems). But for the last 9 days, one low after another has pushed in, and the night has become impenetrable.


Typically, that is not a problem. Owls that have been located during earlier surveys can be revisited. On 3 April, I located four new boreals on my Crooked Lake route. But that's when things started their downhill slide. Wind, rain, and now, snow. For a week, the sun didn't shine and the stars didn't twinkle. And when they did, all sounds were rendered inconsequential.


Things are calming down, at least in terms of the weather. Tonight (17 April), the tree tops will remain still, but the calm will come with a trade-off as temperatures drop to the low teens. Once again, I will be layered like a Russian pastry. It is as though winter doesn't want to give up.  Ice-out in the Arrowhead should occur sometime during late August.


I visited my lone pair of boreal owls on 15 April, doing so in heavy snow and quarter-mile visibility. Snowshoes kept me above the windfall, and I strapped them on despite bare pockets of ground along my path. Without them, a 7 minute trek takes 20, and thigh deep pockets of snow and random arrays of fencepost-sized balsam firs and black spruce force me to become an athlete.


The female was home, and the male visited her twice over a two hour period. She is on eggs. Her loyalty to the cavity tells me so.

I watched, propped up on snowshoes, as owl activity ebbed and flowed. I became covered, then insulated with snow. A snowshoe hare meandered up from the alder and began to browse, oblivious to my presence. She still showed white, but her pelage is mottled now, changing to a more seasonal coloration. I could have reached out and touched her, but instead, I just watched. It is what I do best.


Last night (17 April), northern Minnesota was presented in a way that everyone should experience. The northern horizon lit up after sunset and my night was bathed in a sea-green aurora glow. Woodcock began peenting and ruffed grouse drummed like percussion. Ravens stirred easily from their roosts. Ducks squawked on open waters and a song sparrow awoke with its tentative song. Four male boreal owls performed their arias, and I watched and listened as a pair of long-eared owls hooted their intentions to one another. On this night at least, the North Woods were a palpable, tactile experience.  Springtime or not.