owltalk 2001


4 April, 2001


On Sunday night (1 April), as the sun disappeared, I watched as one, then two great gray owls coursed the roadside. They perched and then leapfrogged past one another on opposite sides of the gravel. Less than a hundred feet from my vantage point, an owl angled downward on set wings and crunched the wet snow. His silent wing beats provided lift and he alit in a birch to begin his search again.


Two hundred meters away from the hunting gray ghosts, a male saw-whet started his monotonous serenade of spring. He sang close to the Shore, where brown is interspersed with white, and prey no longer protected. Owls are starving yet owls are singing. Does one species know what the other doesn't?


For the last several days, I have had company. A male boreal owl chose my lodging as the place where his final reserves would be spent. He was lethargic and disinterested in the chickadees that mobbed him; his eyes closed as if in slumber. I presented him with a mouse on the snow and his talons struck as quickly as a lightning bolt. He moved to a spruce branch and tore into his meal. I have no qualms about supplementing his diet, yet I do so discretely and with humility. It may sound strange for a 6'2", 210 pound biologist to say this about a 120 gm. bird, but he has earned my total respect. His world is fraught with peril and uncertainty, mine proceeds according to a clock.


Twenty miles inland, a male boreal owl sings his song into the night. He represents the first persistent singer in my otherwise silent spring. He will provide much-needed diversion when the weather sours, and make me a better biologist. Now, he has me as an uninvited guest and as of last night, a female as an invited guest.


A week ago, a woman approached me with a rolled up plastic bag. Inside it, the paradox of our winter was magnified by the lifeless oval of chocolate brown plumage. Now, the female owl will not send a male into a frenzy on the clear, cold, boreal forest nights. She will not incubate nor brood her young. She will not hunt among the spruces. She will not experience another harsh winter.


Winter has cast its fate and spring starts the process anew.