owltalk 2001

   

21 April, 2001

 

After three "all nighters", I was tired and willing to accept Thursday's forecast of high winds and rain. My back feels as though it is networked through a core of rebar, and standing for 3 minutes, 50 to 80 times during the course of an evening only makes things worse. On this night, my trek to the north would be a brief interlude, but an interlude nevertheless.

 

I had intended to visit some of "my boys", and check up on the newly located pair of long-eareds. But a funny thing happened on my way into the darkness: owls were singing.

 

I wanted to go home and sleep, but given the prospect of completing surveys, I did what any passionate biologist would do: I started listening at 0.5 mile intervals. Around mile 7, I noticed some play in the brakes. By mile 7.5, I had no brakes. Had it been my dilapidated truck, coddled yet abused for nearly 200,000 miles, I would have expected it. But this beauty had 1,000 miles on it and still smelled factory fresh.

 

In a brief moment of panic, I thought "what am I going to do now?" The answer became obvious: keep surveying. The emergency brake still worked and it's not like I'm barreling through the woods between each stop. The terrain was relatively flat, and there is no traffic to contend with on the back roads of a North Wood's April night.

 

The notion of hurtling down the Sawbill at 110 mph without brakes, however, did present a dilemma. In a moment of glibness, I sensed that Evel Knievel's jump of the Snake River Canyon would pale in comparison to the sight of a brand new Jeep arching through dawn's first light into the Bay of Tofte.

 

Pragmatism however, demanded I complete surveys, and pragmatism can be a divine force. I would worry about the downhill portion of my travels when the downhill portion presented itself.

 

It was the first night of warmth I have experienced this year. Water didn't develop a glaze of ice, and the predicted winds interrupted someone else's night. In 20 miles, I tallied 6 boreals, 12 saw-whets, 5 barreds, 1 great gray, and watched 2 long-eareds move like nighthawks in the glow of my headlights. It looked like spring, felt like spring, and sounded like spring.

 

Since beginning my last round of surveys, the owls have come to life. I toiled in 5 weeks of relative silence and now, just as I am initiating my "exit mode", the forests are alive. Seven northern forest owl species have tickled my eardrums; eardrums that couldn't have the tickling commence soon enough.

 

And tonight, the forecast again calls for strong winds and rain. Based on my experience, I had best prepare for another round of surveys. With or without brakes.

 

W.H. Lane

 

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