Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Donna Goes Owling

The Ramble Great Horned Owl
Photo by Cal Vornberger -- 12/30/05


Once again, another large group of birders gathered for the Great Horned Owl's fly-out today. You'd think Spring was in the air as pairs of squirrels cavort and chase after each other all over the Ramble.

4:40 The Great Horned Owl does a slight preening of chest and wings.

4:50 Two of the cavorting squirrels chase each other up The Big One's tree and onto adjacent branches. The owl is completely still. The squirrels are at times extremely close to the owl and the question arises as to whether they know the owl's there. A third squirrel races up the tree next to the owl's roost.

5:00 One squirrel is within a foot of the Great Horned's back. The Owl does a stunningly fast turn towards it and the squirrel whisks to the far side of the tree trunk.

5:03 The owl does a big double wing stretch.

5:05 Fly-out, the first hop to a tree just north of the roost tree. Lee and I walk around the knoll to face the owl and there is Noreen. I'm happy. I'm standing there with two of the best, the sharpest- eyed, the sharpest-eared owl stalkers in Central Park. Or I imagine anywhere else for that matter. There is a third. Lee says quietly so as not to disturb the owl, "Marie should be here."

5:08 The owl makes another short jump. And as it always does, the complete silence of her flight surprises me.

5:09 Another hop but this one back towards her original roost. Lee notes that Great Horned Owls in the air look like flying muffins.

5:12 She's off and for a longer go towards the Lake in the west. Then we're off as well. Lee and Noreen both in black, their silver hair shining in the moonlight, as silent as the owl. I try to be silent too but haven't their knack as yet, the knack of never stepping on that twig in the path that rolls crunchily under one's shoe, never crushing a leaf against the concrete. And they don't just walk as regular people do. Oh no, not when owling. There is no side by side striding together down the sidewalk. But rather they float in all directions, here, there, back, forth, all senses open, searching, fingertips alive, feeling, tasting the air.

I occurs to me once again as it did the first time I saw the three of them, yes three, there would have to be three, Noreen, Lee and Marie, leaning with complete focus into the moth light, that if this were a few centuries earlier, they'd have been burned as witches.

The ducks begin to sound, Lee's face is up, bathed in moonlight. I know she sees it. I look up and see it too. There on a tree just across the path the Great Horned Owl sits with the moon shining just above her shoulder. Her feathers take on the glow, they shimmer. And it is clear why this creature has long been used for family totems, why it's seen as the bearer of omen and supernatural news.

Fine, fine but not her business. She has dinner to catch. She works the oil gland above her tail and preens it. Then gives her neck a good vigorous scratch.

5:21 She's off again. This time heading south. The sparrows begin to sound. Our eyes meet, we all hear it. Off the owlers go again, floating, bobbing, weaving. The sparrows are in the thicket on the other side of Bow Bridge. And there's our owl in the very top of a very tall tree on Cherry Hill. The view obscured, we go back to Bow Bridge -- we can see it perfectly from there. Now others start to congregate there. Tripods and cameras rattle in the dark. There is laughter and conversation.

5:30 The owl with wings fully extended glides off her tall tree and passes right above us, over the curve of Bow Bridge, continuing the downward arc. Where? The Point, she's must be at the Point! "The games afoot!"

We continue on towards The Point but we've lost the owl and finally have to admit it. In the meantime, after seeing the owl 's long, gliding flight over our heads Lee relents. "I was wrong when I said they look like flying muffins, " she admits. We laugh out loud and start walking away, leaving a wish for good hunting behind us.

Donna Browne

PS Other owl and hawk news today:

The orange [red-phase]Eastern Screech Owl was in her hole today for all to see.

<>Veronica reports that Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte have taken to keeping an almost constant vigil on their nest site and the surrounding area. Charlotte sits on the chimney of the Hampshire House in both the AM and PM with Junior periodically spelling her. Is this a possible RT response when a Great Horned Owl comes to town?

Junior was also seen sitting on the ESSEX sign yesterday. He was photgraphed there by Bruce Yolton.

The Hawk Bench Gang reports an immature RT sitting in a small tree near the Bench and standing by the sandbox next to the bathrooms on the east side of the Model Boat Pond.

Two squirrels were seen entering the hole in the London Plane just north of the Bench, a hole that was home to two baby squirrels last season.