Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Screech-owl excitement with Donna and the owl-prowlers

Still a lot of snow in Central Park three days after the Great Blizzard
Photo by Lincoln Karim 2/12/06

Donna's report for last night's screech-owl fly-out:

5:22PM A Sharpie comes flapping down the drive, north to south, and lands 4/5 of the way up an oak on a branch that arches over the roadway. She sits there alert, hunting. It's early yet, not an avid Owl Watcher in sight, though walking towards the owl tree I see a photographer right under it taking pictures.

5:34 I reach my destination, and there he is , the Beau Brummel of Screech Owls: standing at his ease, perfectly groomed like any good dandy, dozing in his "doorway".

5:37 What? No snow on this part of the bench. It's dry. Alright! Sit and keep the boots out of the snow and the feet stay warmer. The Carlyle's in view above the trees, neither Pale Male nor Lola are perched on it's roof lights. The Sharpie still sits in her tree. . The photographer starts taking photos with his flash. Two pedestrians query him and he points up at the owl. They can't seem to spot it. He waves his hand at Mr. Screech, perhaps hoping for a movement to help the pedestrian's eye. Mr. Screech does not deign to respond. They wander on.

5:44 More flashes from the camera, Mr. Screech retreats back just a touch, the wind picks up, snowflakes fall from the branches. Tonight's is a pink sunset, set to the slurring sound of tires in slush. Barbara arrives, then Lee, then Jean, converging from all directions.

5:49 The Sharpie is gone. The hellos are over, Jean and Barbara chat quietly, Lee and I stand and stare fixedly at the owl standing in his "doorway". You can miss his exit in the bat of an eye.

5:58 He's OUT. I'm standing on the far sidewalk just a touch south of the hole and he takes a curve out passing south of me. Then he's off for a long hop to the northwest. We head onto the snow covered path. Crunch, crunch. There he is, not as high as last night's first leg but higher than most evenings previous to the snow. He sits, we watch. Jean heads back to monitor the hole and Mrs. Screech.

6:00 Jean sees the Mrs peek out. Ah, she's still there.

6:05 Mr.Screech takes off towards the trees adjacent to the archway. We look, we scan, we peer.. We don't find him anywhere. Lee comments that this has been a disappointing flyout. Barbara, Lee, and I stand together in a little knot under a tree, deflated. Barbara says, What was that? We say, What? She asks, What does a Screech Owl sound like? Lee cups her hands over her mouth and does quite a good call. I'm impressed, I smile, and look up.

And there he is. Preening no less. Completely unconcerned, not more than five feet above our heads and fewer feet away, in the tree we're standing under. He preens his miniature feet, his tummy, scratches his head, does a double wing stretch, works on a shoulder, wiggles his tail. Wait. Alert, he triangulates. Is he taking off? No, back to that right foot again, back to the tummy, another stretch. The view couldn't be better.

6:08 Another tail wiggle, he's off. Toward the west and maybe a bit north. Where is he? I think I see him, in the wide crotch of that tree, quite high this time, nearer the wall, perfectly still. There! Is it him? Barbara gets her binocs on him. Yes indeed. We watch.

6:12 He's up and away and because of the angle we haven't much of a clue.. Where did the little bugger go this time? Over the wall? To the other side of the arch? . Before we go further afield, Lee decides she'd better go get Jean, still at her station watching the owl hole for a possible Mrs.exit. Barbara and I walk through the tunnel, still looking, and pause on the north side to wait for the others.

6:19 We begin to chat quietly, still scanning, slowly walking north. When I turn her way, the park wall is her backdrop. I can't believe it. Little gray wings flapping in silence. LOOK! There! There! A Screech Owl whips past from south to north, at mid-wall level behind Barbara's back and disappears into north.

Of course at this point, we can't be sure which one it is as Mrs. Screech could easily have exited the hole behind Lee and Jean's back as they walked our way.

6:23 Barbara! Up by the wall, see that scraggly tree? Is that him right next to the trunk midway up? Lee and Jean arrive.It could be. Barbara checks with her binocs. No, not him. Sigh. Someone asks, what kind of tree is that? I say, I don't know. One that has twiggy leafy lumps that look like Screech Owls.

6:30 We walk north towards the park exit, happy. Not a disappointing flyout after all.
Donna Browne