Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A visit from the Grand Duke

Great Horned Owl in The Ramble 11/14/10
photo by Lincoln Karim

It's a rare day when the Great Horned Owl pays a visit to Central Park. Once called Le Grand Duc by the French, the GHO [to use its common acronym] is the biggest owl to ever set foot [I mean set talons] in Central Park. But though it is a most unusual Central Park visitor, it is the most widespread owl in North America.

The GHO was discovered on Sunday afternoon dozing in a Tulip Tree in the Ramble. By 4:30 pm, when I arrived, there was a small collection of owl-worshippers [with Lincoln Karim the only photographer] waiting for the fly-out. That's what owl-watchers call the moment, usually a little after sunset, when these nocturnal creatures take off from their daytime roosts to begin their dark day. On Sunday the GHO took off at about 4:59 p.m. In fact I was too excited to look at my watch at the instant of flight--that's why I can't be absolutely sure of the time. By the time the huge-winged bird had disappeared in a northward direction I saw that it was just about 5:00. But it was so dark by that time that I had to click the "Indiglo" button on my Timex to light up the dial.

The owl has not been seen since.

PS On Sunday the GHO began hooting about 15 minutes before fly-out, and continued hooting -- an eerie 5 syllable call--until it flew off. It was the first time I've heard the characteristic GHO hoot in Central Park. As far as I know previous visitors of this species to the park have been silent.

PPS I first heard the GHO referred to as "The Grand Duke" in a wonderful book called The Owl Papers. Written by Jonathan Evan Maslin. It is unfortunately no longer in print. But you might find it on a used book site. Worth a search.