Owl sightings are special. Probably because they happen so rarely and owls are incredible. I can clearly remember the handful of times I’ve shared space with these charismatic feathered beings. One of those lucky moments occurred last Monday at Shillapoo when I saw the Great Horned Owl. The next day, I was still high on that owl sighting and was itching to go out again. Alas, I was at work most of the day, so I put it out of my mind. Until later…
I’ve been following other local birding blogs, some of which are shared on the side-bar on my page. One in particular posted pictures of a Great Horned Owl with an owlet. I thought, I know the general birding areas in that neighborhood, I wonder if I could find that owl? I studied the pictures of the trees. No specific location was given, and I wasn’t about to ask about such sensitive information, but I figured, best case I see an owl and owlet, worst case, I see other birds. Pretty much a win-win either way.
I set off after work near sunset with a few destinations in mind. I stopped at one, hopped quickly out of the car, surveyed the area…no, not it. Stopped at another, scanned the trees with my binoculars and decided, nope, this wasn’t right either. It was like searching for a specific garment in a world of thrift shops.
Then the third stop surprised me. This! This looks like the site! Could it really be? I felt a childish sense of adventure and savored the moment. I was a detective, hot on the birding trail. The trees and horizon matched, it had to be the site. I surveyed the tree-tops and there she emerged in all her stern glory.
I couldn’t believe I had actually found the owl. Stupefied and coming down from my adventure high, I gazed and observed her from afar. Then I looked around me and felt a sense of sadness slowly sneaking in. This was not dense wilderness, but a commercial-industrial area and to me the owl seemed exposed and vulnerable. This owl deserves better, I thought. Then I started thinking about the impact of my own presence…and then I saw the owlet and I forgot about everything for a second.
This was the first encounter I’ve ever had with an owlet. Pretty neat.
I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for what animals in nature, especially birds, have to put up with just to remain alive; find food, brave winters, migrate, fight for habitat, avoid predation and hunting, and/or a combination of all of it. They also have to deal with people seeking them out. That’s essentially what most birding is, visiting known habitat areas in the hopes that bird encounters will result. People feel connected to nature when they experience it first-hand.
This trip felt different. I’d gone after something specific. I had no idea that I’d actually find the owl and I suppose it’s similar to birders chasing a rare bird alert, but I’m not sure how I feel about this kind of birding yet. Overthinking it some? Maybe. In any case, I remain cognizant of the code of birding ethics.
I think I have as much to learn about my emerging birder identity as I do about the birds.
Tweets, chirps, and hoots!
Nice detective work! This is one of those owls that plenty of folks know about, but I still try to keep off the mainstream radar since there are so many well-known GHOW nests. There’s also a kestrel nest a few doors down from this family if you decide to visit again.
Thanks, Jen!! I completely understand the need for discretion. I might have had a bit of chaser’s-remorse (is that a thing?). It’s comforting to know the owls have nested here for several years despite the peepers. Speaking of…I saw the kestrels! I think I caught them “in the act”…can’t these birds get any privacy?? 😉