Sunday, March 18, 2007

O is for Owls

I keep hoping they will wake me up.

It’s getting to be time for owls to mate. The stream running through the farmer’s fields and the nearby patches of woods make for perfect roosting and hunting grounds.

The ones most likely to wake me are the barreds and great-horneds. The barreds are just loud, conversational.* The great-horneds are softer, and they awaken me more gently. I love the mnemonic used for their call: Who’s awake? Me too!

These first awakenings happen behind closed windows, as it’s far too cold to be sleeping with them open. It is almost always I who wake up, almost never Tim, as I am by far the lighter sleeper. At first suspicion that I may have really heard something, I get up, walk around the bed to the windows, and open the one closest to the stream. I stoop down and stick my face up to the screen. I listen as long as I can stand it.

The next-most-often-heard owl here is the eastern screech. I love its sound. It’s the spooky-owl one. Such complexities for such a little bird! Its vibrato is the essence of spring.

The one and only time I heard a saw-whet owl, it woke me up. The Cornell recording doesn’t sound exactly like what I heard, but friends have described the saw-whet’s call as “a spaceship backing up.” Just so you know, a spaceship backing up sounds a bit like whetting a saw. I so wish I could hear it again.

I think I have only heard a barn owl twice (and a barn owl has never woken me up). The first time was almost scripted. Tim and I were heading to Chincoteague to camp with some friends, one who’s practically an ornithologist. On the way, I wondered aloud what a barn owl sounded like, because it’s not included on the Peterson tapes. When we got to the campground, we asked Chuck, who became suddenly alert and said, “Kind of like that!” as a barn owl screamed above us. Chuck managed to get his megapowerful flashlight on the bird as it flew by, and we got a look. People have likened the cry of this owl to the scream of a child. It’s a frightening sound. The second time, I was walking along the rail trail after dark, by the farmer’s fields. This barn owl was also on the wing, its screams drawing close, then veering away.

Owls. It’s almost Equinox. It’s time for one of them to wake me up.

Who’s awake?

*Tim can do a pretty good imitation of a barred owl and can occasionally get an answer when he calls. But it’s an outdoor trick, not relevant to getting the wild ones to wake me as I’m sleeping indoors. Of course, if Tim was awake and I was asleep, he could possibly trick me.


Helen said...

I've hardly ever heard an owl (although perhaps all those times I thought it was a spaceship backing up it was actually a saw-whet owl), and always get a bit worried if I do. Isn't there a native American legend about hearing an owl call your name when it's time for you to die?

Sewa Yoleme said...

I can do a fair Barred as well. "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" (I always thought of them as Southerners.)

The only Barred owls I've heard, except on tape, were in Middletown Springs. They were calling to one another across a field, so I make it a trio. Here they were, trying to carry on an intelligent conversation, and I was probably doing the owl equivalent of speaking in tongues. I can just hear one saying to the other, "George, who is that insane bird with you?" "He isn't with me, I thought he was with you!" "What's he saying? 'Seventeen mousy beech water'? What in the world does that mean?"

Indigo Bunting said...

Helen: I think you're right. Of course, I've heard a lot of owls, and I'm still alive. Maybe I just haven't heard the right owl.

SY: Laughing now.

Cedar Waxwing said...

I've never heard an owl. As far as I know that is.

lolololo said...

Y'all have to come on down to Charlotte and hear all the owls (and spring peepers too). The woods are chock full of 'em.
In fact last week me and the doggies went hiking in the woods down by a swamp and I was AMAZED at the amount of owl pellets I discovered.

Cedar Waxwing said...

I love owl pellets. I took a class about 14 years ago in which we examined owl pellets. What fun to see what the owls had been feasting upon. I might just take you up on your offer, Lisa.

Am I the only 365er who lives in a boring suburb?

lolololo said...

Cedar if the developers have their way soon all our woods will be gone.
But thankfully the state stepped in on Friday and put a 9 month immediate freeze on all development, including projects currently in motion.

Indigo Bunting said...

I love owl pellets. Seriously.

Hmmm, I wonder if I'll ever get to P? I keep meaning to!

Susan said...

I need to go to one of those websites that offer recordings of bird sounds. I think I've heard owls. The only one I saw was quite small. It perched in the empty (broken) window of the old outhouse for a couple of days...and completely cleared the property of songbirds.

Indigo Bunting said...

Susan: Those predators... my links to the owl names take you right to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology page at the bird sound, where you can click on it!