One morning recently, when it was just barely light, I stopped the electric toothbrush to listen. Unseen, coming from a tree over the garage, an Eastern Screech Owl cried. I am a truly amateur bird watcher and listener, so I had only a faint idea about what I was hearing. But the nice thing about being an amateur these days is that you have a world of resources just a few key strokes away. To me, the screech sounded like half whinny, half screaming woman—it sent a chill of alarm through me before I figured out that it was a raptor. Here’s a link to the audio. The dramatic, human quality of the call reminded me of the start to Mystery on PBS years ago (the part of this video where the helpless woman is crying in distress from atop, for some reason, a large tombstone. Creepy, with Edward Gorey graphics.)
I loved the unexpected treat of this unseen visitor. That owl sat on the same branch, I think, where Gavin had once spotted a juvenile bald eagle, in all its magnificence, looking down at our garage. (we have mice and chipmunk visitors to the garage—has the word spread in the bird of prey community?). I was so impressed I had to try a poem that day (it’s at the bottom of this post).
What was it about this particular Saturday morning that had the raptors showing themselves to me? A half hour after the Screech Owl, I was only two blocks into my walk when I pulled out my iPhone to try to record a Red-Shouldered Hawk at the very top of a tall pine. My friend Chris paused her own walk to stare up and take photos with me, and I had a new appreciation for nature photographers/videographers. Of course, I had no zoom lens, but to even get just a recognizable profile I had to wait, patiently, until the guy (or gal) turned his/her head. And I started to feel like the bird was intentionally withholding its call now that I was trying to capture it. I got a neck cramp watching and waiting, but finally it graced me with its song and I hit the “record” button with success. Here’s a link to hear what the hawk sounds like (my free version of WordPress won’t let me upload videos, but I am quite proud of my own recorded song). Here’s the best picture I managed (as handy as the phone camera is, I am putting a compact camera with zoom on my wish list):
Last year, Gavin and I attended an Audubon Society “Owl Prowl”—a nighttime walk in the freezing cold led by an expert birder and caller. The only owl we saw and heard was the baby one they were rehabilitating inside—I think it may have been another Eastern Screech (I remember its fluffy ear tufts). But it was endlessly amusing to witness this 50- or 60-something woman expertly contorting her vocal chords to cry out like an owl. I don’t remember her doing the Eastern Screech call though—that would have been an impressive feat. I see there’s another Owl Prowl in the works (this one in Milford, CT, but, for locals, I bet others will be scheduled soon—watch the Audubon Web sites).
And this strays from the raptor topic, since I’ve never seen a raptor at my bird feeder, but Project FeederWatch, an opportunity to be a citizen scientist and tune in more to birds even as the winter weather zooms in (an initiative by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada) is underway. Participants are asked to select 2 feeder watch days at least a week apart, and record what they see. If you get into it, winter also brings the Great Backyard Bird Count in February 2015. I am not a cold weather lover but the distraction of birding makes it a much more enriching time for me!
Wishing you your own morning with raptors, for it truly is a gift to be visited by these magnificent creatures.
Should I remember anything of this day,
it will be the bald eagle on bare branch
framed against the Sunday afternoon sky
Watched me watching him,
incongruous in his largeness
Stayed during my afternoon nap
(perhaps he had one too),
screeched as I roused,
just before he flew
I searched each limb from
every pane of my own aerie
Found him again between
the spaces in this poem