Great Horned Owl on Halloween

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s the same thing,” he said.
– A.A. Milne –

The Owl
7-owl-in-treeJust before the sun came up yesterday, I heard the hoot of an owl. It sounded very close, so I grabbed my camera and quietly slid the patio door open. I stepped out onto the deck. The owl hooted again, but it was several hoots later before my eyes adjusted to the dark. Then I spotted it at the top a very tall spruce tree near the house!  I took a number of pictures, some with flash, though I didn’t think the flash would be much use when the owl was over 30 feet away! The owl hooted a few more times. I looked down to check the setting on my camera and when I looked up the owl was gone – so quietly I hadn’t even heard it leave.

Can you see the owl in the photo? It is a side view, with the head on the right, the tail on the left. One of the tree branches obscures the owls right eye. I think you can see the ear tuft, which would say it was probably a Great Horned Owl.

Once the owl left, there was nothing left to do but watch the sunrise. It was a more successful photo!

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Eurasian Eagle Owl and a Great Horned Owl near a Windmill

In many parts of the world, the water-pumping windmill was the workhorse that allowed the pioneers to open up vast areas of land for farming and ranching.  Poised over a water well, these wind powered towers lifted the water out of the ground so that  it could be used for irrigation in areas that were far from rivers and streams.

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The Windmill in this photograph now sits on the family farm of some good friends.  Do you see the owl sitting on the platform just below the vanes? No, I expect you don’t. It is only there in my memory.

The evening before I took this photo, we were all sitting around the campfire, roasting hot dogs and s’mores. Suddenly, a Great Horned Owl swooped over our heads, then flew off over the meadow towards the dugout. I set off at a trot, hoping I could get a better look at it. As I rounded the edge of a clump of trees, I looked up and there, on the platform of the windmill, was the owl. It looked down at me for a few minutes, while I talked to it in my best Owlspeak.

Of course, I wasn’t sure I knew how to speak like an owl, but I figured Harry Potter didn’t know he could speak Parseltongue to a snake until he tried it, so I had nothing to lose… The owl on the windmill listened quietly, then flew off over the trees and disappeared from view.

I always wanted to have a close up, (safe)  encounter with an owl. My wish came true at the Hohenweffen Fortress in Austria. There is a Falconry Center there, and they put on daily demonstrations with their many birds of prey. Of course, the entire commentary was in German and we missed most of what was said.

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But as soon as the narrator introduced the next  bird as  ‘Oohoo’, I just knew what kind of bird it was! The owl  flew around the arena a few times, and then the hostess threw some bird feed right near our feet! The ‘Oohoo’ swooped right down in front of us to eat. It was the best part of the whole trip as far as I was concerned!

The Feather Files
Name: Eurasian Eagle Owl
Species: Bubo bubo
Native to and Migration: Found in North Africa, Europe, Asia, Middle East. Northern birds migrate South if tempareture is low or food becomes scare
Date Seen: October, 2011
Location: Austria

I expect you have heard that Owls are very smart, but apparently they are not as bright as geese, crows, and ravens. That’s not what A.A. Milne would have you think, however:

Owl took Christopher Robin’s notice from Rabbit and looked at it nervously. He could spell his own name WOL, and he could spell Tuesday so that you knew it wasn’t Wednesday, and he could read quite comfortably when you weren’t looking over his shoulder and saying “Well?” all the time…
– The House at Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne –

Swainson’s Hawks – I Watch Them, They Watch Me

For the past few days I have been watching the Swainson’s Hawk Family. I believe it consists of Mom, Dad, and two hungry, uneducated youths. Sporadically during the day, the youths start to whine for food, and they don’t let up until a meal is delivered. It kind of reminds me of when my own children still lived at home…

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To make life more difficult for the parents, the hawk kids are always on the move, sometimes perching on a hay bale, sometimes in the top of a tree, and sometimes on a post – but invariably about 1/2 mile or more from where the parents are hunting. This means Mom and Dad Hawk have a general idea of what “street” the kids are hanging out on, but no idea what the house number is.

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The other day I was standing on the road in front of our property taking pictures of the golden hay bales glowing in the late afternoon sun. All of a sudden the hawks started to arrive from the woods beyond the hay field.

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Some took up positions in the top of some trees in my front yard. One bird chose a poplar branch which was just a bit too floppy to support its weight. The branch tipped and swayed, while the bird did its best to readjust its hold and maintain its balance, all the while still calling for someone or something.

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Then one of the hawks (I think it was mom or dad) made a few long, gliding passes about 30 feet above my head. I don’t know if it was inspecting me out of curiosity or whether it was warning me to go away. I took a few pictures, then retreated into our woods.

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The Swainson’s Hawk parents will continue to feed their offspring for a few more weeks, then the young will head off on their own. In about a month, all of these hawks will start their annual fall migration to the pampas of South America, a distance of about 7000 miles. Next spring the same pair of hawks will return to this area to start another family (assuming they both survive and the fields around here provide enough rodents to eat).

The Feather Files
Name: Buteo swainsoni
Species: Swainson’s Hawk
Native to and Migration: In fall they fly to their Argentine wintering grounds in one of the longest migrations of any raptor. They form flocks of hundreds or thousands as they travel.
Date Seen: June, 2012
Location: a few miles North of Calgary, Alberta, Canada