Sunday, November 19, 2006

Whoo Whoo Whoose Calling?

After yesterday's exciting close encounter with a red-tailed hawk I am all atwitter with bird fever. Well, maybe not that atwitter, but it was fun to sit and watch the quail parade waddle from site to site today, picking up the grain the folks in the park are putting out for them. I swear some of them look like basketballs on stilts.

But just now (11:15 pm) having turned off the television I was checking my e-mail when I heard this, just outside in the common. No mistaking that, it's the hoot of the great horned owl. It sat and hooted for three or four minutes before either quieting down or moving off.

Great horned owls grow to be HUGE, with a four and half foot wingspan. They are clever and aggressive hunters, and will easily pick your pet poodle or fattened pussy cat right off the front steps. The owl may have been sitting in the apple tree ordering cat for dinner after seeing our well-fed "lunch on a leash" out for walkies just after sundown. I can imagine it now, thinking in its owlish way, "That ginger cat looks exceptionally tender and juicy. He'd make a great midnight snack."

One winter evening, back in the 70s, when we were on our little farm in the Columbia Valley, I'd gone out to milk the goat as it was getting dark. Coming out of barn with a full pail of milk I flipped on the outside light just as I was strafed by an enormous great horned owl.

Absolutely silent, wings out a mile, talons extended, it looked like an airliner coming for me. I don't remember if I dropped the milk pail, but I know I screamed and dove for cover. When I am really scared the best I can manage is a sort of choked squawk, so I probably squawked like one of the rabbits the owl was probably hunting.

Off in the distance the coyotes are yipping too, so it's the serenade of the wild tonight!

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