A couple of evenings ago I was grilling chicken breasts for supper. I’d made a late-summer ratatouille to go with it, though this wonderful Provençal vegetable stew suffers a bit once decent tomatoes are off the seasonal market.
While the ratatouille was simmering, I fired up the grill and removed the meat from its several-hours marinade of oil, lemon, basil, and wine. When the chicken went on the grill rack it was deep dusk, thanks to the breathtakingly rapid rate at which we lose daylight around the autumnal equinox. In the gathering quiet of late, late evening, a bird call rang out. Not once, but repeatedly: three “hoo”s (the last one short), pause, three more “hoo”s, the last one long and trailing off both in volume and pitch. Over and over, in the high trees off in the direction of the bike trail, for several minutes. This obviously nocturnal bird was announcing the beginning of its “day.”
After the flavorful supper I did a little research with ambiguous results, and yesterday I did some more internet surfing, in search of a good recording of what I had heard. Turns out it was a Barred Owl, often called a “Hoot Owl.” And with good reason, I’d say. I was reminded (from the Wikipedia article) that these are the owls the National Forest Service wanted to kill in the West because they were invading the habitat of the Spotted Owl. I do not believe this misguided policy ever went very far. They are a little over 2 feet long, with a four-foot wingspan, so they are good sized. They have a variety of calls, with different individuals sounding quite diverse. Their prey includes a variety of small mammals, and they even have been seen taking domestic cats. And they hunt at dawn and dusk, just when I heard the hooting two nights ago.
This surely is one of life’s little triumphs! To identify a bird from its call, to be reassured that the wild, alien wonder of nature is alive and well in our tidy suburban world. In the nearly twenty-five years we have lived here, I’ve only heard two or three owls, and never seen one. Yet one suspects they are around, silently gliding at night in search of a meal. May it always be so.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2015