Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The owls

One of the most common sounds in the dark, during our stay at Tapawingo, was the calls of the great horned owl. It sounded something like “hoho hoo-hoo”, and then it would be quiet for maybe 10-20 seconds, before the call was repeated.

The great horned owl is a big hunter, up to 1.5 meter wingspan, and highly skilled (as all the owls). I once saw a great horned owl early in the dusk; it just swept from the tree and down the cut line in front of me. The wings were almost touching the snow. It was remarkable how this huge bird could fly totally silent.

We never got a good picture of the great horned owl, and I was getting a bit obsessed, since we often could hear the calling at dawn. The first times I dressed quickly, but later I stopped, thinking “damn it, the bird will be gone anyway,” and undressed. The call would continue. Hoho hoo-hoo. I couldn’t listen to this for long. I dressed up again, grabbed the camera, and went out. The bird was gone.

It sounded like a couple was going to nest close by the cabin. We even found the tree. The owls swallow their smaller prey whole, and we could see the regurgitated nuggets of bone and fur, but up in the dense pine there was nothing.

Nina discovered the boreal owl; it was just sitting in the snow, like it was sick or injured. This is a small owl, rarely seen. It seemed to accept that I was crawling around in the snow for a good shot. But the eyes flared up in panic when our cat entered the scene. We managed to hold the cat, though.

A couple of hours later the boreal owl was gone. We couldn’t see any animal tracks around, and hoped the owl got better and flew away.

The owls are mysterious, and subjected to at lot of myths in medieval Europe. We once photographed the horned owl from a great distance, it didn’t turn out well, but after enlarging the picture we could see how the owl seemed to be without a head. It was flying headless. This, of course, has been taken for an incarnation of the dead: “There is a decapitated man flying in our yard!” They didn’t need horror movies in those days.

If eyes could kill. We saw this great grey owl on our way to High Level. There were several along the road.