If not for the phone call from my mom, I would have missed it. The owl was hunting today.
I had gone into the kitchen to refresh my cup of tea when the phone rang. As I talked to Mom, I walked to the window to look out and that’s how I saw the owl when it moved. From the corner of my eye, I caught the motion of a large bird landing on the bank of the creek. I saw its horns and knew it was the owl.
I grabbed the camera that I keep in the kitchen and started shooting.
After a short while, the owl flew up to perch on the branch of a nearby tree and waited.
At first the owl looked kind of sleepy and sluggish, occasionally rotating it’s head with a slow, smooth, robotic motion. I don’t know if it was the juvenile I had seen before, or an adult, for I heard neither the immature squawk or the Hoo, hoo-oo, hoo, hoo characteristic of the Great Horned Owl. The owl was hunting. A silent stalker.
I want to get a photograph of this great bird in flight. So I wait.
A little sparrow lands on our deck by the bird feeder. It doesn’t realize the great predator is a quick glide away. A downy woodpecker arrives to peck at the suet. The owl waits.
I stand with my camera aimed, focused and ready. I want to capture the moment this huge bird spreads its wings. An American goldfinch lands on our feeder.
A blue jay flies past the owl unconcerned. A second joins the first. The owl watches. It has perked up. It’s movements are quicker. It watches its surroundings but does not leave its perch. It looks left, right, left, straight ahead, and then behind.
More goldfinches join the first one at the feeder. Five goldfinches occupy the perches, a downy woodpecker is on the suet feeder, two sparrows hop on the deck furniture. The little birds fly from the woods to the feeders and back again. The owl waits.
I have been watching in a ready position for over 30 minutes. My shoulder starts to ache. I think I should get my tripod, but am afraid to leave my watch and miss the owls departure. I wait.
The owl looks down at the ground. I see a little squirrel running past and then up the tree.
The squirrel doesn’t notice the predator waiting. The owl watches the squirrel on its way up the tree and waits.
Forty-five minutes have passed. I take a chance and hurry to the closet for my tripod. I make it back in time. The owl is still waiting. A downy woodpecker lands on a tree beside the owl’s roost. The owl watches, but does nothing.
It’s been over an hour. A sprinkling of snow flakes trickle from the sky. My cell phone rings in the study where I left it. I am afraid to leave my watch. I don’t answer.
The birds are gone now. I think the owl is waiting for prey to land near the creek below. I’ve witnessed this large bird swoop down and glide along the creek bed in the past.
An hour and fifteen minutes have passed. I am getting hungry and thirsty. I see my cup of tea across the room where I left it when I answered the phone. I dash there to get it and return to my watch when a large motion catches my eye.
A hawk has arrived.
The owl watches the hawk that stays in the nearby trees for a minute and then leaves.
The owl still waits. And I wait with it.
Finally, after more than an hour and a half, the owl moves. I do not get a photo of its flight.
I follow its movements to a nearby section of the woods.
All of a sudden there are two large birds in flight, landing. The hawk has returned.
The hawk watches the owl.
The owl watches the hawk.
The hawk moves to a different branch, one that’s closer to me.
The owl still watches the hawk.
The hawk leaves again, swooping past my deck, it’s glorious wings spread full.
The owl waits.
It moves to a new perch above the creek.
It preens its feathers.