Owl Hunting!

| 2/18/2015 12:17:00 PM

Peter Robertson

It’s holiday time. The normal workday habits had me awake early and I was enjoying a moment of idleness. Traffic noise on the road was a fraction of the normal, so the pre-dawn hoot-hoo-oo-hoot caught my attention. I often heard owls in the warm months as I finished work late or before sleep. This winter call was a pleasant surprise. I checked the field guide during coffee and narrowed it to either a Great Horned or Barred Owl.

Later, as I finished hanging out the wash to dry, I peered around the house toward the pines across the road and scanned. Owls are likely the best at hiding of the big birds. Not like a sparrow constantly twittering or flitting about. Or like a Chickadee, calling to let you know they are still at hand. Or a Blue Jay, bullying the neighbor birds and aggressive enough to try with me. No, the owl just mellows in its oblique roost unseen. No sign of the owl. Later, it dawned on me why the owl would choose to roost close to a busy rural road when unbroken woods were nearby.

The corn harvest on surrounding fields was finished late this year. The wet fall and early snowstorm had made early November a time of haste for farmers hoping to get their crops in. Late one day, I heard the approach of a combine and it seemed to make a stop right in front of the house. I looked out to see the neighbor in his JD4 row harvester, stopped out front and corn spilled all over the road. It appears that the augur was in operation as he travelled down the road spilling many bushels of corn. The neighbor resumed his travel but the following safety pick-up driver hastened to clear the road of spilled corn, which involved grabbing the leaf blower out of his bed and blasting corn to the shoulder. The next morning, and every morning since, all birds within flying distance have made the starting meal at the edge the road.

I managed to get my popcorn in before the rains and snow. It filled several 1/2-bushel baskets. Some went in the market barn while some went into the mudroom. One morning, I slipped a left shoe on and discovered the secret cache of about 1/4-cup of popcorn. Recognizing the busy work of mice and voles, I set out traps. In the first few nights I trapped quite a few. Then, it snowed and the traps stayed empty. After the warmth returned and the farmers were back in the fields, the trap remained untouched. The popcorn was eventually moved to storage but the trap had been left alone for a long time…and I realized that the mice and kin were likely feasting on the corn near the road like the birds did during the day (attracting the owl in their effort).

I find it wonderful that this incidence has lessened pressure on my popcorn and resulted in a pre-dawn serenade. Nature can be amazingly resilient at cleaning up and benefitting from our simple mistakes. As long as they are as inconsequential as a few bushels of spilled corn.

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