Let’s start with the biggest question on everyone’s minds. The moles are still tunneling. I don’t want to talk about it.
On a more positive springtime note, the birds are going wild out there. The Robin is busy setting up camp high in the maple outside my bedroom window. An adorable Mourning Dove couple has spent the past many days diving into and re-emerging from our baby pine tree, now taller than the house. There’s a nest in there somewhere, even though I can’t seem to find it, no matter now obnoxious and irritating I make myself to the newlyweds. Nosing in like a buffoon. And I saw my first Rose Breasted Grosbeak this morning. Singing from the treetops. The Grosbeak; not me.
The grass, though at this point I should more accurately refer to it as the pocked piece of earthen art that it is—Weed Salad Over Subterranean Superhighway—is growing, you know, in patches. The F510 has a new primary drive belt, and I am hopeful that by the end of today the weed patch will be reduced to the first uniform height of the year. Any y’all little digger-folk want to pop yer heads up above the salad as me ‘n John Deere approach, I’d be happy to give you a little haircut. Gentle-like. You won’t feel a thing.
Behind everything else, though–behind all that mess of utter springtime perfection–I’ve been sitting on a private little project. For some weeks now, since our mid-April snow dump, I’ve been visiting the same little corner of the Ottinger Estates, watching a friend grow into her majestic self. I keep thinking I should tell you good folks about her, but then I want to keep her to myself just a little longer, and somehow I never get around to the keyboard.
I waded through the camera rolls this morning though, and I’d like to introduce you to my little friend:
Back on April 15th, the Conserve kiddo took off for a walk in the woods with her Phenology Spot Journal, out to survey the new snow. She was startled by this little gal along her path, looking terrified. She came to get me, no idea what kind of critter she had happened upon, but fairly certain it shouldn’t be there huddled against a tree with bloody snow nearby.
She’s an owl, folks, and she’s a wee one. Judging from the PhD I recently acquired from Dr. Google in Owl-Specific Ornithology, she was likely 3-4 weeks old when we found her.
What KIND of owl, you ask? Well, I didn’t even need my fledgling education for that one. As Sarah and I approached, she for the second time and me for the first, there was a silent swoop across the logging trail, and it was pretty clear that Mama (Papa?) was a Great Horned. Thusly, I deduced, from my sizable investigative skills, that Baby was likely a Great Horned as well.
Post-doctorate, I can tell you that Great Horned Owls don’t usually step outside of the nest for 6 weeks, and don’t fly for 9-10. Pre-doc, I didn’t know all that, but I did know that this little gal didn’t have any flight feathers, and was far too fluffy to be on her own.
The blood? Yeah, didn’t look like hers. Seemed like a good bet that Mama had just dropped off a little smackerel of something for the escapee. We backed away and left Baby alone, hopeful that, I dunno? Hopeful that Mama would swoop down and pick her up like a Mama Cat, by the scruff of her neck? We were hopeful anyway…
Next morning, my little lady had circumnavigated the tree and improved her standing–and was looking quite proud of herself–but best I could tell, her accomplishment did little more than increase her visibility to any varmint passers-by. Coyote? Wolf? Fisher? Coon? Who could know?
I got on the horn and rang the local Wildlife Rescue Lady, a thoroughly nutso and lovely woman named Patty.
We’ve had plenty of interaction with Patty through the years. Visiting with an eye for teenage volunteering; dropping off a blind conjunctivitis-ed House Finch who found her way onto our wintertime window feeder and clung there for her life; and the visit that will live on in infamy, the delivery of an injured Indigo Bunting:
My sister-in-law–who’s not very fond of things, you know, touching her–was out for a walk one day and found the little blue featherball by the side of the road. When she got home, we set out with a shoebox and a mind for Patty’s place. While making the drop, chatting with Patty herself, a Blue Jay bombed in out of the trees and clung to Jane’s head. I thought the next stop was the ER, with Jane fighting to recover from a mild myocardial infarction.
Poor Jane… Patty just kept talking, breaking her stride for only a second to greet the ecstatic bird. It was all I could do to hold my sh*# together, and I honestly thought we might lose Jane. If memory serves, I believe I had to casually mention that Jane wasn’t a huge fan of birds, or most things clutching her head, or something nit-picky like that, to get enough of Patty’s attention to instigate a removal of the bird. “Oh, he’s such a baby. Nursed him back to health last year. He isn’t ever going to leave me.” The Jay was relocated onto Patty’s shoulder, and off she was again, rocketing down the road towards the same story she’d been telling since we’d arrived. I love this woman.
Anyhoo, Patty said that if she, the owl in question, was still there in the morning, we might need to worry that Mama wasn’t taking care of her. Suggested I might try to get her up into a branch to keep her a little safer. Reminded me casually of the four razors attached to each of Baby’s feet, and the need for welder’s gloves and a little full-arm protection. Cuz I keep welder’s gloves around.
I like to think she wouldn’t have given the same advice to just anybody, but reserved her ‘please approach the wild shredder and attempt to pick her up’ advice for me, who she knew a little, and who at least had a good deal of experience handling that wildest of jungle fowl, the Buff Orpington.
That evening, when I went out to visit, Baby had waddled through the snow to a nearby taller stump.
Unwilling to allow her another night on the ground, I grabbed some fire gloves (those we do have, in spades, thanks to the resident fireman) and one of the kiddo’s Carhartt coats, and went out to move her. The thing, though, about an established woods, is that there aren’t many substantial branches in the lowest, say, 20 feet.
But there was a treehouse.
With my trusty cameraman to capture the carnage, I approached the beast, now thigh-high on her new perch. She did not like this. There was ruffling, and there was no small amount of beak clacking. I may have flinched once or twice, but with my deft chicken chaser skills, I–eventually–lunged with intent and got my mitts around her beastly wings. I tipped her razors up into the air like every good chicken-wrangler does, and set her gently aloft in her new 6′ platform nest. She wasn’t exactly impressed, but she also didn’t come at me like the rabid bat in The Great Outdoors, so we’ll call that one a win.
We returned home, all appendages and flesh intact. Baby saved. Chest puffed. No, you don’t get to see the video.
The next morning, she was back on the ground, by the original tree 25 feet from the treehouse. No tracks.
I do believe I taught her to fly.
But here she was back on the ground. Like a goob. There was, however, a nasty hunk of meat alongside her, a 4″ section of skinned snake or something. Snake tenderloin. De-lish.
I sighed and left her to her meal.
When I came back that afternoon, she was gone. Didn’t even eat her treat. Not a track to be seen in the snow.
I do believe I taught her to fly.
Three days later, on Holy Saturday, coincidentally the same day that Larry the Lizard breathed his last (RIP, Larry), I was out walking through the pines, missing the dragon, when I spied a tree-borne fluffball. I was hundreds of feet from the tree. And there she was, high and dry, safe.
With–can you see ’em?–HORNS.
Yes. I know that they are feathers. But she is a Great HORNED Owl, and therefore they are unequivocally, also, HORNS.
Baby gettin’ all growed up. What a treat.
I suppose it’s worth noting that there tree is growing at a 45° angle to the ground. Technically, she could have walked up it. But let me remind you that there were no tracks back at her first tree. So… you be the judge.
I do believe I taught her to fly.
On the sadder note, Larry was buried out alongside the lillies, right next to the spot where I found him after his 10-day near-freezing stormy springtime wilderness adventure years ago. We’ve had him for over a decade, as best any of us can remember, and we were his 4th owner. He was a full-grown dragon when he arrived, and we believe he lived well over 15 years. This is beyond the generally accepted longevity of a captive beardie, but then again, he was hardly captive. That lizard lived in the lap of luxury. He had a good life.
Rest in Peace, Larry.
For flavor, it should be known that we had a lovely Pascha-At-Home. Not the way you want to celebrate, but there is a lot about these Q-Days of 2020 that aren’t exactly ideal. Also, Larry couldn’t have picked a better day to say goodbye. Good company in the grave.
2 Days later? On the 21st?
Insert social distancing bonfire with the fam here:
On the 27th?
We are upright and majestic.
Also there is a walk to the ponds:
And another, quieter bonfire at home:
29th? We have SWITCHED TREES! We’re only a few feet away, but someone flew for sure.
I do believe I taught her to fly.
Sunday she was in the big pine, way up high, movin’ up in the world. I couldn’t even get her picture.
And today, there was no sight of my Baby, but I did catch Mama and Papa swooping away as I stepped into their neighborhood. I don’t know where she was up there, but I am sure that she had both eyes trained on me.
Because I do believe I taught her to fly.
If you made it this far, through the Owlet Baby Album, you deserve to know that this post was a two-sitter, and the lawn is indeed mowed. The weeds have adapted impressive new flattening skills at the approaching roar of the John Deere, so it doesn’t really look like I mowed, but trust me, I did. The John Deere rides again.
If you need me, I’ll be looking for my owl,