Monday, July 24, 2006

Owl Prowl

We had a great weekend. On Sunday we went on a tour of Hill Country wineries with 21 friends (a great mix of people), and on Saturday Annie's Aunt Sharon was kind enough to take a small group on an Owl Prowl at our place.

Everyone gathered around 6:30 for some Texas brisket (that's a kind of barbeque) and various other fixin's and visited for a spell. Around dusk we loaded up into a couple of trucks and drove out to the back part of the property, where an old broken-down windmill and cistern rest, nustled up against a small oak forest.

Sharon broke out her supplies, an owl-call generator with an attached speaker, a fake screech owl, and folding chairs (the chairs were for us, but the rest was for the animals). She told us that Bertram's in the middle of two screech owl territories -- Eastern Screech Owls to the east and Western Screech Owls to the West -- so she wasn't sure what would be showing up that night.

Then she brought out some preserved owl pellets which, for those of you who don't know, are balls of owl vomit. Yes, you're reading that correctly -- owls vomit up the remains of their meals (tiny bones, fur, etc.) that are indigestible and enterprising naturalists gather them up to sell to other naturalists for upwards of $6 a pop. We got to pick them apart with toothpicks and sure enough, there were tiny little jawbones and hides in there. You can click here for a virtual owl pellet dissection.

Annie's father George has a condition known as LVT, or "Low Vomit Threshhold", so he opted to look the other way, but I'm here to tell you that until you've picked apart $6 owl vomit with a toothpick, you haven't lived.

Eventually she set up the speaker and popped in some recordings of screech owl calls. We didn't get much of a response, so she switched to the calls of barn owls, a larger species that sometimes nests in our general area. After that we started hearing some screech owl calls, three different ones from three different directions. It was really cool to hear them responding to us, but it had gotten pretty dark at that point and we couldn't see where they were.

We kept at it for about half an hour, sending out our calls and hearing the hoots in response, searching the treeline vainly with our flashlights. "They're close, I can tell, but I don't see them at all," Sharon said several times. "Real close."

We were about to give up, when I played the big searchlight over Sharon's head and onto the frame of the windmill, just above where the fake owl was tied.

And sitting right there, staring at us with a puzzled look in their eyes, were two live screech owls, not ten feet from where we were all sitting. You could almost hear them asking "What the hell are you guys doing in that tree over there, and why are you shouting at us?"

They're really small, these screech owls, probably eight to ten inches tall. They watched us for a bit until we got too close and they took off without a sound. Owls are silent fliers -- you don't know they're coming until they're on you, which is a roundabout way of excusing the fact that they got so close while we were utterly oblivious. If this had been a rattlesnake-prowl we'd have all been dead.

Animals might not have dictionaries and thesauruses, but there's no question in my mind that they communicate just the same. I'm glad we got the chance on Saturday to sit down with them for a little chat, and if you're ever in Central Texas I'd suggest you give Aunt Sharon a call and book her for an Owl Prowl of your own.

1 comment:

John said...

wow. that owl pellet dissection site is, uh, wierd.