Posts Tagged 'owls'



Winter Memories, With Spring and Fall Not Far Behind

Ok, this last one was in May…

Alas, I have no pictures of Swedish owls. In coming days I will be posting about our adventures in southwestern Sweden on a Wings Birding tour with a wonderful guide named Evan Obercian. We looked for a Tawny Owl that had been heard around a church in Malmö. No luck.

A local man — who turned out to be related to the fellow who reported the owl two nights previously — walking a Shar-Pei asked if we had heard about the Eagle Owls in an abandoned limestone quarry nearby. He basically pshawed when someone mentioned the Great Horned, for the Eurasian Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo bubo) is the largest owl in the world. You bet we hotfooted it off in search of the berguv. Evan told us that the species has taken up residence in Sweden in relatively recent times, almost always in quarries, which can provide the cliff-side nesting spots they like so much.

Well, long story short, as the sun set we found the pipe the birds were known to use, but saw not a feather (unless you count those being plucked in mid-air by a Hobby disemboweling a song bird). Thus it often is with owls. But, as Evan noted, the owls were probably watching us…

Enigma

Bubo virginianus

A note on populism. “There is no right [-wing] populism, only intolerance.”

Signs

pellet1Another Saw-whet pellet from our owl experience last weekend.pellets2In fact, once I started looking down, there was evidence that this owl and/or others having been hanging around a while. Such pellets can be dissected to discover which little mammals the little owls of the Bronx eat. whitewashMore evidence. While pines are often gooey with resin, this is white-wash, the polite name for owl droppings. “Mutes” is another term for such excreta. The OED seems a little unsure of the etymology here: mute, noun and verb for raptor feces, may stem from smelt, which is, frankly, Frankish for bird shit.

Which brings up the Un-Dear Leader. Ron Rosenbaum has an important piece in the LARB against normalizing Trump’s lies and politics of vindictiveness. It’s the story of how democracy is murdered.

Superb Owl Sunday

Bubo virginianusJoined David Burg of WildMetro and others for a Superb Owl walk today. Here’s one of a pair of nesting Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus). The mate was quite close by in a vine.

saw-whetThere was also a Saw-whet (Aegolius acadicus) way up a White Pine. The ground beneath was littered with evidence, including white wash (droppings) and pellets like this one, thrown up by the little owl. Composed of the bones and fur of mammal prey, the bits the bird can’t digest. Indigestible, like so much of America right now.

GHO

Bubo virginianusWho?Bubo virginianusYes, the owl who sys “whoooo.” Bubo virginianusBubo virginianus, the Great Horned Owl.

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Here is a very fine speech on optimism and despair given by Zadie Smith.

Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianusEverybody could probably do with some Bubo virginianus right about now, right? (Excepting the night mammals, of course!) Spotted this one today when a fire-alarm of White-breasted Nuthatches alerted me to SOMETHING being up.

Pacific Great Horned

Bubo virginianusI didn’t recognize this owl at first. Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) run rather darker in the shadowed forests of the Pacific northwest, under all those Douglas-firs and dripping epiphytes. They also don’t have orange faces, as our eastern birds do.img_0832

This female is 16 years old and has lived at the Portland Audubon Nature Sanctuary’s wildlife rehab center for nearly a dozen years. Clearly a stoic ambassador, if not necessarily so for the mice.

img_0835

Owlet

Tyto albaA Barn Owl (Tyto alba) toddler, looking rather alien, can just be glimpsed inside this nest box via long focus. Rather unique looking, Barn Owls are found all over the world, with some 46 recognized subspecies (!), including one on the Galapagos that is half the size of the North American version. Island dwarfism in action.

I met a birder there from western New York, who lived in NYC 40 years ago, who said they don’t find Barn Owls much out there any more on Christmas counts. Habitat loss, rodenticide, and cars have contributed to their declines in some parts of their range. Nest boxes can help. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been one recorded in Brooklyn for decades; it’s one of the borough’s holy grails, along with that damned Raven nest. [Snowy, Great Horned, Screech, and Saw-whet have all been found in Brooklyn.]

Update: my knowledge is suspect. There was a Barn at Floyd Bennett Field last October. Prospect hasn’t had one reported since 1946. Maybe I mean a Barn Owl nest…

Just Another Urban Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianusBubo virginianus trying to look like a branch, but also occasionally vocalizing in the middle of the day. This is the owl who makes the classic hop-hoo-hoo.

Owls In Culture

athenaDid you know Florence Nightingale had a pet Little Owl? She rescued it and named it Athena, after the Greek goddess, who was ssociated with owls (so much so that the binomial for this European species is Athene noctua). When Nightingale — the first person named after the English version of Firenza, by the way, where she was born; her sister’s middle name was the less fortunate Parthenope — had to go off to become famous during the Crimean War, she left Athena to fend for herself (?) in the family attic. Florence and others thought the bird would feast on the mice infestation there. But it was so tame it starved to death, knowing only that spindly pale creatures entirely overdressed in non-feathers fed it regularly by hand. A moral for keeping wild things wild, even if they would otherwise die?

I gleaned this anecdote (but added the moral) from Desmond Morris’s Owl, one of the Animal series by Reaktion Books (distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the U.S.), which I found recently at the Strand. The picture above is from the book: Athena was stuffed and is on display at the Nightingale Museum in London. I enjoyed reading this book on Superb Owl Sunday.

I’ve read about half a dozen of the Animal series. Each book concerns itself with a different species. They’re more about the human culture of animals, in art, mythology, medical quackery (eating owl eggs to cure drunkeness, for instance) and so on, not so much the natural history of the animals themselves. Owl has, however, a quite good summery of natural history at the later end of the book. With a different writer for each book, they’re uneven productions, but certainly worth a look. The illustrations are small but give a good sense of being curated in the best sense. There’s a Botanical series now as well, but I haven’t seen any of them.Chauvet Morris, who came to fame with the The Naked Ape in the late 1960s, starts his short survey with the typically large-eyed oval face of owls, which look surprising human-like, at least for birds. The owl scraped into the wall in France’s Chauvet cave 30,000 years ago, pictured above, is his first example of a prehistoric owl.

Because they’re nocturnal and make some wonderfully strange sounds, owls have long been assigned ambivalent meanings: they are witchy, harbingers or messengers of death or bad luck, but sometimes also good guys, the wise old owl. (In fact, while owls are excellent nocturnal hunters, and have amazing hearing, with a big chunk of brain power devoted to it, corvids are wiser if you consider smarts to be about problem-solving.) Reading a litany of these associations from around the world, and the quack uses of owls, it’s a wonder that any owls have survived our narcissism. Ah, well, another species to escape, somewhat, our primitive grasping for significance and meaning. elk owlThis is a tee-shirt of mine, btw, a gift. I call it the Elk Owl.


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