Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Owl Tree

Thursday May 10 2012

He's been driving me mad. 

A male screech owl, uncommonly hooting during the day, for the last couple of days. He's very close, but I've been unable find the little hooter.

One daytime hoot - the sound of a pingpong ball bouncing - sends me flying outside to try to pinpoint his location… but he does not make another sound… until hours later when I'm back inside. I jump back outside with camera and binoculars, and begin to scan the trees. He must be somewhere within 40 yards, in one of the trees along the creek.

The leaves are starting to grow thick on the cottonwood trees, but I peer through them, raking every trunk, every branch with my binoculars, walking slowly up the creek and back, but I see nothing except for leaves and bark. The owl doesn't give a clue - doesn't move a feather, doesn't blink an eye, doesn't utter another sound. I cross the creek and study the trees from the other side, but I can see nothing but leaves and bark from a different angle, a jigsaw puzzle with a million green leaves, white bark of cottonwoods and brown bark of locusts, and an invisible bird. I know he is watching me. Half an hour I spend, methodically searching the trees - but I come up empty. 

The screech owl hoots again during the next day, and I resume my search. As I'm scanning with my binoculars a particularly tall and gnarly locust tree, one in which I would be roosting if I were an owl, I realize my lenses have focused right on an owl! He is so well camouflaged, I almost miss him. It's not the screech owl; it's a larger great horned owl, perching like a knot on the tree branch, his eyes sleepy slits, as he barely acknowledges this owl-hungry human wandering below his Owl Tree. 

But there is no sign of the screech owl, who I am sure is still watching me.

The screech owl hoots once again on the third day, but the only owl I find is the silent great horned owl, perched in a fork of the Owl Tree.

The screech owl hoots once again on the fourth day, and I leap outside, armed with camera and binos, and I swear I will not go back inside again until I find this mysterious owl. Today he gives me one more clue as I'm outside: a single sound - a high pitched 'Wop!' - which narrows my focus to an area twenty yards wide, ten deep, a tree on either side of the creek, maybe 30 feet up.

Again I comb the trees with my bare eyes and the binoculars, up the creek then back down the creek, one side, then the other side of the creek, analyzing every branch. Time passes, water tumbles down the creek, wind sighs in the trees - but the owl holds his silence. 

I am drawn back to the Owl Tree. There is something about this tree. I scan it with my bare eyes, and again with my binoculars - and suddenly I find I am staring right at him - the screech owl, looking in every way - shape and size, streaked markings the color and direction of the bark - like the Owl Tree itself. 

His eyes are sleepy slits, and like his bigger great horned cousin, he knows I'm there, but barely acknowledges this human who can't hardly tell an owl from a tree.

Now I have a friend. Even when he doesn't hoot during the day, talking in his owl sleep of his good owl dreams, I check the Owl Tree, and I can pick him out with my bare eyes. Now he is obvious to me, because I know his secret now. I can see.


  1. Amazing that you ever found him! He's so perfectly camouflaged. Beautiful shots :)

  2. Gorgeous pictures. No wonder owls are so hard to spot. They do match the trees perfectly. Amazing.

  3. I envy you your submersion in nature and your skill at finding and capturing an image. I get up in the night when I hear an owl and peer outside, even though I know I won't see anything in the light-polluted dark. Night vision goggles for Mothers' Day maybe?

  4. Very cool that you spotted him. You got some good photo captures.

  5. Thank you, this is such a wonderful post, nice pictures (their camouflage is fantastic) and how you described "learning to see" them, this post is a beautiful allegory!

  6. These are some amazing photos! Once, I was in the foothills of the Sierras with my ex-husband at our cattle ranch and an owl flew in the sleeping loft window. As he swooped over us, I was amazed at the huge wing span. He flew to the lower level and knocked himself out flying into a window. My husband put him outside. I worried that a rattlesnake would get him. Magnificent creatures.

  7. That is pretty amazing. It's even hard to tell in the photos. I found an owl in my chicken pen about 2 months ago. I went out to close the pen up after dusk and he was in there. I have no idea what kind he was but I had to shine the light at the door to show him out.....?? I wonder if he wanted a snack.

  8. Finding that screech owl was great detective work. He's reallly hard to spot.

  9. I wonder if that's the guy that scared Consolation right out of her boots (literally) at Canyonlands last year! ;)

  10. Talk about camoflage--no wonder it took so long to find him.

  11. thanks ppl. isn't it so cool when you stumbled upon an owl! some cultures say they are bad luck but oh no, they are very good luck!