Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Owl and the Pussycat: A Tale of Two Animals

As you know, it is owling season for me here along the Connecticut coast, especially now since a Snowy was spotted nearby.  Last week, I went to a state park to look for the Snowy, walking up and down the boardwalk, checking the marshes where it had been photographed the day before.  No luck. And then I spotted a group of photographers in a distant parking lot, so I hightailed it across the beach, past a display of Kindness Rocks and several rock art formations ("Hi," "God," and a heart.)  There were four or five photographers and birders with binoculars, some standing on the bed of a pickup; they were all focused not on the beach but on the brush behind.

I whispered, "Good morning!  What are we looking at?  The Snowy?"

No, and they pointed into the brush.  It was an animal.  They were so excited.

I looked; I saw it.  "That animal at 11 o'clock?" I asked.  Yep.

"It's a bobcat," they said.

I raised my binoculars again and studied it again.  "Um, that's a marmalade tabby cat.  Not a bobcat."  They continued to stare, partly in disbelief, until one of the other photographers confirmed:  housecat.

I guess birders don't know bobcats.  I laughed all the way home.

I try not to get disappointed when I go looking, unsuccessfully, for the Snowy.  To paraphrase my dad, "A bad day birding is better than a good day doing chores and errands."  I try to think of it as a nice walk outside, but I can't help but be a little disappointed when I don't spot one, especially when it has been in the area.

And so, yesterday, when I saw that someone had posted about the Snowy being spotted that very morning, I headed out.  Mama was home with a head cold but decided to go with me.  And brought her camera.

I know you know from the pictures already posted how this turns out, but let me tell you the whole story.

We wandered for more than an hour.  First where the bird had been spotted; we checked with a gentleman who was also birding but he hadn't seen it.  Then we checked along the beaches, heading to the nearby point.  We talked to another birder there who hadn't seen Snowy either.  Sigh.  And so we decided to go home the way we came, via the marsh, for one last look.

That's when I saw her (probably her, or a juvenile, because of all the black flecks.)  By happenstance, I looked over the passenger's side at just the right moment and saw the owl on the ground.  Mama saw a blur and we rushed to find a place to turn around.  I figure I made more than a few moving violations, but there were few people around at midday.  We pulled up across from where I saw the owl and I encouraged Mama with the big camera to hop out; she insisted I get out, and so I did, running across the still-empty road.  And I just stood there, watching it.

The bird was about 20 feet away, on the ground in the brush near a canal--and a no trespassing sign!  It sat there--all thick and fluffy--just looking around, at me, at some of the passing cars, at who knows what.  I didn't want to stress or flush the owl, and so I didn't go any closer, stood still on my spot.  She was very white with many contrasting flecks.  Very puffy, too.  So still, except for moving her head (easily more than 180 degrees, but not the mythic 360) and squinting and then opening her eyes.

And before Mama could get back to our spot, the gentleman birder from the beach drove by!  He parked (illegally--I wasn't the only one making questionable maneuvers) and stood still watching and photographing, too.  We were just amazed at her beauty and quiet.

Mama returned and parked in front of him, deciding it was worth the cost of a parking ticket.  And then she took those gorgeous photos with her fancy camera.  The other birder left and Mama and I stayed to marvel.  The owl just kept her place.  And while we would have loved to stay until she flew off, we a). didn't want to scare her, b). had to get Mama to her doctor's appointment, and c). didn't want to cause traffic problems.

This is my favorite of Mama's photos.

I was in awe and joyful the rest of the day.  WE SAW A SNOWY OWL IN THE WILD!!!!  No binoculars necessary.  Complete luck.  I've been looking for a Snowy off and on for three years--and yes, we did see one last year (the kids and I) about 300 yards off in the marsh.  But this sighting was so much more amazing.  And I was glad Mama was with me (she hadn't seen it last year.)

Just a little bit of magic on a wintry day.

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