The morning air was cool, but the sunshine inviting, so I took a break from my baking and went outside. I lay down in the unmowed grass with my arms folded behind my head and my eyes closed. I was ready for a rest, but found myself sitting up and alert in no time.
There was so much to see and hear. A pair of phoebes were working the yard pretty hard — flitting from one perch to another, then out into airspace to catch an insect on the wing. They kept making the rounds between the maple branch, the oak branch, the bent-over beech sapling, and last year’s raspberry stalks. A Chipping Sparrow joined in, dropping down into the weeds of the unkempt vegetable garden, looking for some seeds. A Black-throated Green Warbler was singing from the hemlock stand back by the creek, and an Ovenbird was reciting “teacher teacher teacher” from the maples on the other side of the house. A riot of purple and white violets were coloring the lawn, with insects buzzing about looking for a meal. A few “weeeps” echoed from the distance. The song made me smile as I pictured a Great-crested Flycatcher perched high atop a tall tree, singing in the sun.
Quietly, an adult Barred Owl flew in from behind the garage and perched on a long, low maple branch. She sat alert, just like me, looking in all directions, twisting and cocking her head, listening carefully. Her coloration blended perfectly with the trunk and branch of the tree where she sat. The phoebes kept flying from branch to branch, right through the same tree with the owl, and never noticed. The owl kept searching, ignoring the phoebes. I was anxious to see if the owl would swoop down and catch something, but the owl was in no hurry. After about 15 minutes, the Chipping Sparrows finally realized there was an intruder amongst them, and they started sounding the alarm, first one, then another, then a third, in surround sound. The phoebes kept sallying. But finally they got the message and left. The owl was all alone.
I was getting hot in the sun, but didn’t want to move lest I lose sight of the owl, so I gently removed my sweater and kept sitting there. The owl started making a few low soft cries in between twirling her head around, so I started to pay more attention. Maybe she was telling her mate where she was, maybe she was getting ready for a strike. I kept watching. Even without binoculars I could see the beautiful patterns of her feathers, the barring on her breast, and the puffed up back of the head that almost looked like another face when it spun around. The eyes — so dark and penetrating. The beak — so sharp and yellow.
I was impressed with the owl’s patience, so I told myself, if the owl can be this patient, so can I. Keep watching. Keep waiting. No telling what will happen. So I kept watching, and waiting. Soon I was rewarded — minutes later, she lifted her wings, silently dropped down to the ground, talons outstretched, hopped forward once, then flew up and off with a garter snake wriggling between her two feet. She flew deep into the woods, landed on a branch, then flew off again, further away this time.
I watched the direction she flew, then decided to follow her and see if I could find the nest. Surely she must be feeding young. Otherwise, she probably would have eaten the snake right then. But I didn’t want to startle her or interfere with her feeding, so I waited a while, went to grab my binoculars, and then headed up the slope behind the garage to continue my search. I was making a lot of noise — unlike the stealthy owl — and so the owl cooed her alarm call, warned me to stay away, and alerted her mate. But I kept moving slowly through the trees anyway. I figured I must be getting close.
Then suddenly, there were two owls — flying back and forth between the trees, calling loudly. I stopped, looked up, looked around, looked for a nest, couldn’t find it. Instead I found two owlets — one perched on a dead branch on each side of a large white pine, staring right down at me. Big dark eyes and beak surrounded by fluffy feathers, mostly whitish, a few browns as well on the stubby wing feathers. The parents kept calling. The chicks didn’t move. Out of the nest but not ready to fly very far yet. I backed away, not wanting to bother them anymore — but before I did, I looked up. There, in top of the pine, was their nest. I finally found it!
I took a moment to relish my Mother’s Day gift, to marvel at the trials of raising young, to remember the lesson of patience. Then I slipped away to leave them in peace. I take comfort in knowing they are there, and am grateful to the owls for sharing their home with me.