Monday, March 7, 2011

Owl's Impact

Imprint of an owl's wings.  Adjusted so feather marks can be seen.
In a swamp of the Rat River State Wildlife Area, in the silence of the night there is the soft muffle of wings landing on snow.  Deep in the snow crawls some furry little animal in its icy tunnel.  It hears the snow above penetrated by outstretched talons.  It runs down the tunnel to escape, but soon goes about its business searching for seeds and dormant insects.  It must keep its high metabolism fueled in this weather.  On top of the snow, the owl pauses and then rises from the snow in one mighty wing beat, and leaves with two talons full of snow.  In the snow it leaves the imprint of that one wing beat, and two little holes deep in the snow where the owl failed to get dinner.  I find them the next day while snowshoeing, proof of a little drama that plays out every night.
I imagine the little screech owl, or perhaps a saw-whet owl sitting in a silver maple above me, scanning the snow with his ears, listening for the pitter patter of tiny feet.   I’ve seen screech owls a few times before; one took up a winter residence in my mother-in-law’s wood duck house on the Yahara River.  It would peek out several times a day.  I heard screech owls in my Oshkosh backyard two weeks ago, and one, or the same one last fall.  They are there in the shadows of the night and sleeping the day away in the rotting silver maple in your front yard, perhaps as you read this.  The amazing scenes televised on PBS and Discovery Chanel shows play out every hour of every day in the swamp and even outside our urban homes.  Just look for the image frozen in snow. 

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