Long-eared owl, Prismacolor Pencil on hot press Bristol board

This is a year of many, many owls.

The owls have begun to take over guard of this place, started to assume ownership. I welcomed them in 2007 with owl perches in the fields and the first night heard a great horned owl calling from one close to the house. They became more frequent visitors several years ago when my restoration projects began to mature: the trees and shrubs grew wildly, the slash piles carefully placed harbored mice and insects, grass grew rough and thick, and the voles started to multiply. The owls now occupy in number, though they are rarely seen. There was the headless rabbit draped on the dormer roof one night, visible the next morning from the skylight across the second floor landing. The rabbit’s body did not disappear during the day, when the eagles and hawks fly, but the next night, telling that its captor was an owl.

OwlKamiakbutteThis winter, a tall grey form lifted silently from the fence line behind the barn frequently when I fetched the horses at night. The chalky whitewash of calcium-rich scat streaked below the stall windows told me they hunt in the barn at night; one morning, I turned on the light to find the snow white face of a barn owl staring at me from its perch on Tigger’s window. The barn owls nightly rent the air with shrieks as they streak across the fields hunting for mice. Great horned owls take up position on the raptor perches and in the trees during the November-December courting season, the males calling “Who, who who cooks for you?” and the females answering in the voice of a crying cat. A pair’s vocalizations occasionally engage other owls, and I lie awakened, listening to calls triangulate throughout the valley. I see screech owls and barred owls in dim light, as dark silhouettes in trees, wheeling and battling silently over the territorial boundary of the river, fluttering across the fields, lifting noiselessly from trees and fence posts.

ShortEaredOwlI had a strange experience one evening as I was walking through the yard from turning off the water spigot. The soft kitchen light glowed in the dark, reflecting the silvery grey of freezing fog rising from the windless, damp valley toward the charcoal night sky. Yellow light illuminated a small white tuft of feathery down falling slowly through the moist, cold night air, rhythmically pulsating like a jellyfish in a motionless sea as it drifted earthward. I held out a gloved hand and it settled into my open palm. I heard no sound of air being bent by feathers, no call in the night, and so I knew an owl had visited, leaving me a message or calling card, I wasn’t sure which. I know I am watched- and watched over- every night by my silently flying friends.

Snowy owl, Boundary Bay, Vancouver, Canada

Snowy owl, Boundary Bay, Vancouver, Canada