Friday, November 23, 2012

Owl-Watching

I went back to the Public Garden this afternoon to see if the owl was once again sleeping in the beech tree. It was, and a small crowd of people was watching it. I'd brought binoculars, and shared them with some of group. Eventually everyone else left and I had some time alone, staring straight up at the bird. It perched on a narrow branch far up in the tree, like a fat, tawny hornets' nest with a tail.

During one of my neck-stretching breaks from tipping my head all the way back, since looking straight up gave the best view of the owl, I found a woman with bigger binoculars standing next to me. She'd heard about the owl in the beech tree, she said, and when she saw me, she knew she'd come to the right tree. She had been sitting near a guy in Burdick's yesterday, and she couldn't help listening to him rambling on. When she heard him say "barred owl," that got her attention. He'd seen the bird yesterday, told her there were five barred owls in the area, spotted perching in willows around the Lagoon, in the beech, and in a tree by the sandwich shop on Boston Common. She'd vowed to visit the beech tree today to see what she could see. She also pointed out that the owl is perched very near the Bagheera Fountain, a statue of a mountain lion catching an owl in flight, inspired by The Jungle Book. We wondered if the owl had a sense of irony.

My fellow owl-watcher was as excited as I to see an owl in downtown Boston, although she's seen owls elsewhere, and confirmed that there are many Snowy Owls on Plum Island. (Field trip!) We stood together, watching and admiring quietly for a long time, as passersby came and went, often asking us what we were looking at and then stopping to take a crappy photo with a cellphone.

We talked about what a gift it was to see such an amazing bird right in the city. Like me, she'd spent forever looking for owls, and finally saw one after many years of living in the country.

At sunset, the owl woke up and began preening, stretching its wings a bit, and looking around. We found this exciting. These birds have a surprisingly large wingspread and we hoped to see it fly before the sky got too dark. I was shivering, but I stayed put.

A few more owl-watchers showed up as the light faded, having heard rumors from a bearded guy named Peter. As we talked and craned our necks, the owl finally took off, and we followed on the ground, exclaiming over the magnificence of its wings as it swooped through the trees. It landed on a high branch that gave us a much better view of its yellowish beak and dark, round eyes. Barred owls have beautiful brown, camouflage feathers and we had an excellent view of it now. Behind us, a group of serious photographers with massive telephoto lenses had materialized, setting up lights and tripods. One trained a spotlight on the owl. This troubled my owl-watcher friend and me, but the owl didn't seem to care. It stayed put and suddenly regurgitated a lump of whatever owls regurgitate... feathers, fur and bone fragments, I think. It was neatly done, but I was glad it was too dark now for us to locate and investigate whatever it was.

I gather there's an Owl-Watching Underground in Boston; each photographer had heard about the owl from some vague source and no one could be sure if it was the same guy. Most had heard the five-owl report (which I just read on a Google bird group that I joined a couple of hours ago.) There's also a three-owl report. 

When it was completely dark, after the photographers had taken plenty of spectacular shots as it posed in the spotlight, the owl flew off again and disappeared into the trees where I couldn't see it. I shook hands with my fellow-owl-watcher and we agreed that we'd probably meet again soon under the beech tree.

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