Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Witness

High: 24° F
Low: -2° F
Conditions: snow showers with northwest winds.
Ari leapt from the bed just before the dawn. The alarm had not yet gone off; the house was asleep. But something, somewhere was moving. The caninaturalist ran to the window sill, standing on her hind legs, as silent as the world itself. There, on the railing just outside the window, perched our neighborhood barred owl (Strix varia). No more than a foot apart, they stood in communion—just for a moment—and then the owl was gone. Even still, the image stayed with Ari for the rest of the day. She looked in the trees; she remained at the window. Watching. Waiting.

I wrote about this same owl in a post almost a month ago, when it spent a day attached to my old ash tree. I called the post “Stillness,” because--more than anything--that's what the barred owl prompted in me. Now, as we lay in bed, we saw the same impulse in our dog.

It is simultaneously breathtaking and troubling to see an owl out of its nocturnal world. In truth, it’s probably a bad sign for the bird. Diurnal (or daylight) hunting usually indicates that a barred owl is food-stressed. This was common last year, when the collapse of a vole population in Canada sent a disproportionately large population of barreds south of the border. Scientists call this phenomenon irruption, and when it happens, it often creates a population explosion an ecosystem cannot support. Last year, an unusually large number of owls were the victims of accidents or starvation.

Owls this year haven’t faired much better. Fourteen days ago, a great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) arrived in our area.

This is a file photo found at "The Owl Pages," a really wonderful site with lots of great information. If you visit you'll see that our gray owl was both massive and well outside of his normal range. As such, he created a small media stir when he arrived and then perched each day in solemn enormity. He died a week after he arrived. Our resident expert naturalist, Dave Potter, says he thinks the gray owl came here to die. Alone.
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We humans have a hard time with this impulse in owls and other wild animals. Given Ari's behavior all day, I wonder if we are really all that unique. Am I doing too much romanticizing, too much anthropomorphicizing, to wonder if Ari didn’t want our hungry barred owl to be alone? Probably. But I do know this: all day, and for whatever reason, she has wanted to be near this bird.

21 comments:

KGMom said...

The deep instinct of other animals is wondrous. It reminds me of how much we human animals have lost.
And also, your post points out what we have to regain if we listen to our animal friends. Anthropomorphize away!

Fay said...

Hello Kathryn & Ari,

Last fall when I had an opportunity to enjoy a Raptor Center lecture I got to touch a live Barn Owl. I was so stunned at how soft they are to touch. The handler had to hold the owl so it wouldn't see the humans approach and touch it. Apparently they will bite it they see your bare hands!

Love the pic of Ari!

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

Animals know -

Wish humans would be that smart -

Hugz&Khysses,

Khyra

PeeEss: My last name is WISE - hoot!

Holly said...

What a sad story! Owls are so beautiful, it would be wonderful to be able to look out your windown and see such beautiful nature!

Holly

Moe said...

What a great looking dog you have... really! I can't get over how photogenic Ari is...

Island Rambles Blog said...

Oh gosh I am somehow deeply touched by this post, I love owls.I love how ari kept looking out the window.. We have many barred owls here. But they pushed out the Spotted and now we have no Spotted left in BC.

I guess your writing has touched something deep in my heart and I did not expect it. I came here expecting something totally different..lovely blog.

Pippa said...

They are beautiful creatures aren't they? (Ari too of course).

Pippa looks at birds sometimes with mild curiosity ' but certainly not as prey. (apart from our chickens)

We do have owls here, we hear them at night but we haven't seen them. Plenty of prey for them here too.

Katherine

Simba said...

Animals could teach humans an awful lot.

Simba x

John Theberge said...

I've seen very few owls in the wild and I have zero photos of an owl, maybe one day I'll get lucky. I'm glad you enjoyed yesterdays photo. It seems as though all I've been doing is moving snow around lately. I don't mind that you put my blog link on your page. That's why I have a blog, so I can share my photos with others.

The Daily Echo said...

Owls are so majestic and are hauntingly beautiful. We've only heard them at night and have never seen one. Now we know if we do see one during the day, we won't be as happy.
ECHO

Ferndoggle said...

The closest birds I ever get to see are crows & pigeons! I think it would be amazing to see an owl in the wild.

That picture of Ari is stunning.

Jen

Marigold said...

This makes me extremely sad. If I had seen the owl, I would have offered him some of my Peanuts.

Farmgirl_dk: said...

Beautiful, Kathryn...just very nicely written. You two have an incredible relationship with the natural world around you. And you've got an incredible way with the words there, friend. :-)
Was it unusual for Ari not to bark at this huge, unexpected presence right outside his window? I love the intent look on his face in this photo..and the way the light catches the color of his eyes. Amazing.

April said...

Good dog, Ari! Our dog is friendly with the grouse - she doesn't chase or bother them. Now garter snakes are another matter. We are trying to teach her that they are okay too.

I didn't know that about the daylight hunting. So sad for the owls. Thanks for your thought-provoking blog.

Turbo the Sibe said...

Thank you for your kind words on my blog today. They meant a lot!

We have seen barn, barred, and great horned owls around our house.

When my Human was living in Winnipeg, MB she saw a snowy owl flying. It was huge!

Jan said...

That is a beautiful photo of Ari. I've never seen an owl but they are beautiful in photos.

Jan's Funny Farm

umekotyan said...

Good evening Ari.
The owl is a wonderful bird.
Fukurou is written in Japan.
The hard time is written kurou.
And, it is liked by the pun of not having a hard time.

from loved ume tyan

Gus and Louie said...

Cool owl. Dad said him and the boys heard an owl the other night but they were not able to locate it in the dark...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus and Louie

brucesc said...

Gorgeous photo of Ari! I bet he was just too amazed at the size of the owl so close. We are a climate away from you, but our barred owls do hunt in the day time year round. When you glimpse an owl in the daytime, you know it's a barred.
Hello to Ari from Comet, the Dobe, who would freeze in your climate with his short hair and nearly bare tummy.
Thanks for visiting my site too!

Sharon said...

Ari, Mom and her class are keeping track of the Iditarod this year and one of the pictures on a header looks just like you! At iditarod.com

Kathiesbirds said...

How sad about the owl. How wise is your dog! Perhaps someday we will know how they communicate without words.