Thursday, December 3, 2009

December 3: Owls

This morning I spoke with a friend who lives on outer Rockport Harbor, surrounded by Beauchamp Point. She told me that night before last she woke up at about 4 a.m. to the sound of a ship's foghorn. She realized the weather must have turned in the night, and had just decided to try to go back to sleep instead of reading a book when she heard an owl call. The owl sounded like it was right outside her house. Then, she heard two other owls calling from distinctly different locations on her property. She realized that every time the ship's foghorn blew, the three owls responded from their various posts. She wondered if the owls thought they were hearing "the mother ship of owls" in some kind of distress--ship foghorns can sound so low and mournful. I love the image of an owl "mother ship" broadcasting to her followers as she moves up the bay, and the Beauchamp Point owls dutifully responding to her call, perhaps with some concern over her well-being. 

I posted this story to the Maine birding list-serv, asking if anyone else had ever heard an owl respond to an inanimate object (other than a playback device). A fellow birder then posted this very interesting story in response: "This spring (April 16) my husband and I were going to camp and I asked him to pull over at an area where I thought I might hear Woodcock along Rt. 17 near the Roxbury/Byron town line.  This was around dark, about 8:30 p.m.  We saw a moose kneeling and eating in the small field, close to the road.   As we were watching and listening, a dog from a nearby house started barking.  In response a Barred Owl started calling, which in turn got responses from a second Barred Owl, both not far away.  Not an inanimate object, but still very interesting.  (The next night we saw at least 16 moose along Rt.17 from Byron to Oquossoc, including one lying in the middle of the road, licking salt off the road!)"

Barred Owl, Photo by Hal Korber/PGC
So that made me wonder if perhaps the three owls--great horned owls from her description of their hoots--were trying to warn off the ship, thinking it was some giant owl invading their territory. We can only imagine what was going through the dark, feather-and-talon-lined corridors of the owls' minds.

Foghorn in the bay,
three owls respond to the call:
mournful hour of dawn.  

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