Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 16, 2007

Who's there!

As we get older, we naturally become more jaded. Things that once fascinated us because they were unfamiliar become everyday things - they become the backdrop to our lives.

And Friday, that was exactly what I was looking for. Being distracted by people trotting up and down the hallway at school, I decided to finish my grading in the quiet of home where only our cat Cookie was likely to pull my brain away from the task before me.

Or so I thought!

Sometime around 3:30, I could hear a commotion in the pin oak that sits in front of our living room window. It had already caught Cookie's attention. Tail swinging back and forth, she was crouched on the back of the couch studying the situation outside the window with great interest.

I set the papers aside and went to see what was going on. Half a dozen or more blue jays were raising a ruckus, hopping from branch to branch and calling as loudly as they could. I figured they were just scolding Cookie.

I immediately did the predictable thing - grabbed my camera and began taking pictures.

I watched for awhile, but never could figure out why they were so animated. It's not as if this was the first time Cookie was stalking prey from the safety of her perch near the window.

Then I caught a glimpse of some motion through the tree. It was daughter Katie coming down the driveway, home from school.

I quickly headed to the door to see if I could warn her of the display going on outside the window, hoping she would move more slowly and not disturb the jays.

But when I opened the door, there was no time to say anything. Something large moved from my left to right directly in front of me.

"Mom, it's an owl!" Katie yelled out.

By the time we regained our composure, it was obvious that the owl had never lost his. He swooped into the pin oak, located a branch to his liking and quickly assumed that bored-by-it-all look that owls usually display.

The owl had apparently been sitting on the ledge next to our front door and it was his presence that had the blue jays in such a dither.

Katie and I retreated to the living room and there, a mere four feet from the front windows, sat our feathered visitor. I took more pictures, both from inside and from the step outside the front door. Neither of us wanted to stop watching. Katie commented how cute the owl was and how he was small enough to fit inside her pocket. He, however, was not so inspired and soon closed his eyes.

Not long after, Art arrived home. I again went to the door, this time to alert him to our feathered friend. He came inside and watched the owl for awhile and then went to locate his Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds.

"It's a screech owl," he declared, followed by reading everything the book had to say about them.

Ours was a 10-inch mottled gray owl with yellow eyes and ear tufts, but screech owls also come in brown - the color not being dependent on sex, season or age. There was little doubt that his coloration fit the conditions in our tree perfectly. Cookie always notices critters in the tree, but she never did see the owl.

Whenever we'd move around, both of the owl's eyes would open wide, but as soon as we settled down, one or both eyes would close almost completely. At one point, it looked like he was winking at us.

At 5 p.m. we headed into Manhattan. I wondered out loud if the owl would be there when we returned. Art said he doubted it. He had concluded that the owl seemed healthy enough and with his hunting time quickly approaching, it seemed unlikely he'd stick around.

And he was right. When we returned, the branch was again home only to the dried leaves that stick so tenaciously to our pin oak during the winter. Although I've seen owls in captivity, during all the years I lived on the farm, I had never come so close to one in the wild. So Friday, even if just for a brief time, the world held a special wonder.

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