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Death,Owls, Water,Life

Monday, January 23, 2006

It POURED all last night, well over an inch of much-needed rain. I knew the stream would be spectacular today, and I could hardly wait to get out to see. Shila came out for a climb, fresh off a craniosacral teaching session in Cleveland, unable to resist the call of the cataracts we knew would be spilling over the rocks that were dry only yesterday. We weren't disappointed. We could hear the rush of water--such a spring sound--as we slipped and slid down the muddy slopes toward the streambed.
Chet was beside himself, so stimulated by the sight, sound and smell of the running water he could only run circles around it, dashing across the stream, wading in, pawing at the white rapids. He paused only to pose for me, and Shila caught the moment!
photo by Shila Wilson
It was like a wonderland for me and Shila, and we crept and stumbled along the slopes, which were slicker 'n snot after all the rain, taking pictures every few feet. The landscape was utterly transformed, and so were we--rapt within this surround-sound movie starring the swollen creek, Chet, and us. Our senses were sharp, and we found some beautiful owl bones, which I decided were the right size and heft to be barred owl bones. Preparing specimens comes in handy years later!

Further examination revealed that this bird had probably been killed by an avian predator, because the bones were not chewed as they would have been had a raccoon been the killer. They lay beneath a large hollow tree which could very well have held a barred owl nest. Perhaps a fledgling or sitting hen met its death at the talons of a great-horned owl, a species which only in the last four years has occupied our land. There's not much else that will kill a barred owl. And there's practically nothing other than a human that will kill a great-horned. In this photo, you can see its intact keel at the top, and two large talon bones to on the left, just above the Christmas fern, as well as long wing and leg bones.

The cave where Phoebe and Liam played with icicles only a week ago was roaring with water, which sprayed down off its ceiling, hitting the pool beneath with a great spatter. We continued along the creek and then cackled and slipped up the steep slope toward the Loop.
Passing through tall sumacs, we heard the clear, bell-like whistled tone of a hermit thrush, and saw it land in a treetop, saw the call issue from its bill, watched it raise and slowly lower its rusty tail. Oh, beautiful bird. Towhees zrrrreeeped from the black raspberry tangle. These are two species who don't stay with us every winter, but we're blessed with their presence this year. Even the female towhees have stayed, something I've never seen happen.

Halfway down the Chute path, we caught up with poor old Scooby-Doo, and Chet, for once, was delighted to carry him a record-setting distance, across the stream and up a steep wooded slope onto our land!
It's a piece of cake to get Scoob home from here...if we can keep Chet from completely destroying the ball before we get it home. He stopped briefly to nose at the foot of a tree, where there was a great splatter of fresh owl whitewash, and a disorganized owl pellet
The dark brown curved piece is a thoracic shield from a crayfish; the long "bones" are its leg exoskeletons. Squirrel hair is from another meal. It takes owls several days to work up a pellet, and they may contain remnants of several meals. Must feel good to get this out of your craw! Kagggh!

so fresh that the slime shone, and even still ran down the tree!
Owl slime--bleccch! But it's a beautiful thing if you look at it as fresh evidence!

We must have flushed the bird without knowing it. I was delighted to find the pellet composed entirely of crayfish exoskeletons, legs, antennae, lightly bound with gray squirrel hair: barred owl. So we found a late barred owl, and balanced it with a live one. There was a symmetry to that, that we found quite pleasing. While we meddlesome kids were solving this latest mystery, Chet was gutting Scooby-Doo. Caught at it, he apologized as only a googly-eyed Boston terrier can.

I am so sorry that I ripped this. It got hung up in my teeth when I was shaking it. And now I cannot stop ripping it.

Lots more happened today, but it's late again, and I need to wind down. Blogging is almost as much fun as hiking, but it keeps me up too durn late. More anon.


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