Great Horned Owl

by Beth | More Than Oregano

Great Horned Owl, watercolor in Stonehenge journal

Carrol Henderson of the MN DNR once said “Owls are like some relatives.  They show up unannounced, stay for awhile, and then move on.” (“A Storm of Owls”, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, 2006).  If you’ve ever met an owl in the woods, you know how true Henderson’s statement can be.

Shortly after Christmas, Mark and I were walking along a wooded trail.  I was happily fiddling with my new pair of Nikon Prostaff ABT 10 x 25 binoculars ( a very sweet pair of little binoculars).  Mark was looking to the left of us.  I was fortunate and was looking upwards and to the right.  As if out of nowhere a great horned owl flew between the trees and perched 100 yards away.  He stared at me.  I stared back at him.  It took me a minute to remember…..I have a great pair of new binoculars hanging around my neck!

I put the binoculars up to my eyes and focused.   The owl stayed perched on the branch but swiveled his head in the other direction.  Hmmm.   The back of his neck was engaging, but not what I wanted to see.  Then, a few moments later, he swiveled again so that he was now facing me.  Through the binoculars we were eye-to-eye.  At that moment, I’m pretty sure that my brown eyes were as big as his yellow ones!  The owl wasn’t digging it as much as I was though.  He swiveled his head around a second time so that once again I was staring at the back of his neck.  I waited.  Once more he swiveled and we were eye-to-eye.  This time he tilted his head downwards towards me.  It was as though he was scolding me for staring!   Then, without any hesitation, he opened his wings and flew off.

The entire encounter was probably less than five minutes, but I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.  It was my first real encounter with an owl in the wild.  While I’ve seen them numerous times at nature centers and zoos, I’ve never been that close to one that was entirely free.  I was viewing the owl on his terms and it was very different from peering at an owl chained to a trainer.  I’m honored the owl stayed for even just five minutes.  He was free to leave the moment he saw me.  But he didn’t.

The owl came unannounced.  He stayed for awhile.  Then he moved on.  Amazing.  No disrespect to any of my relatives, but the owl is one unexpected guest that I’m hoping returns very soon.

The picture I drew and painted in my nature journal doesn’t even begin to do justice to the owl or our unexpected meeting.  But I had to try to capture that tilted head and those penetrating eyes.  It’s the first owl I’ve ever drawn, but not my last.  Mark and I are planning a trip to the Sax Zim Bog, the owl (bird) heaven of Minnesota.  I can’t wait!