The past year I’ve had a lot of intense experiences with owls, and it seems the owl and baby bird sightings continue. In the form of owl babies. Tilden Regional Park in the mountains above Berkeley is an easy place to get away from the sensory overload of city life, it’s close-by and a wonderful place to immerse yourself in a natural landscape. And it has an amazing variety of plants, birds and other wildlife. At one particular spot, on different occasions, we’ve spotted great-horned owls, barn owls, Western screech owls, and Northern saw-whet owls. But in the Spring, this particular spot became the sole domain of a great-horned owl family. After a few nights in a row of seeing and hearing them, I decided to do an early morning expedition to try to get some better light for photographs.
During the end of winter when we walked up here, we could hear the hooting calls echo through the cavern-like pine trees at the top of the wind and fog buffeted hilltop. These sounds have now been replaced by the screeching, begging calls of juvenile great-horned owls, evidence of a successful nesting season – and a non-stop prodding of the parents to keep filling their hungry bellies. The parents are busy from just after sunset until after dawn each day making sure the young ones get fed, and based on their incessant calling, it seems their job is never done. There are at least two fledglings, possibly a third. In the fading (or dawning) light of day it’s hard to see, much less photograph, these large and beautiful birds.
The fledglings are still very fuzzy looking, and though they can fly short distances, they still don’t have their adult plumage or hunt for themselves yet. They do, however, have their parents’ extremely intense stare. When one of these creatures stares directly at you with those large yellow eyes, you never forget it.
As I made my way through the blackberry and poison oak undergrowth of the forest that they call home, I came face-to-face with this VERY stealthy squirrel. Not the safest neighborhood for a squirrel – it was directly under a tree that the owls frequent. I expect the next time I see him he might be in owl pellet form.
To behold their silent but huge presence glide from the trees on wings five feet across in the dying light of day evokes what I would bet to be the same feeling as seeing a ghost float out of the shadows right in front of you. Brief immersion into a world most humans don’t usually see, and afterwards lingering doubts, leaving one wondering if it really even happened.