adventures in nature

owls under the full moon

Sometimes, things just align … and tonight was one of those nights! I’m still buzzing from my wander under the full moon with the owls. Warm air, mild winds, and an expansive sky filled with ever-changing treasures everywhere I looked.

It started off this evening as a run and a workout, then it turned into a wander as the sun set. I had my bino’s, but not my camera. Sometimes that’s when you see the best stuff! It’s not a coincidence. The camera can be a distraction, and can change the energy of the wander.

With the changing seasons, so too the owls’ behavior has shifted. As I noted in an earlier blog from about a week ago, the owls seem to be more aggressive and vocal right now, and they are active before dusk and don’t seem to mind my presence as much as they had in the past few months. I learned that this behavior is typical for the time of year – this years’ young are starting to disperse from their parents’ territory, and as they do, other owls are advertising their presence in a big way to indicate that their territories are taken and not available to these dispersing youngsters.

Early in the evening, well before sunset, two owls were hooting in a large stand of eucalyptus trees in a spot that until recently there hadn’t been any owl action. I went in to check it out, and sure enough they were awake and ready for the night. The female watched me intensely for a while, then I headed off. I’ve noticed that in the last two weeks a pair of kestrels has also moved into this general area surrounding the grove, and one of them actually chased one of the great-horned owls off a perch as I watched tonight! About 45 minutes later when I came back through the area, the owls had departed and the kestrels were (hopefully) tucked somewhere safe for the night.

I walked up the hill to another grove of eucalyptus trees, which is home to another pair of great-horned owls, to see what was happening up there. The sun had set at this point, and above Mount Tam to the West in the distance, wispy grey clouds were highlighted in vibrant pinks and purples. We don’t have many trees here in the Bay Area that have vibrant autumn leaf color displays of the Eastern hardwood forests – but the evening and morning autumn sky seems to do its best to make up for it.

Not long after getting on top of the hill, the owls’ calls could be heard through the trees. Two of them. They were hooting towards each other, and occasionally one would fly to the other’s perch, and that one would then fly off to another perch … in a continuing series of slow-motion chase.

As I continued on, the owls started to come out into the open area through which I was walking. First, one perched on top of a coyote bush in the distance, silently gliding past me and alighting on the very top of the branches, its silhouette blending into the bush perfectly to the untrained eye. A few moments later I heard the sound of a juvenile owl begging just up the hill, and sure enough a young one was visible perched in a tree just up the slope. It is likely the one offspring of the pair at the top of the hill, the same owl that about two weeks ago I saw practicing its hunting skills and playing in the eucalyptus grove (so cool to see – it seemed to be hunting imaginary prey, or perhaps small insects, as it practiced and played in the grove – leaping off its perch to the ground in an attack, then flying back up to another perch to repeat!). It’s good to know that it’s still alive, but most likely it will be forced out on its own very soon.

Soon the juvenile flew past along the upslope and continued a bit further up until it displaced a third owl from a pine branch above. This young one was hungry, both begging and actively harassing its parents for food. Evidently it didn’t think that adult was making a good enough effort to feed it … which is probably true, as they are perhaps doing a “soft” or buffered ejection effort to get the young one to move on. Soon it might be a more direct action. After some moments had passed, I started walking again.

As I moved along the path, the light suddenly shifted and I turned around and there behind me was the full moon just above the horizon – and what was silhouetted perfectly in it? The juvenile owl!!!!!!! It is a sight that I will never forget. I looked through my bino’s and the blazing full moon was rising and framing the young owl sitting on a protruding branch of the pine tree. Absolutely beautiful. And yes, I was a little pissed about not having my camera!!! But the sight of it was truly enough, an inspiration.

Moving on, about 100 meters up the trail, while paused enjoying the evening, one of the adults perched again nearby on another coyote bush, close enough to see it well in the full moonlight.

Truly a magical night.

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