Sunday, February 06, 2005

Sunday afternoon blues

My owl luck seems to have been waning as of late. I think many of the owls I have been seeing in the last two weeks have moved on south. Granted, I'm still seeing 2-3 owls per day, which is more than I could hope for most years, but I've kinda grown accustomed to seeing the magnificent critters every mile or so along our road.

I did an official owl survey yesterday, through the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union. Drove a 35 mile route and counted owl sightings. I picked a route based on where I've seen owls before. We made it a family project, with my husband driving and the kids in the back seat. Vincent, age 7, was going to be the official GPS recorder until we found out the batteries were low. Damn! And no, we did not kick back a Gluek Honey Bock or two along the way...although I maintain that drinking while driving is entirely different than driving drunk, which I do not endorse in any way, shape or form. ; ) So how many owls did we see for our trouble? ONE! Along the same route where I saw twelve one day driving home! And still no Northern Hawk Owl. This winter is my big chance, but I guess it's all up to chance. If one happens to be hunting along the road where I am driving, it will be an entry on my life list; if not, so be it. That's the way it happened with the painted bunting two summers ago. THREE MILES from my house, I have a copy of a digital video to prove it, and did I mention that the painted bunting is the reason I'm so crazy about birds in the first place, but did I get to see it up close and personal? No.

But I have been privileged to watch a great gray owl today from mostly inside my own home! The first time I saw it, we were just sitting down to breakfast when I saw a cloud of redpolls and chickadees scatter from the bird feeder, followed by a huge wingspan swooping just over the feeder and off into the big white pines. Later I saw the same pair of wings silently flapping over to the clearing where we are building the new house and gardens. It perched for nearly an hour in an elm tree near the edge of the swamp, then changed perches once or twice before flying off into the tamaracks. I saw it later, perched on a tiny white pine near the side of the road. I did not see it take any prey, although I should walk over to the elm some time and look for pellets. The snow has a hard crust on top after a few days of temperatures above freezing, so I would imagine that would make hunting harder for them.

During the owl survey, well more likely after we had given up hope of breaking the record for most owls seen during a single survey period, we visited the home of Chris Brockman. He has built an Earth ship home that is completely off grid, not too far from my house. It is heated by a wood stove, which he hadn't operated for the last 3 days, and passive solar design with thermal mass from concrete and stone. The thing that I liked most was the smell of stone, of concrete, of earth, upon entering. It was not like a cement block basement at all, it was really cozy. And he had tomato plants in containers, in February, in Minnesota! So now I'm designing my combination greenhouse/garden shed/root cellar along the same lines.

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