An Eastern Screech-Owl Takes Refuge from the Rain
It seems like it's been raining forever, but I guess it's just been a few days. It was pouring heavily when I drove to work on this day, and I despaired a bit. I can make do with indoor photos for a day or two, but at some point, a girl just HAS to get outside!
I was keeping an eye on the live weather map online all day, waiting for any sort of clearing to arrive. And by mid-afternoon, it looked like the western part of the state was drying up. A break in the rain was coming, and its arrival coincided with my departure from work at the end of the day.
I had a few errands to run, but I knew I had to fit in 20 minutes somewhere with the camera JUST FOR ME. As I walked out into the parking lot, I didn't even need an umbrella. Cool. Just the break that I had been waiting for.
I saw the mist rising over Mount Nittany, and I wanted a few shots of that. There is a nice, safe place to pull over by the exit ramp to I-99 to get great shots of Mount Nittany, but I thought the view from Millbrook Marsh might be even better.
It turns out that it wasn't. In fact, by the time I got to Millbrook (about 5 minutes), the mist had dissipated. Curses, foiled again! But I took a stroll out the boardwalk anyway, thinking I might still find something fun to photograph.
I didn't even take my umbrella along, as there was still a break in the rain. I was very glad of the Crocs on my feet, though, as the ground was soaking wet and oozing with moisture.
I remembered the hungry doe I had seen on last week's visit to Millbrook, and I wondered if I'd see her again. My wish was granted! I made it about half-way out the boardwalk when I saw all three of them appear: the little family of Millbrook deer.
They, like me, were probably delighted for the break in the rain. They were looking all around, and then suddenly, all three looked STRAIGHT AT ME ("smile for the camera, please!") and I got the photo you see in the extras. It was like they were posing for a family Christmas card.
:-) :-) :-) <---the smiling deer
I was thrilled to see them, as it has been hunting season here and so all white-tails have been in jeopardy. I do not think that hunting is permitted in Millbrook, so they were probably safe if/because they mostly stayed there. They made it through hunting season, hooray!
Oh, but wait! There was ONE MORE treat waiting for me a bit further out the boardwalk. As I approached the little wooden bridge over Slab Cabin Run, I spotted one of the bird nesting boxes that are scattered throughout the marsh. And I thought - hmm, it almost looks like there's a little CREATURE inside there!
Well, of course, I had to get closer, and indeed, it did look like somebody was inside the box. Such a TINY little thing. Could it be a squirrel? A bat? Then what? Well, guess what: it turns out that it was an Eastern screech-owl, Megascops asio. And guess what else: this is personal first. This is my first-ever photo of an owl taken in the wild! What an AWESOME moment!
Of course, I had to look the little owl up later, and so here is a link to info about this owl on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology bird site. There you can learn more about this poor, soggy, little bird, and even hear its song. (Yes, please, do click on the links to listen to the sounds the owl makes. It's quite thrilling to hear.)
The Eastern screech-owl is a tiny little owl, about 6.3–9.8 in (16–25 cm) long, with a wingspan of 18.9–24 inches (48–61 cm), and weighing in at about 4.3–8.6 oz (121–244 g). That's an awfully little creature!
There are two phases of this type of owl - gray (more common in my area) and red, or rufous - and it looks like our bird above is gray. They are amazing hunters, and Wikipedia reports: "Due to the ferocity and versatility of their hunting style, early authors nicknamed eastern screech owls 'feathered wildcats.'"
I stepped off the wooden boardwalk to get a little closer, so I could get a better shot. It was muddy and wet and I was glad - again - for my Crocs. Less glad for the skirt, as it wasn't doing much to protect my legs from the scratchy, soaking-wet weeds.
I tried to zoom in on the owl, but I was having difficulty getting a really quality, clear shot. I wished in vain for a wooden railing to lean on, or a tree to balance the camera against. (Yes, I'm a no-tripod kind of gal; but even I was wishing for one at this moment.)
Sometimes it steadies the camera if I get down on the ground and hunker, and put my elbows on my knees. I get a lot of my moon shots that way. And I was just about to do just that - hunker down in the mud, skirt be darned - when I realized the little bird had disappeared.
Seconds later, I felt the first few raindrops arrive, and I tucked my camera inside my jacket and beat a hasty retreat back up the boardwalk to my car. And that was the end of the unexpected screech-owl photo shoot!
Owls are really cool creatures, and I wish I knew more about them. I wish I saw them more often. I hope I see THIS one again. (You see, now I am full of all kinds of wishes and hopes about and FOR owls!) For now, here's a cool little list of 11 fun facts about owls. I'll bet you'll learn something new; I did!
A friend has provided a link to information about how to construct a nesting box for screech-owls. I read it with great interest, and was especially fascinated by the part about how sometimes a screech-owl will bring a blind snake back to its nesting box because the snake helps keep the place neat and tidy. (You can't make this stuff up, folks!)
The song to accompany this posting . . . Well, since the main photo is an owl, I am thinking I can get away with ANY sort of Who song I want. :-) There are so many excellent choices, but I've picked this one in honor of the owl's super vision.
The soundtrack for this image is the Who, with I Can See for Miles and Miles. This version is from 1968. The boys are looking kinda young and fresh-faced, but Townshend's already got his trademark windmill guitar lick, and so away we go. . . .