January 31, 2013
Through the Eyes of a Saw-whet Owl
Hello! My name is "Sam". I am a Northern Saw-whet Owl. I spend the warmer months of the year in a part of northern Ontario but winter down in southern Ontario. Why do I do this? Well, it gets more difficult to find food in the winter and I must travel south to find new food sources in order to survive; and in the Spring be a healthy little Owl, find a mate, raise a family and continue the existence of my species.
This winter I have chosen an area just outside of Toronto because the food supply here is really good this year. It seems my presence is not going un-noticed. See me as I sleep the day away in my favorite tree. I stay low in the tree because I am a tiny Owl and bigger birds of prey surely would love to have me for dinner as they fly over the grounds hunting for food. Keeping low, keeps me out of sight of predators.
I only ask that you please be very quiet while I sleep. Its winter. Its very cold. I need my rest, I must conserve my energy for body heat and to help me keep my strength to hunt during the night. How many of you out there would like to get woken up numerous times every night as you sleep by strangers invading your personal space? "How close is too close?" you ask. If you have seen an Owl like me before, and have educated yourself, your gut will tell soon enough when you are crossing that imaginary line, if my body language hasn't spoken out to you. But if you need help to get to that point with your inner self, some field naturalists have made a "Code of Ethics" and in it they suggest 5 metres which is about 16 feet. They also say I can still easily be viewed at times with this distance, you just may have to kneel down on the ground and look up to see me in my home. Binoculars make the viewing better. A camera with a really good zoom can allow you to take a picture to bring home for a memory of your meeting with me. And all through this short moment, you must be very quiet.
I apologize for the branches and foliage that may cross my face at times. But this is my shelter. It hides me from the predators that I mentioned above and helps block the cold winter winds like the blankets you cover yourself with at night in your home. Please do not approach and move my blankets for your own personal gain. You will frighten me, you may harm my home which is also a living being, and you will make me cold. You could make me fly away and never to be seen again because I am too scared to return or one of my enemies spotted me and killed me.
I don't understand your fascination with me. I am just a tiny little Owl. Some say I am the size of a beer can (whatever that means). But I thank those who admire me, love me and want to protect me. And the ones who see me, find some great joy in the moment and return to the comforts of their home a little happier that day. There is beauty all around us if one chooses to open their eyes, ears and hearts. You may have passed some of my feathered friends on your walk, like the Northern Cardinal and his beautiful red plumage, the squawky Blue Jay may have got your attention, or the "watch dogs" of the woods, being the Black-capped Chickadees flew into the palm of your hand as you offered them some shelled UNsalted peanuts or black oil sunflower seeds.
I see a lot from my tree, more than you realize. One day 3 Squirrels were fighting over the cracked corn that someone set out all under my tree. The ruckus those creatures made, and they fought and jumped at each other, and ran up and down my tree. At one point one of them almost knocked me off my branch! I gave them one real mean glare, showing my big yellow eyes to them. But they didn't pay any attention to me.
I wondered about the corn that was set out below my branch? Was it for the Squirrels? Maybe it was for the Deer that sometimes rest beneath me? Or a food offering for the mice and voles that live in the field, that I love to eat? It's an interesting world out there, so full of mystery to a small creature like me.
And speaking of those Deer, hoo boy, what a time I had with them one morning. It seems a large dog was running rampant near my house. He chased those Deer, and they stampeded right past my tree. I was so surprised by this, waking me from my slumber. I watched them run up the hill to get away from this dog. Thankfully the Dog took no notice to me above him.
Did you catch my name? "Sam". Wanna know how I got that name? It is rather odd for an Owl, isn't it? Well, this man has sort of befriended me during my stay here. And he does not speak but at times I know what he is thinking. He feels Sam is suiting since it can be for a boy or a girl, and he has yet to figure that out with me. Hee hee hee, this is my little secret. As I said, he does not speak to me, but I can tell a lot about him when he is there. He moves almost as quiet as I and many of the creatures that live around me do. When he looks at me, I can see and feel the happiness within him, the calming of his presence even though his visits are very short. If I knew my A, B, C's, that song would last longer than his visits.
Sometimes I see him once every 7 sunrises. Sometimes its longer between visits. A few times he has brought a friend, and they are very much like him with how they are when in my presence, the energy is the same... and I like that. They all respect me, they respect my home and they have never over stayed their welcome.
Why I speak so much of this one man is because while I can read him, he can read me, and through his help, he is narrating my story of my winter over in Toronto.
I have other visitors and friends who come to see me. Some are just as nice and some, well, I really wish I could tell them a few things. Like what you ask? Here are a few examples. I really don't like any creature getting too close to me. I don't like the funny hand held, usually black plastic looking things, with the big bright light in my face. I think those are the cameras those naturalists speak of. It really bothers my eyes. And when they come, they bring others, and they all speak loudly amongst each other as they watch me try to sleep. I close my eyes and wish them to go away and often they do not as quick as I really hope for them to. Shouting "hey!", whatever that means, sometimes makes me open my eyes to see who they are shouting at, and then a big white light flashes in my face. I want to fly away but I am temporarily blinded! I can't even tell if my eyes are closed or not since I cannot see. And I am afraid a big mean Hawk will get me in my escape. Sometimes these human creatures bring creatures that look like them but are so much smaller. They are often very loud and then the bigger ones raise the smaller creatures up into my tree. These little ones scare me so much as they reach out to try and touch me, while they make loud funny noises. Everyone looks so happy as they look at me but they don't see how scared I am as they enter my comfort zone and continue with the noise.
One day this nice girl came, and she brought 22 people with her. She asked them all to be very quiet, to be very respectful, to keep a good distance away from my tree and look at me for a short moment. It was going fine. And the last person to come see me was my friend I speak mostly of in this. I could see the happiness in his eyes but now there was something different too, a look a parent gives to a child as the world changes around them, that look of concern. Reminds me of myself last summer when my children were taking their first flights. My friend and the nice girl left after a couple blinks of an eye. And I began to drift back to sleep. Night time was still many hours away. Suddenly the grass was rustling and the ground shook. I awoke, wondering what was happening, and next thing I see is one of these creatures back at my tree with a much smaller creature. The littler one had this funny green thing on his head with big white eyes. It looked like a monster on top of his head. The bigger one then picked up the smaller one and brought him right up to me. He was making those funny "hahahahahahahaha!" noises while stretching his wings out to me. They struggled some as the bigger one tried hard to raise the smaller one even higher, all that movement, and being so close, got me so scared. I saw the nice girl disappear into her big house with some of the others and I wondered where my friend was.
I heard a sound off in the distance, a creature called out saying something about my tree, it called my tree a "get out tree" I think. And then the creatures left only to be replaced by another creature with a camera, the one with the bright white light. I thought we were having a lightning storm as the flashes went off. And then it stopped when I heard a voice much closer and now could see who was making it, and it was my friend, and I had never heard him speak until today. It went something like this, "excuse me, what are you doing?" followed by something about the flash and talking about my "get out tree" again. The creature said something back, "I didn't get a good enough shot earlier. She was under here, so I can too!" But then she left. I heard my friend walk away and the sounds he mumbled I dare not repeat as they sounded so horrible.
It all went quiet again, finally, and I got back to sleep. A short bit later, again the grass rustled, but the ground did not shake. More creatures came, trying to be quiet, but I could hear them, I can always hear them come. Three creatures looked at me again, I recognized them from the large group earlier. They were kind, curious and very happy; but I am beyond exhausted by this time and I really want to go back to sleep. I know they didn't stay long but it seemed like a very long time.
Night fall came, it was me and the creatures I share the woods with. I hunted, caught a nice juicy mouse, ate part of him, stashed the rest, and then I preened much of the night. The pellet I expelled was a doozy, I could see the face of the mouse from two nights ago in it!
And as the sun began to rise, I returned to my tree for a day of rest. A few hours into my sleep, there were three creatures visiting me again. One brought a camera with them as I am getting used to seeing this device and remembering what it is called. I think I remember them from the day earlier but I am not for certain. They whispered and moved around my home, lightly pressing down foliage around me. It was getting easier for me to see mice run by my tree now without all that grass standing up like it did weeks earlier.
I did not see my friend for some time after the day with the group. I noticed funny colors of light in the sky across the field from my tree. Red, green, blue, white. Twinkling lights. Bright lights, And music played nightly from some of the creatures homes. What were they singing? Jingle Bells I think it was.
And one night this jolly large man creature with a big white feather down his face came by with eight Deer. He wished me and my friends a very Merry Christmas. And with that, there was a time of peace and quiet over the next couple days. We saw no one enter our woods.
The quiet did not last. Another man creature came to see me one morning. And he too had this big camera attached to his one wing. And it had a bright white light as well. Where was my friend or the others much like him to make this one go away? I saw more of this man creature than any other over the next while. Why did he visit me so much? I only want to sit in my house and sleep. And he began to bring more creatures with him each time. Different ones every time. And some of them then returned with others as well. Sleep was a more of a memory some days as the steady flow of creatures came. If my fear of getting eaten by the Hawk didn't consume me (pun intended), I would have flown away. Sometimes I wonder if death would be a better fate than the harassment I faced almost every day now. Big creatures, little creatures, noisy creatures I saw almost every day. And it was getting difficult some nights to hunt since I was so tired.
Then, finally, my friend I speak of came again. He looked at me and smiled, and then he left. I began to see him again about every 7 sun rises. And it was the same ritual. He'd try to sneak in on me, but I would always hear him. I began to get used to the sound of his foot steps, and I'd only open my eye a teeny bit to be sure before I went back to sleep. I would see the smile in his eyes and then he was gone again. He too carried a camera but hadn't pointed it at me long before that big jolly creature in the red suit came to see us.
I was still seeing the other man creature as well, and more than every 7 sun rises. And others too! One was putting up broken trees against and around my tree. Why would someone do this?
An interesting thing happened very recently. I saw my friend, and he brought a friend I had never seen before. A kind soul was this one and we had a brief moment together before he left with my friend. My friend took the broken trees with him which puzzled me. I mean, one creature brings them in, and my friend takes them away. Hmmmmm?
And no sooner did I get back to sleep, did that man creature arrive again with another. And they too spent a little time with me. I hoped this was it for the day as I wanted to get some sleep.
A couple hours passed and suddenly that man creature was with me again. And this time he brought many creatures with him! Later on I learned they were called "A Dozen". The big ones were picking up the little ones, and everyone was making those "hahahahahahaha!" noises. The little ones stretched their wings out to me which you know I do not like. Many of the bigger creatures pulled out little cameras with the white flashes, only these cameras were black, pink, red, and one looked like the cow that lives in the field next to my home in the north. The cameras were so close to me, I could smell the food on the wings of these creatures. It smelled remotely of chickens, and pigs, and the liquids that flow from my cow friend. I wanted them to back up so I could breathe and then hope they would go away. That man creature, who visits me so often, stood there smiling.
And then I heard the voice of my friend, and I heard the voices of others. The tones were not happy at all. One sound that really sticks to me is "fuck" and I heard it over and over again. The man creature walked to my friend and the others, and the sounds were louder now. Then I could hear the steps of my friend approaching and suddenly all these other creatures moved away from me and kept going. My friend looked at me for a moment and I could see the sadness in his eyes.
I saw my friend another sunrise. He once again moved the broken trees away. Why does someone keep bringing me broken trees?
I actually left my home one day during my sleep as a man creature tried to touch me. I took the chance, not even worrying about the Hawk that hunted the grounds around me, I just needed to get away.
The weather has turned really cold. I need my rest more than ever now. I really liked my "get out tree", it was a nice full tree that kept me warm. But I cannot stand all the attention anymore. I've been checking out other trees lately, always hoping nobody finds me.
It won't be long before I should be on my way north again to look for my mate. I hope I have the strength for the long flight, and all the work required to raise a new family. I will miss my friend and those like him. The ones who watch over me and protect me where they can. The others, I can do without obviously. And come next fall, I may give second thoughts to returning here.
Who ever would have thought such a little creature like me would be the centre of attention in such a big forest?