What is it about Owls that casts such a spell over folk? If there is one order of birds that is guaranteed to draw involuntary gasps and odd keening noises, it is the Strigiformes. A recent experience left me upside-down in a drift of pine needles as finding myself face-to-face with a Barred Owl was such a shock that I lost the power of standing.

IAD 06Aug14 Barred Owl 15

Alert calls from a small patch of woodland at Tyson’s Corner, VA, near Washington DC, prompted me to take a look and see what was upsetting the flock of scolding birds. Owls were at the forefront of my mind, but then aren’t they always? I had just come from a Rat Snake in a tree and was prepared to allow just enough space in my hopes for another reptile, but thoughts of owls quickly crowded it out again.

IAD 06Aug14 Rat Snake 09

The birds were high in dense, leafy branches at the edge of the wood. Whatever was upsetting them would probably be very difficult to see from my position, so I moved into the wood, hoping to get a better angle. A steep slope fell away from me and I had to watch my footing to avoid tumbling. My camera gear was too cumbersome to carry in the circumstances, so I left it at the top of the gradient. There was no place that I could find that allowed a better view into the thick foliage and I had just about given up when I turned to check my footing and found a Barred Owl staring boldly back at me.

IAD 06Aug14 Barred Owl 03

So intent had I been on my footing, that I missed my handing, leaned back against fresh air and joined the leaf-litter with an earthy slump.The real miracle of the day was that the owl was still there when I had stopped sliding and it stayed while I clambered back up. Anyone who likes to take pictures will be familiar with the bitter-sweet feeling that comes from being without a camera when circumstances demand that one should be easily to hand. I decided to stick with the sweet; ignore the camera and just enjoy the moment, fearing that any more movement would surely cause the owl to fly.

IAD 06Aug14 Barred Owl 12

The scolding birds kept up their alarms, but didn’t come anywhere near the owl, which caused me to suspect that they may have found a second bird higher up and were drawing attention to the hidden danger, rather than flagging the obvious threat. I had already had more luck than I deserved today and decided to pull out and leave the owl(s) alone. As I inched up the slope on by backside I wondered, should I test my fortune any further by trying to get a photo, or should I high-tail it to the lottery shop? From the top of the slope, the owl was still easily visible  and with my camera at my feet, all thoughts of lottery wins evaporated.

IAD 06Aug14 Barred Owl 17

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Written by Redgannet
Redgannet worked for more than 35 years as a flight attendant for an international airline. He came to birding late in his career but, considering the distractions, doesn't regret the missed opportunities. He was paid to visit six continents and took full advantage of the chance to bird the world. He adopted the nom de blog, Redgannet, to avoid remonstrations from his overbearing employer, but secretly hoped that the air of mystery would make him more attractive to women. Now grounded, he is looking forward to seeing the seasons turn from a fixed point.