Date: 1/6/21 8:17 am
From: Ted Levin <tedlevin1966...>
Subject: [VTBIRD] January 6, 2021: Coyote Hollow, Thetford Center
7:31 a.m. 27 degrees, wind NW 9 mph (sun rose at 7:22 a.m., a minute
earlier than yesterday. Did I notice? No.) Sky: horizon to horizon gray
ceiling, flat lighting. A light dusting of snow last night, *very* light.
Permanent streams: tediously repetitive, visually and audibly, on ad
infinitum like a singing vireo (whose voice I now miss). Wetlands: dull
lighting. Peripheral activity, mostly busy chickadees and white-breasted
nuthatch. Pond: feeder stream melts through the surface (again), a black
tail on a white dog. At the delta, the heat of flowing water enough to
create a snowless, oval gray patch, more slush than ice. Old deer tracks in
the slush converted to pockmarks hemmed by snow; elsewhere, tracks widening
and sinking, progressively less distinctive.

Pileated laughs, a rollicking cackle, from deep within the maples, first
pileated outpouring in more than a month. High above opposite ends of the
marsh, four crows and a raven . . . three *caws* and a *croak*. Male hairy
woodpecker on the spindly top-most branch of ash, light-hearted pecks,
barely a whisper. Backs down the swaying branch, tail pressed to wood.
Seven doves bolt from the front lawn, a noisy, nervous flight . . .
chickadees notice but stay put. Seven evening grosbeaks, all males, crowd
the feeders.

Yesterday, in the gloaming, walking the dogs at five o'clock. A series of
deep, deep, muffled hoots north of the marsh, from the saddle in Robinson
Hill. *Hoo, hooohoo, hoo, hoo.* Great horned owl. Although I grew up with
horned owls on Long Island and have seen them from Alaska to the
Everglades, including the suburbs of Los Angeles, and nesting in the
Roosevelt elk pavilion at the Bronx Zoo (1972) and the Hanover Sewage
Treatment Plant (1978 and 79) and in caliche canyons of West Texas, this
was my first homeground great horned owl. The owl pulled me. I
followed, hopelessly and helplessly afflicted by a wild, unscratchable
itch.

Great horned owls nest the Western Hemisphere's length, from the
Aleutian Islands to Tierra del Feugo. Fifteen subspecies, all varying
shades of mottled brown. From Arctic pale to jungle dark. Describing morphs
is like ordering steak: pale, pale-medium, medium, medium-dark, dark, very
dark. A massive bird: big and bold. A softball-sized head, sinister and
expressive face punctuated by huge yellow eyes. Feathers for horns. Eats
anything it wants, from mice to great blue herons to red-tailed hawks and
ospreys, porcupines, timber rattlesnakes (a major predator), fox kits, and
feral cats. Loves hares and rabbits. Once, I found a mink tail, a woodcock
bill, and the dorsal fin of a sucker in a Dutchess County, New York nest.

Dogs and I wandered into the saddle and listened, patiently, quietly. More
deep hoots. Then, a single, odd barking note. More deep hoots. A bleak
night became vastly more interesting. Eventually, I called back, hoping to
provoke a dialogue. Only beech leaves responded.
 
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