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.