Friday, July 27, 2007

Bulletin from the Farm: Owl School

Anthony Boutard, the bard of Ayers Creek, has graciously put me on his mailing list, and I have to say that it's an honor and a privilege to read his reflections on life at his farm in Gaston. I'm trying to encourage him to post these to a blog, so we'll see if he jumps into that particular pool.

Until then, this is from his latest dispatch:

"Barn owl school started this week. You know the semester has started when you enter the barn and the ground is littered with dead mice and voles. We entered the barn early one overcast morning this week and disrupted class. The adults skedaddled into the box, leaving three of the immature birds fluttering around the barn in a state of panic. The fourth was calm and just watched us. The young birds have their immature plumage. It is similar to the parents', but distinctly darker, especially on the back. They are proportionately taller and prettier, except when they open their beaks and utter their plaintive wail. They scream all night, and the nocturnal cacophony won't cease until October.

"The parents apparently teach them to hunt by bringing in living rodents and dropping them on the ground. Owls only hunt living prey, so if the unfortunate rodent suffers cardiac arrest on the way to the barn, it is dropped and ignored. It may be that the owls' eyes can only pick up moving prey in their dark night life. When hunting over open areas, their call is a metallic, nondirectional clicking sound that increases in frequency. We suspect it is used to confuse and flush their prey, so the owl can detect rodent's movement.

"Barn owls have a lifespan of about 30 years, yet, according to owl experts, typically live on average only three years or so. A few years ago, we found the feathers of a barn owl scattered as though it had been killed by an accipiter, probably a goshawk. The high attrition is probably due to natural causes, as we have never seen one killed on the road. Although they tend to be a bit high-strung, there is a pair that generally nests in the siren tower of the St. Paul Fire Department. When the siren goes off it is painful to hear, yet those owls return each year. No end to wonderment."

Is that blog-worthy or what? If you have words of encouragement that I can pass on, leave a comment by clicking on the "comments" button just below this post and I'll get it to him. In the meantime, you can catch Anthony and Carol live and in person at their booth at the Hillsdale Farmers Market on Sundays from 10 am till 2 pm. Write on!


michael said...

beautiful. thanks.


Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Michael...I completely agree. I'll pass the word on to the Bard! And xo's to you two. Keep me posted on any travel plans!