Ol’ One-Eye

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

One Eye, an imposingly large female Barred owl, clearly thought the lake house and all the surrounding property was her private hunting ground. She’d apparently taken up residence years before we moved in, according to the neighbors.

One Eye was one of many Barred and other owl species that made the woods surrounding the house their home. We soon learned that owls were active during the day, as we’d often spot them sitting quietly on a tree limb, and we certainly heard them calling during the day. Here’s a great video snippet (not mine!) of a Barred owl calling

During the Fall and Winter, the Barred owls in particular would get to hooting and setting up such a cacophony of racket at night that we were hard-pressed to get to sleep. Their calls went far beyond the typical 8-note territorial call to a far more strident caterwauling (Google the sound, it’s amazing).  I soon became pretty adept at mimicking their standard call and more than once an owl landed in a tree nearby to check me out!

Anyway, our owl certainly had her one eye on our chicks, and one night we raced outdoors, chasing yet another chicken alarm call, to see One Eye perched about 30 feet up on a massive limb of the oak tree near the front door, a baby chick grasped in each of her talons.

Even as our hearts fell for the fate of those tiny chicks, we couldn’t help feeling awed by the presence of this mature, large owl. She was simply magnificent, sitting heavily on that limb, the porch light picking out the highlights on her feathers, the dark orange of her scary-looking talons and the glint in her one remaining eye. When she lifted off the limb and flew silently away, her wing-span was easily five and a half feet across.

We’d often come across One Eye as we worked around the property or walked to and from the dock. Sometimes she’d be sitting on a limb of the magnolia tree, eyeballing us as we sat in the shade reading books and watching the geese and the chickens moving around the lawn and the ever-present aerial display of eagles and ospreys as they headed out to their fishing ground or battled over the fish successfully caught.

Sometimes scenes like this would strike me as bucolic and also a bit macabre. All around us critters were eating and being eaten, stalking and being stalked, hunting and hiding from the hunters. No matter how much you may read about such realities, when you become a part of the landscape for hours and just observe, without disturbing anything, it’s amazing what you take in and, I guess for me, how much that may form or change your fundamental outlook on Life. Pretty heady stuff perhaps, but ultimately the moments seldom lasted because practical matters would inevitably intrude and, once again, we’d find ourselves in “protection” mode.

We talked and talked about the problem we were causing by introducing domestic fowl into this ecosystem. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t started it, we had willingly taken on the responsibility of protecting the chickens, and now the geese, and in the case of the chickens, we were failing. Different folks had different opinions, and many a beer was consumed out on the dock or the porch or sitting on the stools around the kitchen bar as we weighed options, pros and cons.

Ultimately, we recognized the hard truth was that all our efforts to grow the flock were only succeeding in growing more fodder for the wild critters. We knew the whole issue was going to come to a head at some point, even as we dreaded the inevitability of the outcome.

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