The screech owl is the smallest (and clumsiest) of Northeastern owls. (These stuffed fellows at the cobble were easier to get close to.)
SHEFFIELD, Mass. — The Friday after Thanksgiving was not a day marked by a manic shopping frenzy and a food hangover; at least not for me. I did some of my shopping on Wednesday; enjoyed a late lunch, navigated the packed aisles of the grocery store for pecans and corn syrup. I had other plans, more adventurous plans for Friday (night): owl hunting.
Mind you, I did not literally go hunting for owls with a rifle. I’m pretty sure that’s very illegal and very not in keeping with my preservationist, nature-is-god sort of approach to life. The “Owl Prowl,” which is an annual, nocturnal event held at Bartholomew's Cobble in Ashley Falls, is a two-hour excursion into the fields and woods of the cobble in search of the regions known owl species, namely the great horned, the bard and the screech.
For starters, and I did know this going in, it was darn cold without the sun on my back. Even the moon was shy as we (a group of about 10) wandered through the dark with only our dim flashlights to part the way through the dark woods.
And very quiet excluding the irritating swishing noise of Nylon pants and the one guy with very loud, owl-unfriendly gas.
Rene, our guide, brought along his tape deck (yes, they still exist) and at specific locations he would stop the group and play the different calls of each owl. He was careful not to play all three calls in the same location, the fear being that if a screech owl (the smallest of the three) decided to investigate our group that there would be the possibility of the great horned swooping in and eating the little guy. I giggled uncontrollably at the thought of this. Apparently no one else found it funny.
The bard owl is the most common around Bart's Cobble.
So we first tried to lure the screech owl in for a quick look, to no avail. Next came the bard owl, which apparently is the most commonly seen owl in the area. Again, nothing. We did, however, hear the eerie call of a lone coyote and then the irritated chatter of geese in the distance. I assume the coyote was directly related to the geese upset.
The prowl was yielding very little except cold fingers and cold toes and some irritated sighs from the three kids whose parents seemingly dragged them there from their warm homes. At the last stop on the unprotected windy plain of Hurlburt's Hill, after several replays of the bard owl call and several long, frosty pauses of human movement, we heard it — the low, mysterious call of the great horned owl.
Twice he called out and twice we answered him. And that was it. Somewhere in the pine grove surrounding the Ashley House, the great silent bird must’ve felt bad for us and decided to give us some hope.
Or he was laughing at how ridiculous it was that we thought we could “lure” him in with a tape recorder, all reeking of turkey and humanness.
The great horned owl finally gave us a break by calling out twice.