Winter Rapture
Owl Prowls and Eagle Spots

     After the excitement of the holidays, the hustle and bustle of our daily lives subsides. I look forward to these quite months of winter as a time to reflect on the year past. It is also a time I enjoy spending outdoors despite the frigid temperatures and the abundance of overcast days. Nature displays a mystic quality in winter, especially after a good snow fall. Enter a silent woods or windswept field or walk along the frozen banks of any river in winter and you are sure to feel a sense of wonder and serenity. The great cathedrals of the world move us to both awe and humility. On winter days crisp and bright, or still and stark, I venture out into the wild places in search of inspiration, and the chance to watch wildlife.
     My reflections during these wanderings in winter focus on what I have lost or left in the past. Things I would have done differently, opportunities missed. The stillness I find in the cold, white pallet of the landscape serves as a confessional. Here I am not judged by any other than myself. The wind carries away my secrets. I hear them rustling through the cattails and the dry stems of prairie grass. I let them go, knowing that the vole will tell no one and the fox at the edge of the wood is to busy to notice their passing. I witness not only the passage of seasons in these walks, but the inner dance of my own spirit. All of nature is purged by the long silent freeze. Spring will come again.
     Everything has it’s own agenda in the wild and it usually has nothing to do with you! Being naturally nosey, (some say curious), I always want to know what everyone else is up to. These winter walks keep me up to speed on the all the wild happenings. There are stories to be read in animal tracks. A half dozen scattered feathers caught by the breeze and clinging like shipwrecked sailors to weed stalks make a good mystery. Scat is fairly direct in its communication. Like a good business card, scat delivers a name, profession and says something about the droppers overall condition. The signs are everywhere. It may be relatively quiet in winter but nature is talking!
     The calls of birds are often the only true wild voices we hear. I listen for birds constantly. Hope rises on the song of bird, not on it’s wings. For many people the song of the first robin is a sign of spring. For me it begins much earlier. Woodpeckers start setting up territories in January and February. Chickadees and Cardinals begin wooing in February and March. Even the Nuthatches get frisky! I love the thrill of hearing Ruffed Grouse drumming in the woods in March. The snow still covers the ground but there is such promise in their performance!
     If you need a shot of optimism look at the Great Horned Owl, the first birds to breed in the new year. Courting and nest selection begin in December. Some individuals are already incubating eggs by January! Two to three chicks will hatch in February and March sporting an extra thick layer of protective downy feathers. Great Horned Owls are common, adaptable and quite large. Finding their nest can be fairly easy. They often raise young in city parks, cemeteries, and golf courses. This large owl lacks proper nest building skills. Instead, they borrow the nest of another raptor, (often a Red-tailed Hawk) or sometimes a crow.
     If you want to experiences owls this winter here are some tips for locating them. Look for large stick nests as you drive past parks and wooded areas. Check these nest sites every week or so. If you see an owl sitting in the nest remember to keep your distance, use binoculars and try not to disturb them. Chicks will remain in the nest for at least three weeks and will stay close to the nest site for several weeks after fledging.
     State parks and forests are another great place to find owls. Most parks close at dusk, but several have special candle light snowshoe and ski events throughout the winter. These events offer the novice a comfortable, safe way to connect with our wild places after dark. Frontenac State Park will hold a candle light ski in February on the 7th. (651-345-3401) Whitewater State Park will offer Moonlight Snowshoeing on February 6th under a nearly full moon. (507-932-3007) Visit the MN DNR web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.
     Start listening now for lots of hooting, especial at dusk. Males are territorial and will fly in to ward off a potential rival. A great way to get a good look at large owls is to imitate their calls and wait for them to call back. Once you have a good conversation going, the owl is likely to move in close, looking for that “other” owl. For those who might feel a little foolish walking around a city park in the middle of the night hooting there is the Festival of Owls in Houston, MN, March 3rd to 5th. Learn about owl habits, meet several resident educational birds and go on an after dark owl prowl to call in the locals. Explore the myths and discover the truth about Harry Potter’s owls! Daytime activities include story telling, puppet shows, origami owls and lots of great food.
Phone: 507-896-4668
Online at Owl Festival

Kelly Larson
Northern Flights Wild Bird Store
Bemidji, Minnesota 218-444-3022