t was a mild October night very close to Halloween.
The setting was the Royal Fern camping platform on the Roanoke River
Paddle Trail. A very full day of paddling and exploring the nooks
and crannies of Conaby creek had left us contentedly tired. As an
evening of good food and conversation faded with the dying light,
our sleeping bags stretched out invitingly. The moon was nearly
full, illuminating our camp and casting long shadows in the forest
around us. We sat a bit, enjoying the strange wash of light, but did
not linger long. Sleep came quickly to all and our rest was
undisturbed--until the dramatic entrance of the owls.
Adrift, somewhere in the mist-laden hours before
dawn, we all encountered an abrupt plunge into consciousness. Who
knows, it could have started with the usual refrain of “Who cooks
for you? Who cooks for you all? If so I certainly slept
through that part, however, one just does not sleep through the
heated exchange that occurred over our heads. At least three, barred
owls were engaged in a frenzied debate. Loud and intense voices with
agitated questions and impatient answers moved about ghost-like
above us. The silence of the owls’ flight, as they moved about in
the trees above the platform, certainly added a spooky disembodied
air to the intense monkey-like chatter.
If you have access to the Internet you can get a good
sense of what we heard by going to
http://www.owlcam.com/soundlib/sound_lib.htm and listening to the
wide variety of calls these owls have. This is a wonderful web site
to learn all about the courting, nesting and raising of barred owls.
The person that maintains the site has photographed and studied the
same pair of owls for several years.
Fall is an excellent time to hear owls because the
young birds are dispersing--out looking for territories of their
own. As a result they are bumping into territories of other owls or
perhaps just elbowing at the edges of a territory they have claimed.
The resulting vocalizations certainly add a bit of excitement to a
night on one of the platforms along the Roanoke River Paddle Trail.
Such remarkable experiences of sleeping among the
wild creatures in the night, book-ended by two days of beauty and
tranquility on the quiet creeks of the Roanoke, leaves me planning
for the time when I can return.
A syndicated weekly column
By Judy Jessop, Nature Conservancy Volunteer