Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Barn Owls

This is what a true Barn Owl looks like. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This is what a Great Horned Owl in a Saskatchewan barn looks like. 

I love owls. Owls love barns. I love barns. It was only a matter of time until the inevitable happened: an owl sighting in a barn. When I was growing up, there was an owl living in our barn up on a hilly piece of my dad's land. This barn owl was a legendary creature who lived for many more years than most owls do and was the father of an impressive line of owlets. When I say legendary, I mean that literally. Most of the tales we heard of this barn owl were inventions of my dad, which I only realised relatively recently. There was indeed an owl who lived in that barn for a time, but my dad made up lots of stories about him to keep us kids entertained.

I think my obsession with owls started at that tender age. I love them so much I even considered getting an owl tattooed on my shoulder in a crude simulation of the Greek goddess of wisdom Athene who was often depicted in art with an owl perched on her shoulder. I regularly receive birthday and Christmas gifts with owl motifs, such as jewellry, contact lens cases, phone cases and the like. My spirit animal would definitely be an owl. Nothing gives me more delight than to hear the 'whoo-whoo' of owls late at night outside my window. Owls are regularly associated with barns, so you would think I'd have seen one before now. Though I've seen a fair number of owls in my time, but never one actually IN a barn until just a few days ago.

Last fall during the survey, my dad and I were documenting the barn pictured above. As we got close to measure it, an owl came swooping out, a startling and exciting event. The barn, by the way, is located just a few miles west of my farm in the Gap and is an example of a "cut-down" barn. Cut-down barns are the roof and loft of a barn which has been cut down to create a smaller building. The original ground level is removed. Usually this was done to save a barn that was in poor shape, or to create a building more suitable for storing machinery when the barn was no longer in use. There are several examples of these in my study region.

The other evening, my brother and I were speeding down the Correction Line with my camera in tow en route to a photo opportunity some miles to the north involving a family of foxes. We had been alerted to this by my sister who had just seen them on her way to Regina. As we approached and passed the cut-down barn (in the blink of an eye, of course, since we were in the Le Sabre), I mentioned casually "there's an owl in that barn" and glanced back at it, only to see, you guessed it, an owl. With great excitement and some difficulty (owing to the Le Sabre's inherent speed demon nature), I slowed down, and with great care, reversed at a snail's pace until we were level with the barn. Because of the fox photo hunt, I just so happened to have the telephoto lens all ready to go on my camera. The light wasn't ideal, and the distance was still too great to capture him in detail, but the owl patiently posed for the barest of moments while I got my shots before turning and alighting silently from the window.

If there was ever a Kodak moment, this was it. I think I have to thank Athene for that one. I drive past that barn several times a week, usually so aborbed in other thoughts that I don't even notice it. But for some reason that evening, I remembered the owl sighting from last fall and happened to glance back.

As we have learned, barns in this area aren't used for much anymore. But they do make perfect homes for a whole host of wild creatures, as explored in the post The Dangers of Barn Hunting. Barns are a great habitat for owls since they provide shelter from the elements and a quiet, dark place for them to sleep during the day. Perhaps this owl had just woken up and was surveying the scene before taking off for his nighttime hunting. Or maybe he just knew I was coming and wanted to make sure I had something to write in my blog this week. Owls are always thinking ahead.




The owl prepares to launch.

Epilogue
What's that? A question about my thesis progress? Thanks for the reminder. Did I hit my goal of 33 pages? No. Are we going to talk any more about it? No, we are not. I continue to chip away at it every day and make progress, though not as much progress as I had ambitiously hoped for in my previous post. There are many reasons, chief amongst them procrastination, but we all knew that was going to happen. Perhaps next week I will have more promising news to report. Until then!

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