“Weee” Can’t Help Ourselves

This week’s photo, taken June 26, 2012 in Magnuson Park in north Seattle, features a young LONG-EARED OWL, one of 3 fledglings present that evening. Despite the bird’s name, this individual’s lengthy ear tufts are barely visible, since they are flattened against its head. Notice the owl is not looking at the camera. A split second after I take this photo, the owl finally sees me and immediately takes flight.

This week, I flash back to my Seattle visit in late June (2 months before I moved to Seattle). One evening, Laura and I are bird-watching in nearby Magnuson Park, when we notice 2 low flying raptors ahead of us. As they disappear into the forest, we initially think that they are hawks, but soon we learn that they are owls. For the next hour, we watch 3 LONG-EARED OWLS as they follow each other from tree to tree, taking short flights, landing briefly, then taking off again. They appear to be young birds. They can fly, but they don’t seem too confident. They frequently produce high-pitched “weee” calls; they might be pleading for their parents to bring them some food. Most of the time they stay a healthy distance away from us. However, on one occasion, one of them alights on a branch in a small tree, and the inexperienced owl fails to realize right away that I am standing quite close to that tree. I quickly snap a few photos before the neophyte flies.

As darkness approaches, a fourth Long-eared Owl shows up and makes a dramatic entrance. It’s thrilling enough to observe owls in the wild, but when one of them glides directly at you at nearly eye level, with its large yellow eyes growing bigger and bigger as the bird of prey zooms closer and closer – that’s a rather exciting moment! As Laura and I wonder if we are about to be attacked, the owl finally flaps its large wings, gains some altitude and flies directly over our heads. With a large rodent in its talons, this owl must be an adult delivering a meal to its off-spring.

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About Joe Sweeney

I photograph birds to share the beauty and wonder I find in nature.
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