AS the sun slipped below the horizon to the west and cold air moved in from the river to the north, the Ijams owl prowlers set out to find those feathered, nocturnal wonders: hoot owls.
You can find five species of owl—Eastern screech, barred, great horned, barn and even migrating saw-whet—at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge in east Knox County, although the Northern saw-whet only passes through. (Locally, it nests in the higher elevations of the Smokies.)
Our group heard two or three screech-owls along the road, but the real treat was flushing a great horned owl.
Initially, it seemed to respond with a loud squawk from a distance when we played a tape of an eerie barn owl (If I were a vole, the mere scream of a barn owl would cause me to drop dead in my tracks!) but a recording of a great horned owl itself brought it closer to investigate our group huddled in the cold near a wooded ridge. But it continued to squawk not hoot at us.
Eventually, the largest owl in our valley flew over us for a eyeball-to-eyeball look-see and perhaps noting we were no real threat, just a bunch of shivering, bundled humans with dreams of warm cocoa, it disappeared into the darkness never to be heard again.
|Great Horned Owl photo by Brendan Lally|
Thanks to AmeriCorps members Katie and Zack for helping and to Nora, Justine and their Seven Islands friends for joining us.
- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales.