What to do when an owl surprises you

A strange rhythmic  sound crashed into my ability to sleep.  It was as though an old grandfather clock was ticking just outside our bedroom window, except it wasn't quite as pleasing as that.  There was a sharp quality to it that was enough to jar you awake between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m.  We lay there wondering what it was.  Neither of us spoke because we didn't want to wake the other up.  That was a silly tactic because by the time one of us did speak we were both wide awake and done for more sleeping.

We couldn't figure out what it was.  It happened again the next day and we closed the window right away so we could slip back into another hour of rest.  A walk around the perimeter of the house revealed no clues.  Nothing was loose or flapping in the breeze.  There were no new nests visible.  No squirrels had invaded the attic.  The noise continued but we would only hear it at dawn.

There were the usual swake sounds of ducks, geese, red winged blackbirds, chickadees, robins, warblers, and the occasional owl hooting in the distance.  The early morning sound was different than any of those, and its difference was exactly what made it stand out enough to wake us up and pay attention.  Within a few days of being woken up as sunbeams were slipping over the horizon, we finally figured out that it had to be a bird.  But what kind of bird?  How could it be that we had lived here for five years and not heard that sound before?

Then one evening we got a glimpse of an owl sitting in a pine branch at the bend in the driveway, just above the spot Kanti lays when we are gone so she can keep an eye on any comings and goings.  We drove through the pines about dusk and an owl lifted off the branch right in front of us.  It was magnificent.  Its flight was almost slow motion and so majestic.  As it flew down the driveway ahead of us, Kanti did her inspection of the vehicle to make sure it was us.  Then she raced up the driveway to clear the area of any squirrels or small prey that might have been leisurely snacking at the bird feeder.  She has a security routine that is uniquely her own.  It always ends with trying to climb into the vehicle to welcome us home.

We began to see more owl activity and we welcomed it.  They would snack on the mice and vole population keeping things in check as nature designed.  An owl was doing just that one morning right in the middle of the swake.  Sitting may not be the correct term but there was an owl sitting on the freshly mown meadow.  Greg alerted me.  Kanti was busy with a bone so I was able to quietly remove the camera from the drawer and go out the back door without raising her interest.  As I did the owl left the ground and flew into a pine tree near the house.  Slowly I moved forward trying to position myself so I could get a photo.

The owl just watched me.  It was probably alarmed by the sight of a woman with her hair standing on end, dressed in a house coat and flip flops.  I was nearly there.  Nearly to that perfect spot that would have given the best picture ever, when the owl swivelled its head, extended its wings, and swooped further away from me.  At that same moment another owl flew past.  Woo, woo, woo!  We had a pair, what an amazing thing to see.

What kind of owl am I?
I wasn't deterred by the fact that the owls had eluded me.  I flipped and flopped along the path until it came into sight again.  It was waiting for me, staring me down wondering what the human was up to.  We stared at each other for a while before I raised the camera to try again.  One photo that's all I got.  The click of the shutter was enough to make that owl lift off once more.  Except this time it came straight toward me.  The huge wings extended and it flew about five feet above the ground.  I had that moment of indecision when I wondered if I should dive for cover or if I should try to get that perfect photo.  That was all it took.  In that moment, the owl swooped to my left and rose above the tree line.  It was gone.

We followed the pair of owls last night on a little walk.  They flew from tree to tree ahead of us, as if leading us into the forest.  We have tried to identify the owl type but we have not come to an agreement.  So we are putting it out there for your assistance.  The owls have several different calls in addition to their traditional woo woo.  We think the rhythmic sound we heard was what bird books describe as a bark.  Check out the different owls and their sounds at All About Birds.  We have heard the owls shriek similar to a hawk.  Greg thinks they are Northern Hawk Owls but I am leaning toward the Short-eared Owl.  Maybe neither of us is right.  This isn't about being right it is about naming something correctly.

There must be a lesson in here amidst the brokenness we witnessed in the world last week.  We hear about so much of it everyday if we track news.  Sometimes I want to just turn it all off and quit listening because it seems so overwhelming.  Do you ever feel like that too?  We could do it but is it the right thing to do?  Or should we be listening and then walking down the path to understand and name the things that are happening. Do we have a responsibility to try to name the brokenness correctly so that in the naming we can begin to address the causes instead of continuing down the winding path of reacting to the effects?

When I start a blog I rarely know how it will end or what journey of discovery it will take me on.  This one has surprised me.  It has woken me to the repeated reports of brokenness that keep interrupting my nice life and forced me to think about my ability to contribute to a shift in our collective attitudes.  I need to know what kind of owl it is so that I can understand more fully how it lives.  Can anyone help identify it from my not so stellar photo?