Tag Archives: birds

The Owl in the Woods

This morning, I can add another creature to the menagerie I’ve encountered in the woods behind our house. I’ve heard owls (or perhaps, this one owl) hooting around the neighborhood from time to time, but until this morning, I’d never seen one. Then, while on the final leg of my morning walk, making my way up the hill that leads back to our house, I saw a huge bird swoop down out of the trees and land on this broken stump. At first I thought it might be an eagle (I’ve admitted elsewhere that I am no birdwatcher). Then, as its big eyes followed me on a swiveling head, I realized I was looking at an owl.

A brief tale of owls: (I’ve certainly told this story before so forgive me if you’ve already heard it). After I sold my story, “Take One for the Road” to Analog, I got a request from Dr. Stan Schmidt to make two small changes to the story. One was so minor I can’t even remember what it was. The other involved owls. It seems that in one point in the story, I’d referred to the hooting or shrieking of a night owl in the distance. Stan asked if I wouldn’t mind changing the phrase “night owl” to “owl” since, “the ornithologists among Analog’s readers would find the term “night owl” redundant. Of course, I made the change.

This morning, however, as I walked past this night owl at 9 am with a hazy sun overhead, I wondered about Stan’s request.

Incidentally, I have no idea what kind of owl this is, and if anyone can identify it from my poor picture, taken at distance, I’d love to know.

Bird Watching

Birds

I’m the world’s worst bird watcher. I like watching birds every now and then, but I can rarely identify them. It seems like everyone else is aware of the difference between an oriole and a cardinal at a glance, but not me. I like listening to birds, too. Many people can identify the bird by the sound it makes, but all I can do is tell that it’s morning and time to wake up.

My and the Littlest Miss name the birds we see around our backyard. There’s Woody, Mercedes, and Belvedere. We spot them now and then, but I doubt it is the same Woody we saw yesterday, or the day before. Birds are like a river in that way. I’ve learned to recognize a woodpecker through brute force. I followed the sound of one until I finally saw him (or her?) high up in a tree.

I’ve never been a particularly avid bird-watcher. There are people I see in parks and nearby wetlands that stakeout birds with binoculars and cameras with telephoto lenses. I don’t have the patience for that. E.B. White wrote an essay entitled, “Mr. Forbush’s Friends”. In it he reviewed The Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States. That essay made bird-watching sound like a fascinating sport. But I still think I’d be no good at it.

Bird-watchers “collect” birds, which I understand means they collect observations of birds in the wild. What does this look like, I wonder? I there journal with a checklist where you can mark off the bird and note the date, time, place, and conditions?

What I want to ask all of the bird-watchers out there is this: how do you get a bird to sit still for a photo? This morning, there was a bright red bird on the powerline outside my house when I went for a walk. It was twenty feet above me. I stood still and causally reached for my phone to take its picture. As soon as my hand moved toward my pocket, the bird took off. I’d call it a coincidence, except that this seems to happen every time I try to take a picture of a bird. Are they camera shy? Even perched twenty feet above me? Maybe this explains all those binoculars and telephoto lenses.

I’ve lost count of all of the amazing photos of birds I would have had were the birds not camera-shy. Now that I think of it, maybe it’s not the camera. Maybe it’s me.

I’m not cut out to be an ornithologist, even an amateur one. This was pointed out to me ten years ago by the (then) editor of Analog Science Fiction, Stanley Schmidt. Stan had just accepted my first story for that magazine, “Take One for the Road.” (It appeared in the June 2011 issue.) He asked for two small edits. One was so minor I’ve forgotten it. The other has stayed with me right down to the very moment. I had a sentence in the story which referred to “night owls.” Stan said, “Do you mind changing this to just ‘owls’? The ornithologists among Analog‘s readers will object to ‘night owls’ as redundant.”

I made the change, but I think it would strange to refer to someone who prefers working at night as just “an owl.”