Who Cooks For You?

Barred owl in flight.jpg

It's late fall. The leaves are down. Daylight savings are spent. Nights are long and getting longer, and often, from out of their black depths, I hear voices.

Voices? Read on.

Yesterday, for example, with our first serious snow in the forecast, I decided to end my work day by rolling around on the cold ground, wrestling summer tires and rims off our Toyota Prius and replacing them with winter rims and snow tires. I started the job in golden afternoon light. I finished it in darkness, cradling a flashlight under an arm or between my knees as I cranked down on the final lug nuts. A few minutes before wrapping up the job, I was reminded I was not alone.

From the woods behind the house came a voice. It was loud and clear. Its cadence seemed to say, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?"

A barred owl was talking to me, or if not to me, then to another barred owl. 

There's irony in a barred owl asking about cooking. You won't ever catch a barred owl in a restaurant or at a weenie roast. They eat their food raw. Nor are they likely to eat a weenie, even though in the depths of an Adirondack winter, with deep snow burying the ground and mice hard to come by, they sometimes come to pick at chicken carcasses we put out on a bird feeding platform. Mainly barred owls pounce and prey on things that are alive and moving: mice, voles, shrews, birds, whatever they can sink their talons into. 

The barred owl pictured here is one I photographed using an infra-red beam to trip two flashes. My shutter was wide open. It was pitch black out, so no significant amount of light got in. I baited the owl in to the camera with a mouse in a small wire cage. The owl would grant me one photograph per night. After that, it would refuse to chase a caged mouse until the following night. Over two weeks, I shot one bad photo of the owl after another. I always got only a partial owl in the frame. Finally, I perched the mouse in its little cage right on top of the camera. That did the trick.