Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Owls in the Ravine

      It was just after sunset one cold clear night in February when we decided to go down into Garfield ravine and listen for owls.
      We bundled ourselves up in our winter woolies and carried binoculars in mittened hands.  We stood for a while and quieted ourselves down, our ears tuned up for the call of one of the most common yet elusive backyard birds.  When we were finally ready, we filed down into one of Olympia’s neighborhood ravines to wait for owls.
     Though Garfield ravine is in the middle of developed, residential west Olympia, it still retains a rich mix of bigleaf maples, alders and second-growth conifers. It has steeply pitched, seeping sides so no houses have ever been built into it.  The stream that once ran unimpeded through west Olympia has been locked away into culverts, but here in the ravine it has been allowed to run freely for its last mile into Puget Sound.  

Glen checking out native vegetation in the ravine
     This ravine forms what is called a riparian corridor:  a kind of wetland habitat that forms the banks of streams and rivers.  Here are native plants such as swordfern and Western Red cedar,  adapted to wet conditions.  Here are rats, sneaking up from the bay to feed out of human backyards.  There are mice, too and salamanders, insects and worms.  All of these animals provide food for the owls of the ravine.

     The stream had probably carved out the ravine in times past.  Now with recent rains, the water ran high and fast;  we listened to the rushing sound over the rocks in the creek bed.  Up above, the wind brushed through winter-bare branches and the distant voices of children at play up in the neighborhood floated down to us.

Western Screech Owl
     The ravine was cold and wet, waking slowly to spring and new life.
     It was the perfect place for owls.
     We sat and let the silence move into us.  We sat and let the night darken and the stars come out, one by one.  And then the owl began to call.

     A quiet rolling series of hoots echoed up the ravine towards us.  A haunting sound, the quick heartbeat of the nighttime woods, it came towards us.  We held our breath.  We cupped our ears into radar dishes as we strained to hear.  And it called again.

     For the next half hour, the Western Screech Owl asserted its claim to the ravine, as its kind had done for centuries.  We sat, entranced and let the sound fill us up.  Up in the neighborhood, few people heard the call;  they were busy with their usual Sunday evening lives.
     But for us in the ravine, we were blessed with the presence of owls.  


•  This article was originally posted in Green Pages in April 1995
•  Owl photo from Wikipedia
•  All other photos by Nancy Partlow

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