Monday, November 15, 2010

PostHeaderIcon A new facial disc in the wings, claws and death game

Bonus shot:

After a one on two fistacuffs with the island's raven pair, our female peregrine kicks back on the smokestack, faces west and relaxes in the setting sun

But this post isn't about her. Onto the true substance of it...

What an odd moment that was. On Thursday, October 28th, BourbonHawk and I trekked up the long and winding path from the dock to the cell house which crowns the peak of the island. As we rounded the final switchback, we spooked a bird from its roost in the dark boughs of a pine tree.

She was light in coloration and at first she seemed to be about the size of a gull, so I just assumed that's what she was. As I took a casual second glance, her plumage took on a rusty color that made me think we'd spooked a visiting hawk. How exciting!

But no. As I watched it slide slowly and gracefully through the air, it's shape was that of a zeppelin, a reddish-white football with rounded wings beating quite casually. It had no neck, and its head, or at least its face seemed to be made up of a forward facing disc. It's proportionally immense feet, toes and talons were carried below and behind in tow. Wow. That was a female barn owl!

As she glided past the ravens' tree, I imagined the two dark corvids perched together on a dark bough, looking on and cursing to one another about the sudden arrival of still another avian apex predator, "Damn... first a pair of falcons that dive on you with their claws out faster than any animal that has ever lived, and now a huge bird with a full f#$*%ing swiveling and serrated cutlery set instead of toenails? And what's with the lack of a neck to conveniently claw and chew on! Weak all around!"

BourbonHawk and I found ourselves off work for the next two days, but we returned to Alcatraz on the 31st. On that night, which conveniently happened to be Halloween, we'd just closed up shop on Alcatraz's acclaimed night program when a creaking and eerie screech permeated the darkness around us. It quickly became loud enough for us to spot the cuprits, a pair of ghostly white barn owls floating and fluttering around one another like loud, etherial butterflies spinning circles around a candle's flame.

A pair of barn owls on Alcatraz! What an awesome find!

Sorry for the lack of owl pictures. The owls may love the pitch black but my Canon SX10IS just doesn't. Hopefully these new peregrine pics console you a bit, at least until I find a sleeping owl in daylight. Here's hoping...

MAGANRORD quick hits:

The male peregrine hasn't been seen in weeks but he's got a weird way of being absent for long periods of time and returning just when we've given up on him. So I'm still checking for the little guy.

Laura, our radical wildlife biologist saw a merlin on Alcatraz. We're pretty jealous.

The female peregrine shows off her own cutlery


fantacuous said...

The purist in me feels the need to point out that there's no reliable means of sexing barn owls by plumage or size alone. But it does make for a great story :)

Sweep Commander said...

Thanks for the comment. As you know, barn owls are somewhat sexually dinorphic with regard to size and plumage. Given the appearance of the one I saw in the light of day, I suspect that it was a female though this is just an educated guess.

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