a childhood saved

A Naturalist's Notebook

When I was 14-15 years old, I wrote a series of 23 essays as a weekly assignment for my high school English class. I called the series "A Naturalist's Notebook." Naturalist's Notebook Table of Contents

A Naturalist's Notebook: September 10, 1973

September 9th was an unusual morning for me. I got up and went outside at around 5:45 am to look around for raccoons, deer, and other nighttime-early morning dwellers. Instead, at 6:05, I heard a great horned owl in the distant woods. I walked towards the area and imitated him. He answered. Again I imitated and again he called back. After a while, he lost interest and went back into the depths of the woods, possibly to a large, thick rove of hemlocks where there are many good hiding spots from raccoons, crows, and jays. One day in mid-March, I saw two of these magnificent birds—although I only saw the silhouettes. The call of the great horned is a five-to-nine-note hoot. The most common variation that I have heard in our area is a booming, resonant "hoo-hoo-hoohoohoo-hoohoo-hoo-hoooo" that echoes eerily on certain nights.

This owl is a large bird—20-23 inches long. It eats mostly mice and other small rodents; occasionally one will get a skunk or a rabbit. It can be identified by its large size, ear tufts ("horns") and a rather conspicuous white "collar" below the neck. If one is seen, the ghostlike, soundless flight can easily identify it as an owl.

Another noise I heard that morning was a noise that sounded, to me, very much like a fox. It was a high-pitched, hollow bark, almost owl-like, but with a sharper tone. I hope it was a fox, since this is my favorite animal. There are two types of fox that live in our area—the red and the gray. The red fox comes in several different phases: the "red" phase—actually a reddish yellow; the "silver phase," a blackish color with white-tipped hairs; and the "cross" phase, with a dark, cross-shaped mark on its back. The gray fox comes in only one major phase, but it is a very beautiful fox: gray with a sort of fulvous wash around the head, neck, legs, and around the body.

A fox, like many other animals, including birds, can be attracted by squeaking like a mouse. Fox tracks, especially red fox tracks, can usually be told from other tracks. The red fox has a distinctive v-shaped mark on his base toe pad, and this can be seen in the track. The fox is foxy, and many, many hours can be spent looking for them and finding only tracks. This I well know, as I have never seen either type of fox yet in my life!

Next: "The Arrival of Autumn," September 18, 1973