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

Screech Owls and Grackles in Fall: September 26, 1973

This morning, at aroundnd seven o'clock, my father and I heard a screech owl. This owl has a rather quavering call, almost a whistled, tremulous call. The screech owl can easily be attracted by imitating it; also, by using this imitation, other birds can be attracted because they do not like owls.

Note: Imitating owls to bring them in closer, or to bring other birds closer, was an accepted practice back in the 1970s, but most birders today would discourage it.

One of the most peaceful experiences I know of is sitting down on a log some cool night or evening (or early morning) and listening to the sounds around me. A cricket chirps, katydids make their rasping noises, a raccoon screams somewhere in the distance. Then all is silent. The stage is set, and finally I hear an owl. "Paweeeeeach. Paweeeeeeah. Pweeeah. Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah.," whistles the owl. I answer back. A mouse squeals and runs for cover. The owl calls again. Crickets chirp. A bat flutters by. Everything is calm and peaceful as the small owl, nearly the size of a blue jay, comes closer and closer. A dark shape suddenly drops off a nearby branch and a mouse breathes its last breath. The owl is here…

The screech owl is a peculiar sort of owl—it is the only small owl with "horns" or ear tufts, it prefers apple orchard-deciduous trees to the conifers, which many other owls prefer. It is not relatively disturbed by the presence of humans, and will even attack them if they come too close to the nest. The nest is usually inside a hole in a tree, and they will nest in bird-boxes as well (if the hole is large enough). Screech owls come in two color phases: gray and red. In my opinion, the red is more beautiful than the gray, but they are both very pretty.

Another bird which is more common in the autumn is the common grackle. This too has two color variations which are often classed as separate species: the purple grackle and the bronzed grackle. In spring they are seen here around March first or so, but they are never so numerous as in the fall. In September, great flocks of 200-300 grackles can be seen at a time. I find that a good way to appreciate the size of the flock is to let them congregate in a few close trees, then yell as loud as you an. A noise comparable to bacon frying during a thunderstorm will follow: the "bacon" crackling is their harsh "chek-chek" voices, and the "thunder" is the beating of 400-600 wings. It is a sight which is very, very hard to forget!

Even a single grackle is impressive—up to 13 inches long with a large wedge-shaped tail, white eyes, and a habit of strutting arrogantly around. The grackles by day and owls by night help make the autumn more interesting!

Next: "Autumns Past," October 2, 1973