Time Out: Owling in Orrington

When I use the term “owling,” I mean “looking or listening for owls.” However, to make sure I wasn’t making up a term, I decided to look the word up. The internet came up with a few definitions that made me laugh:

  • Owling: the practice of crouching like an owl in unusual places. (Source: Wikipedia)
  • Owling: The act of displaying oneself on top of miscellaneous objects in a sitting position while holding your knees. (Urban Dictionary)
  • Owling: an archaic English legal term referring to the practice of smuggling sheep. (Oxford English Dictionary)

I can assure you, I was not crouching on mailboxes or swiping livestock in Orrington. I was looking for owls. But it didn’t start out that way. In fact, I initially traveled to Orrington to photograph wood ducks with Sharon Fiedler, a wildlife photographer from Bangor. I met Sharon through Facebook about a month ago and met up with her to search for a snowy owl in the area (click here for the resulting snowy owl story). Since then, Sharon has let me tag along on a number of outings to photograph local wildlife.

The wood ducks (along with some more common mallards) were fishing in an Orrington resident’s private pond, and Sharon had permission to photograph them. But as we arrived, we watched in dismay as the ducks took flight and disappeared over the trees. We’d spooked them before we even had the chance to take one photo. So we decided to wait and see if they’d return.

We were walking along the edge of the woods, looking for some other critter to photograph in the meantime, when I heard an faint, eerie call, muffled by the freezing wind. I paused and listened closer. It came again — the telltale song of a barred owl, sounding much like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” Then came another. Were there two owls? Sharon and I listened for a while, then, to warm our numb fingers, we retreated to the car.

The ducks hadn’t returned. The sun was sinking, and we were about to throw in the towel when, in a flurry of feathers, a beautiful barred owl landed in a branch directly above the windshield of the car.

We uttered a few choice words of amazement.

After a few moments, the owl took flight, only to land in a low branch of a tall evergreen nearby. Below its perch was a bird feeder. The owl had picked an ideal spot to pick off rodents and smaller birds.

Slowly, Sharon and I stepped out of the car, gently shut our doors and crept into position to photograph the large bird. After several minutes, it was evident that the owl wasn’t concerned about us. Every once in a while, it would turn its head our way. Its deep brown eyes appeared black. Then it turned its head away, looking down at the ground or sometimes up at the tree limbs above.

I’d be remiss to end my tale without a few interesting facts about barred owls, gleaned from one of my go-to online resources, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s www.allaboutbirds.org:

  • Barred owls are one of the birds in Maine that stick around year round. They don’t migrate. In fact, of 158 barred owls that were banded and then found later, none had moved farther than 6 miles away.
  • That Orrington resident may be seeing that barred owl hunting by his bird feeder for a while to come. The oldest barred owl on record was at least 24 years old.
  • Even though barred owls look big, they only weigh, on average, 2 pounds and 5 ounces.

Sharon and I photographed the owl for probably 15 minutes, then headed home. We weren’t so bummed out about the fleeing wood ducks after all.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.