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The Season of Owls

 A walk in Inwood Hill Park.

The days following the holidays and the first of the year make a good time to check in on life in the winter forest. I have a forest just down the street from me in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. There, a vast old growth forest still stands.

A Barred Owl faces the setting sun in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan.

A few weeks ago, someone on a local Facebook page posted a snapshot of a Barred Owl, and I was keen to go looking for it in the park. I didn't find the owl on the first day, but the next day I saw it. A handful of birder enthusiasts were already on the scene and kindly pointed it out high up in the pines. What a beautiful creature! 

A stand of White Pines provides the habitat for the Barred Owl.
The owl is in this picture.
I know, hard to see. 

Since my first owl visit, everyday life during the otherwise dreary post-holiday doldrums has taken on a finer aura. I have returned several times, each taking a different path up to the owl’s habitat in the park. The area is remote and rather hidden. I’ve come across not more than a handful of onlookers each visit, a situation unlike the crowded scenes assembled for another Barred Owl in Central Park. I found my local situation to my liking. I am a solitary creature by nature, not unlike my new friend high in the pines.

The Barred Owl is nocturnal, sleeping in the day and hunting at night.

Of the conversations I've had about the owl, all have been friendly, spoken in that quiet way of nature lovers who keep their vocals low in respect for the bird. A young woman invited me to join a feminist birding group. I have conversed with young men who expressed a gentle yet exuberant passion for capturing the birds on large cameras. I now eagerly show the owl to new arrivals in the forest. 

Red-tailed Hawks are common in Inwood Hill Park.

On the forays into the forest I'm also noticing other common small birds along with an array of extraordinary hawks. I now have a poster of Common Backyard Hawks affixed with magnets to my refrigerator. Recently, on my way to the owl, I came across a hawk in flight. Simultaneously, I encountered a young man who told me he came across the hawk while he was running in the forest. He said the hawk had caught something, a squirrel perhaps. While we were chatting, I asked him if he would like to see an owl.

Another common bird here - the adorable Downy Woodpecker.

Beyond the owl and the birds, I've been finding the forest to hold some mystery. Staying longer than an hour the forest seems to grow in power, as if the woodland ecosystem emanates its own vibe. The more still, the more alive and busy the forest becomes. Research has shown that trees communicate with one another, and listening and staying in the present may open up a frequency that humans are not quite equipped to hear.

The Barred Owl is a master of the side-eye glance.

As I work in the workaday world, I try to stay aware of the traumatic events of life beyond the woodlands. I consider speaking out on national affairs to be a civic and moral responsibility. At the same time, I feel an increasing need to return to the forest and listen there for other news, the kind broadcast by 200-year-old trees and their wise citizens, a parliament of owls.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from January 2021. Photos taken with a Nikon Cool Pix B700.

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