Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Owl's Hill Sanctuary

Owl's Hill Sanctuary Nature Park sits in a small valley between three large rolling hills. The valley has mostly wooded slopes, a winding creek,a flat corn field in the center of the valley and along the southern slope a grassy knoll that has several picnic tables set up.
 To enter the park you take a road that rises upward. At the entrance the road winds down to the valley's floor. To the  east northeast stands a park pavilion having a concrete floor, rough hewn posts, open roof rafters and a ceder shake tiled roof. Eight picnic tables lined up in two rows of four fill the center of this outdoor room.
  A massive stone fireplace stands at the eastern end of the pavilion. Above the mantel piece an owl is carved into the stone and the two andirons in the fireplace have owl finials. Around the perimeter of the concrete flooring, there are pressed indentations of all kinds of tree leaves , animal paw and hoof prints and bird prints.

 We arrived  half an hour earlier than we needed to for the Solstice Owl Walk/Hike.
I wanted to be able find the place before it got to dark. We had dressed in layers for the cold and I wondered if I had put on enough layers. There was a small wind blowing.

 We were able to meet one of the volunteers who takes care of the injured owls the sanctuary protects. She was also preparing our dinner. The event included a meal before we left on our walk
They have five owls they nurse at the Sanctuary, a barn owl, a barred owl, a great horned and two little screech owls. They live in large outdoor cages. All have been injured to the point they can't be released. Because it was dusk and feeding time for the owls when we arrived; we were able to view the owls while they were active.
As we passed by the great horned owl's cage, I stopped and looked him over while he looked me over.
His eyes were large and golden. He bobbed his head a little and hissed at me.
Yes, hissed at me just like a cat hisses.
 I was surprised. I didn't know owls hissed! Later the volunteer told me Andromeda hisses at everybody.

Five couples came for the hike as well as our instructor/leader and his wife.
   After we had eaten and had introduced ourselves to each other, the leader gave us an informal talk about the Winter Solstice and owls and their habits in the woods.
It was full dark now. An almost full moon was rising but because of a high layer of cloud cover, the moon looked as though someone had drawn a gauzy veil in front of it.
We took a" naked eye" star watch/gazing-looking for owls hike, meaning no flashlights, candle lights or binoculars.
     Our leader instructed us on how to walk in the woods, high careful steps and no hands or arms outstretched from our sides. It would be to easy to get scratched or tangled up in something.
 He did assure us that after five minutes or so our eyes would become adjusted to the dark and we would be able to see much more than we would have thought we could.
 He also demonstrated several owl calls. He was very good and I was impressed.

As we began our walk I could hardly see where I was going. I thought "Oh good, Nothing like stumbling around in the dark out in unfamiliar woods"
But as we moved slowly through the valley my eyes did begin to adjust. Down in the valley walking among the trees, the sound of the wind moving through the tree tops was marvelous.
We stopped in a spot and our leader whispered to us he was going to try calling a barred owl. Some of us were instructed to stand looking in different directions. If one comes, it will come silently and not from the direction of it's responding call, our leader explained.
On his fourth call, we heard a response. We waited five minutes anxiously looking for any movement in the tree tops.
Nothing, so we moved on.
We passed a large tree log near the trail. The lichen growing on the tree glowed softly. We  were told that many types of lichen glow in the dark. It was magical.

Toward the end of our walk, Hubby and I stood close together holding hands, out in the woods, in the dark and gazed up at the soft glow of moon.

There may not have been any active owl sightings but this was undoubtedly the best walk in the woods I've ever taken.
p.s. having come early, Hubby and I were able to view the owls. The Others didn't have the chance to.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

What a wonderful thing to do on the Winter Solstice! If I lived there, I'd have joined you for sure! Owls are such compelling creatures. It's their eyes and their ability to turn their heads almost all the way around that really fascinates me.

Paulette said...

Owls are truly amazing creatures.
Thanks for the comment Debra.