My unofficial guide through this transformative year has been that elusive species of bird: the owl.
It started in January when I visited the Northern Spotted Owl breeding facility in Langley, BC - a rare opportunity to view a species that's nearly vanished from my home region where it was once abundant. Later that month, while spending a couple of blissful weeks on the island of Maui, I caught a glimpse of a Hawaiian short-eared owl. It was a brief sighting (too quick for a photo) that happened while I was wandering around one of Maui’s state parks. On an island where the native species of birds are edging towards extinction for a variety of reasons, this felt like a rare gift.
In my mind, seeing an owl somehow always feels like a special privilege, one that some people never experience. This year the barred owls of Mayne Island seemed bent on being my companions. They regularly showed themselves to me on my walks and swooped through the trees around my cottage.
Their calls often echoed through the woods around my little island home – most memorably on a full-moon night in August. One October day a gorgeous specimen landed on the road right in front of me and stared straight into my eyes before silently rising back into the air and disappearing into the woods.
Even in the wooded ravine adjacent to my urban townhome on the mainland, the owls came to me. Not just the familiar barred owls but a glorious juvenile great horned owl. For several weeks over the summer he/she was there, seemingly waiting for me when I went for my morning walk with Lily. As the summer waned he/she quietly departed but I still scan the trees in hopes of another sighting.
These wild moments aside, it was a different owl experience that has found its way into my art. At England’s Whipsnade Zoo I attended a presentation about birds. Several species took turns flying freely in the open air before returning to their handlers on command, including a familiar bald eagle, a band of African hawks, couple of raucous parrots, and some vividly coloured macaws that generated wistful memories of past travels in South America. And then .... there it was: a great grey owl, massive and magnificent.