Start the weekend with an “owl prowl”? That’s what Metro Parks, Serving Summit County offered Friday evening. Starting around 7 p.m., naturalist Mike Greene gave a brief talk about types of owls, their calls and their ability to fly in total silence, special feathers at the edges of their wings adapted to muffle noise, leaving prey unaware of what’s about to strike.
A group of about 30, bundled up against the cold, set off on Deer Run Trail at O’Neil Woods, which offers broad views of the Cuyahoga River Valley. Greene warned us that he wasn’t one to give up easily. Using a bullhorn-like device, he hooted away in owl-speak. During pauses, we all stood in silence, listening intently for an owl to respond. If an owl came to us, Greene warned, we might see a shadow as the bird glided in noiselessly.
My wife had invited her kindergarten students to the hike. Cayden, 5, was captivated. “This is the best day of my life,” he said as he waited with his mother and sister for a stealthy predator to appear. Finally, came a response from a barred owl, distinctive for its brown-and-white striped plumage and its hooting call, “Who cooks for you?”
Standing in the middle of the line, we missed the owl as it flew overhead. Those in the front saw only a flicker of a shadow. Greene then switched on a spotlight, and there it was, perched in a tree, a surprisingly large, stocky bird. Even with the light on him, the camouflage was amazing. It was hard to tell where owl ended and tree bark began. Dark brown eyes looking at us as we looked back. After 10 minutes or so, the owl took to the air in an unhurried way, apparently none the worse for his nighttime encounter with humans.
Greene does a series of owl prowls (the next is Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. at Goodyear Heights Metro Park), careful not to go to the same place more than once a year, so as not to disturb the owls’ habits as they hunt and hoot in the night skies. There are really very few rules: No dogs are allowed, and patience and silence are required. It’s best to dress in layers. Much of an owl prowl is spent standing still.
On the way back, the persistent Greene broadcast a series of eerie coyote calls. He got a few hoots in response, judging them to be from an angry owl. As we approached the parking lot, we were left with memories of our owl encounter. It was hard to tell whose eyes seemed bigger, the barred owl’s or young Cayden’s.
— STEVE HOFFMAN