A visit from the Spotted Eagle Owl


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Sitting watching TV and I hear an eerie sound. I immediately recognise the call of an owl. I mute the TV and there it is again "HU HOO HOOoooo". "THEY'RE BACK," I say in my excited birdwatching brain.

I leap out of bed and run upstairs to my balcony. I have heard them before... Spotted Eagle Owls! But I have never seen them. The call is so eerie and carries so much that I first go to my front balcony. I wonder if they're this side? Then I remember that last time they were perched in the two big blue gums on my property. The one tree is mere metres from my top storey balcony, which is practically at perfect owl-height.

I run downstairs to fetch my torch and bound back up to the braai deck (my back balcony). As soon as I open the sliding door the call booms in the night. They must be right here! My curious cat Clio is following me around (as usual... she's a right Daddy's girl that one) and when she hears the call her ears prick up. I can see a "WTF?" look on her face. It sounds like an animal, a bird perhaps, but it's at night and it's a pretty ghostly sound. She seems both excited and nervous. Normally when there's a bird around she starts shaking and making a "ma-ah-ah-ah-ah" stuttered quiet meow. She is lacking confidence this time and looks to me for support.

I am almost committing suicide by hanging dangerously over my balcony, craning my neck and straining my eyes, peering into the blue gum tree. I KNOW they are there. The male is definitely in this tree. "Hu hoo" he calls and is answered by his mate in the blue gum near the gate almost immediately. "Hu Hoo hooooo" she replies. Assuaging any of his fears that she may have drifted too far from his protection. They mate for life these majestic animals.

Then I see her! She flies straight into the blue gum opposite my balcony to join her mate. I don't hear her massive wings flapping though. As with most nocturnal and/or hunting birds, they have special "fimbrae" on the leading edge of their primary wing feathers which make them fly silently. This allows them - amongst other special adaptations - the element of surprise when hunting.

She flits to another branch and I can see her. Wow! It's very humbling to watch an owl and listen to their call. It's almost spiritual. Hence why the owl has, for millennia, been an animal that has haunted the mythology of humankind.

I managed to snap a picture with the camera, but you can only see her eyes:

Here's a better picture of these gorgeous animals:

And here's the call I was listening to:
Click HERE to play Spotted Eagle Owl call

If you've enjoyed my little midnight liaison with a pair of Spotted Eagle Owls (Bubo Africanus) then perhaps you'd like to read up a little more on these stunning creatures. Please CLICK HERE for the wiki link.

I really do urge everyone to get more acquainted with birds. If it wasn't for my knowledge and love of birds (and all animals) I would have ignorantly continued watching crappy TV while this magical visit happened right on my doorstep. All you need is a little knowledge and to open your eyes and ears to this wondrous life. So many of us are caught up in the hustle and bustle of the daily grind in this concrete jungle that we don't take time to really SEE, HEAR, TOUCH, SMELL and TASTE the world around us. 

Bird-watching is one way. Especially at this time of year. We have some amazing summer visitors. Some of you will have heard the Red-chested Cuckoo (commonly the Piet My Vrou) recently. Another beautiful bird! Good luck spotting one though. They are incredibly shy, due to the fact that cuckoos don't make nests. They "hijack" another species' nest and will boot out their egg and lay their own, leaving some poor schmuck to raise an ugly duckling. This is why they are very difficult to spot and rather skittish, because - and rightly so - they are mobbed by other birds who don't want to see their buns chucked out of the oven. 

See pic below of a poor adult Karoo Thrush feeding its "baby" - a Red-Chested Cuckoo baba that is twice its size already. Poor Thrush must be thinking that this is a baby only a mother could love. Not to mention how demanding a baby of that size must be in terms of food. Nature is amazing.

I also often hear and see the European Bee-Eater in Johannesburg. The distinctive "prrrrp, prrrp" call will have my head snapping back immediately to see the flock in the sky and it's only seconds before I identify the bird's characteristic wing shape and flight pattern.

I doubt you even knew that a bird as magnificently beautiful as this is often flying right above your head here in Johannesburg?
Distinctive wing shape
So WAKE UP and be more observant. Go and buy yourself the SASOL Guide to Birds of Southern Africa, which is my chosen field guide... so go and buy a copy and get started, but you can also check it out online HERE.

If birds aren't your cup of Earl Grey then how about stars? Everyone loves star-gazing. Even if it just means learning a few of the basic constellations and spending an evening on a blanket outside trying to identify them. Orion, the Hunter, is particularly magnificent right now (November) as well as Taurus, the Bull. Two of the easiest to see and identify. Go on. Do it! Your life will be richer for the effort. I can promise you that.

DOWNLOAD THIS FANTASTIC FREE PROGRAM TO EXPLORE THE SKIES. It's easy, just fill in your location and take your laptop outside. :)

Check out what's happening in our skies this November. CLICK HERE.

2 comments for this post

Well spotted! There are some amazing things to see and hear if you keep looking. The best thing about a trip to Cape Town when we were kids was getting to the Karoo at night and seeing all the stars without any city lights.

I recently took my 3 year old daughter to the planetarium and she can't stop talking about the moons, stars and planets. Amazing stuff.

Posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 8:40:00 AM GMT+2  

I TOTALLY 'get' this Rob! I always take note of the birds I'm constantly surrounded by, and it amazes me how so many people live their lives with their heads down, completely ignorant and unaware. I also ALWAYS look up at the sky and "take it all in" ... even in horrible polluted JHB ... so you can just imagine what I'm like in the sticks!
AK really enjoys his bird watching in Sandton City.

Posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 10:25:00 AM GMT+2  

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