Last month, I unexpectedly encountered a great gray owl hunting by our Rimbey-area cabin. It was only the third time in five decades that I’ve seen a great gray in this area, so I stood in awe, in the bitter cold, to watch and photograph it. What unfolded was a delightful glimpse, from a ringside seat, into the daily life of a “ghost of the forest.”
This owl paid me no heed as it scanned its hunting grounds from an old snag. I watched it cast its bright yellow eyes at the ground, triangulating the location of snow-hidden prey by cocking its head from one side to the other. Three times it plunged into the deep fluffy snow, twice coming up empty but once scoring a big juicy red-backed vole.
After spotting a potential meal, it would fly silently to a more advantageous perch, from which it would suddenly leap up into the air and then rocket down into the snowpack. After each plunge, successful or otherwise, it would spend a minute or two on the ground, looking around. When it caught the vole, it shuffled around a bit to complete the kill. Once the prize was firmly secured, it flew up to the sturdy branch of a poplar tree and proceeded to tear apart the steaming flesh. After a few quick bites, it flipped the body up and, in two gulps, had it swallowed. With what appeared to be a very satisfied smile on its face, it scanned its surroundings before spending time daintily and carefully cleaning each talon. Thus sated and groomed, it returned to the sentry snag to start the process all over again.
The sun had long dipped over the hills when I bowed in thanks to the owl for sharing this hour with me. Numb hands and feet were a small price to pay for such a heart-warming, memorable encounter.
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