Snowy Comes to Maine

 

 

719e8726-ac9c-11e3-bdba-8d0644e09485-850x478$large.jpg“who whoo WHOOH…”

I will never forget the first Snowy owl I ever saw… I was living in Andover, Maine when a huge white bird appeared in January and soared over the lower fields. It was a very cold winter in 1993 and a pair of these birds became part of my winter bird watching. Their courtship call is quite distinct – three hoots with the loudest whooh at the end. I heard other sounds too but don’t remember the details. When I got my first close up look at one of these magnificent owls I was stunned by their beauty – intense yellow eyes, a black beak and oh, all those pearl white feathers. One had mole brown bars. The Snowy is one of the largest species of owl in North America, and is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark spots; the young are heavily barred. I believe it was an adult male that I saw at close range. Occasionally one would fly ahead of the car as I drove out of my solitary mile long driveway, a behavior that intrigued me…

Well, Snowy owls are back in Maine! At the Portland Jetport, as many folks know, these owls and those that love seeing them are causing a “problem.” The owls are just trying to make a living but humans are apparently blocking emergency exits.

Many of us will recall that there was a boom in the Snowy population starting around 2011. One owl could be seen perched on a telephone pole between Bryant Pond and South Paris for much of the winter. Recently these birds are becoming uncommonly common! They have popped up in Aroostook County, the mountains of Acadia in Maine, and have been seen as far south as Florida and Hawaii and this year Snowy has made it as far south as New Mexico!

The Snowy owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home. However, this species is also nomadic because lemming population fluctuations force it to relocate to find food. Recently we have learned that the Snowy has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes

Snowy owls “normally” (is there such a thing today) nest in the tundra of Northern Canada and Europe. Snowy owls are attracted to open areas like marshes, open fields, coastal dunes, and prairies that appear somewhat similar to tundra. During the years when they are found in the Northeastern US, juveniles frequent appear in developed areas so keep your eyes out for a sighting. All ages spend a fair amount of their time over water in the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean, mostly on ice floes.

When perched Snowy owls often face the sun; Snowy owls appear to orient themselves into the sun or wind depending on prevailing weather conditions. No doubt they are happy to bask in whatever source of heat comes their way.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with good visibility is chosen, such as the top of a mound with ready access to hunting areas and a lack of snow. Abandoned eagle’s nests and even gravel bars are used for nesting. The female scrapes a small hollow before laying the eggs. Breeding occurs in May to June, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 3 to 11 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents. Although the young hatch asynchronously, with the largest in the brood sometimes 10 to 15 times as heavy as the smallest, there is little sibling conflict, a fact that I find fascinating and somewhat unusual. Both the male and the female defend the nest and their young from predators sometimes using distraction as a ruse. Males also defend the nest by standing guard nearby while the female incubates the eggs and broods the young. Both sexes will attack approaching predators, dive-bombing them!

As previously mentioned this powerful bird relies primarily on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season. They are opportunistic hunters and prey species may vary considerably, especially in winter. Some of the larger mammal prey includes rabbits, hares muskrats squirrels (we could use lots of these birds) raccoons moles and mice. Birds preyed upon include ptarmigan, ducks geese shorebirds and songbirds as well as other owls and raptors. Most of the owls’ hunting is done in the “sit and wait” style; prey may be captured on the ground or in the air; fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using sharp talons. Unlike most owls that hunt at night Snowy owls are diurnal hunting in darkness and in light.

Snowy owls, like other carnivorous birds, swallow their small prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Regurgitation often takes place at regular perches, where dozens of pellets may be found.

Previous population estimates of about 200,000 individuals are now regarded as substantially overestimated, and a total population size of 28,000 individuals is probable.

Catastrophic Climate Change guarantees that unless we radically reverse carbon emissions in the next twelve years Life as we know it will be over. The absence of Snowy will become just one more statistic on a planet that has lost its animal populations. So, if you are fortunate enough to glimpse one of these magnificent owls, remember to say goodbye.

Remembering What’s Broken

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I kneel before

my wood – stove

kindling fire

in sapphire blue,

flaming orange gratitude

rising unbidden.

Bare limbs etch stories

against curved canvas

empty space – sky or dome

as Venus fades

and the day begins…

 

A golden dawn

awakened the Ravens.

Fluffed feathery balls

perched on frost slipped

trees whose crystals

shivered in a landscape

tipped in white gold –

each twig on fire

from the rising sun.

Swooping down for

cracked corn, coal black

Messengers quork

and hop as small

birds retreat.

 

 

January’s fur coat

is white.

My brother is dead.

I think of polar bears.

Blue ice

cracks under frightened claws –

Roots starved for water.

Dying slices my

joy in two

even as evening

grosbeaks

come to feed

and sea smoke

rises from the river.

 

 

Working notes:

 

January in New Mexico is like a dream when snow covers the ground twisting cactus into fantastic shapes and coating wheat colored grasses in silver. The snow cover helps me to forget that these same grasses never turned green. Crystal ground stars are so brilliant they hurt my eyes as I tramp around happily on snow-shoes under a warm afternoon sun and awaken to a frozen world. I am lulled into a peace I know is temporary because below four inches of snow the drought rages on shrinking the roots of each thirst driven plant and tree. There isn’t enough snow cover for Northern New Mexico’s mountains to create spring run off. The precious water that is needed for frogs to breed and corn to grow is absent. Alpine glow brings down the night and the Great Bear rises in the North and still I pray for water…remember my dead, and the Great Dying to come.

The Magic Boat

 

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( from top to bottom author’s craft setting to sea… dragonfly illusion…the magic boat)

 

My friend has a tradition of making and sailing away little boats on Red Willow river and yesterday, new year’s day, people gathered to create wish boats. It was a frigid snowy afternoon but the studio was warm and friendly as I set to work. All I knew was that I wanted to create a little boat that offered hope for all the animals and plants that were going extinct, or were functionally extinct because so few of them were left. In my imagination this little boat full of seeds, tree branches, acorns for the animals would sail down the river into the sea to find a better place for life to exist without humans destroying other species out of greed, insensitivity, stupidity, indifference, or a need to control Nature just because She is.

 

I glued seeds and wild grasses to a milkweed pod, but couldn’t find the right materials to make an animal to represent all mammals, so I imagined putting them there; they were just invisible. Then a Raven flew into my mind. Raven would be the sail and because he was a Messenger from the Beyond as well as being a magician; Raven was the perfect creature to guide a boat filled with such important intentions…

 

From the top my raven looks like a dragonfly – symbol of illusion for some Indigenous folk – but from below Raven’s ebony eyes and body appear under his dragonfly cloak. I believed he might know just where to sail the boat. I placed some tiny shells on the prow to guide the diminutive craft to reach the sea…

 

When it was time we walked down to the frigid river’s ice encrusted bank to set our boats onto the waves… At that point I let go, knowing that I had done what I was instructed to do, and the rest was up to Nature’s Grace.

 

Amazingly, when my little boat set sail it flipped once and then righted itself and floated downwind with the current along with Bruce’s boat.

 

We left then; it was so cold, but I carried a wonderful sense of satisfaction because my intentions had been made manifest, and my imagination allowed me to remain in the place of possibility – that crack in reality where anything can happen, especially if you enlist a divine trickster who embodies Life, as Raven does.

 

Last night I had a one-word dream – just the word “Reprieve.”

 

That word carries hope, not for the future but for now. Hope that even with the ravages of Climate Change upon us, those of us who are in such deep mourning may find temporary peace in this moment, where for example, the desert has gotten some snow. Not enough to interrupt the terrible drought under whose veil we now live, but enough perhaps to help the roots of precious trees and plants survive one more year…

 

Most humans are not yet aware that we have entered a new age – some call this the age of the Anthropocene – an age characterized by dominance of the human species at the expense and loss of all others. Of course, even humans will not be able to survive this global holocaust for long, but few seem to care.

 

Because I am so aware, a great loneliness permeates my everyday awareness as I witness the diminishment of other non – human life forms and the total absence of others. I know that I am powerless to change what is, but creating a magic boat of intentions allows me to dream a new reality if only in my mind.

 

Some say Raven gave the First People fire, perhaps he can also interrupt the great dying – who can know.

Renewal?

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(author’s story as told by the child… note the Raven in the plant)

 

Renewal?

 

Just that one word dreamed as a question the night of January 1st.

 

Last evening all my Bear Circle animals gathered in front of the 8 flickering candles (intentions I had set for this coming year) – Most were about the loving the Earth, my body, the bodies of animals and trees, giving thanks for gifts offered in 2018.

 

The animals were walking towards the evergreen wreath, my Circle of Life, soon to enter the Great Round. My fervent hope was that during this human induced ‘sixth extinction’ some would find a way to survive…

 

Telling stories through stone animals is something the child has been doing for almost 40 years when I first dreamed the “Bear Circle”… Sometimes these stories ‘work’ and sometimes not. But I never stop the child’s meanderings for often she knows more than I do…

 

As I spoke my intentions, opened my palms and sang my song, Lily b offered his Blessing.

 

Heat pulsed through my upraised hands.

 

I had been heard.

 

Staring into the flames of the candle at the center of the wreath, I imagined the animals walking through to a kinder place where all creatures and trees were loved.

 

Even as my heart broke.

 

So many losses and more to come.

 

Renewal?

 

Even in the dream the word remains a question… perhaps opening to unimaginable possibility?

 

This morning there was no sunrise.

 

Eight Ravens brought in the day.

 

Messengers from the Beyond witness what is, will be.

 

 

Postscript: Many Indigenous peoples believe Raven is a messenger from the ‘Great Beyond’ who brings news – good or ill. What’s curious is that I lit 8 candles last night and this morning there were eight ravens sitting in near by trees…