Last night I visited my friend Ray, who lives in a peaceful place known as Star Valley. It was a beautiful summer evening—a great time to sit in a lawn chair with some friends and enjoy. The damp cool valley air felt soothing after a day of sunshine and 85 degree temperatures. A full moon greeted us in a cobalt sky that was twinkling with stars. A gentle fog rose up around the trees along the river, glowing with moonbeams. Fireflies flickered in the garden. We watched them and listened to the evening sounds.
From the river bottom came the soft trill of a Screech owl, singing to his mate his approval of the beautiful night. I smiled and thought how appropriate to hear him on the day I had finished a drawing of three young Screech owls. This is the week when many of the young will fledge, or leave their nests. There are usually 3-5 young owls sharing a crowded home—a space such as a hole in a hollow tree limb. When they finally decide to venture out into the world, they start slowly, as they are not yet able to fly very well. They often stay grouped together for a couple of days, so they may be seen sitting together on the same branch, waiting patiently for a parent to return with something for them to eat.
It's a busy time for the adult Screech owls. With so many mouths to feed, they spend most of the night hunting. Like their much larger cousins the Great Horned owls, Screech adults are able to catch a variety of wildlife. If it moves and is small enough to handle, the Screech owl is likely to eat it. A small mouse, vole or shrew is always a favorite meal, In the summer, large insects such as crickets, grasshoppers and June bugs make a good food source. Small roosting birds, too, must take care not to be noticed by the "all-seeing eyes" of the owl at night. The owls don't mind getting their feet wet, so they will catch minnows and crayfish in shallow creeks or at the edge of a pond. These little owls truly depend on Nature's diversity to make their living.
The Eastern Screech owl may be seen in two color phases. Some will have reddish orange plumage, while others are grey.
Hearing the Screech owl add his notes to the evening seemed to complete this perfect setting. But then, to top that, a Whip-poor-will started his nighttime song. I couldn't help but think of how lucky I was to be in this place at such a wonderful time. All the happiness I'd ever want is right outside my back door.
Treat yourself this summer and linger in some special outdoor moments. Think about what it means to "stop and smell the roses"—or hear the screech owls! I wish you a happy, healthy solstice and a prosperous and fun summer.
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