Monday, November 30, 2020

Of Owls, Chance Encounters, And How Random Events Don’t Always Send Life South

 [“Do you know if there are any owls around here?” Red morph Eastern Screech-owl.]

That was such a great opening line I may well use it sometime.

Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend I headed out like always to chase sunset over Delaware Bay, and stopped to chat with my neighbor. An unfamiliar pickup truck rolled slowly down our street, a big new-looking crew cab Ford that I'd never seen before. I watch.

The truck drives to the end of the street, turns around, and rolls very slowly back towards us. It stops next to us. The driver seems a regular-looking guy, one with a question on his face.

"Do you know if there are any owls around here?"

Apparently I looked surprised or wary or something, because he explained, "I wanted to show my kids an owl, they're into birds, and I saw a report there are owls around here."

My heart melted a little, just around the edges, so I revealed, “Yeah, there are three or four pairs of Great-horned Owls around here, you're sure to hear them around sunset this time of year. Sometimes even before.”

"How about screech-owls? There's been some reported around here, and I'd really like to show my kids."

I notice for the first time he's got his kids in the truck, including a cute little 11ish-year-old in the passenger seat. Heart melts a little more. So I explain that that's pretty much a whistle-them-in-at-night thing, although if you look at roughly 10,000 tree holes you might find one during the day.

He looks slightly disappointed. "Yeah, there's this guy around here that sees all kinds of birds down here, unbelievable, I forget his name."

This has now become, umm, unusual. I innocently ask, “Is it Don Freiday?”

He says, "Yeah, that's the guy, I see all these reports from him online like on eBird and the New Jersey bird thing."

“That would be me,” I say.

I've never seen this man before and, understand, I'm on my bike (part of a concerted effort to drive my orthopedists up the wall), dressed like a cyclist, binoculars stowed in my pack. I fish out my card and hand it to him.

"Man, I'd like to take you to lunch sometime. We just got a place down here. There's this other guy down here, does bird banding in his backyard, I got to go one time…"

“Richard Crossley,” I say.

"Yeah, you know him?"

“Yes, we've been on World Series of Birding teams together. Really good guy. Superb birder.”

"Yeah, see, were from north Jersey, I used to go into this wild bird store, and by the way it feels like I pay more to feed birds than to feed my kids, and this guy in there kept trying to take me birding, Bill Elrick, and eventually I went…"

This is developing into a significantly crazy set of coincidences. “He took you to Garret Mountain.”

"Yeah, you know him? I can't believe there are all these birds in New Jersey. Bill goes to this place called Forsythe all the time now, seems like another great place…"

The spirit-that-moves-in-all-things is on the move once again, perhaps cutting me some slack after moving me through a divorce, job change, extended illness, a bike crash, and a Thanksgiving weekend spent pandemically alone.

I say, “Yes, Forsythe is pretty awesome, I worked there for five years. I used to say I live in the best birding place on the planet [Cape May] and work in the second-best place. Not by accident.”

Before he drives off he says, "I'm going to look you up…"

If he does, those kids are going to see some owls.

No comments:

Post a Comment