I first spotted him on December 21, 2018, in a torrential rain storm. It was a Friday morning and I was getting ready for work. Easy to remember too, because we were enjoying unseasonably mild temperatures in the low 60’s, but in a two day period between December 20 and December 21 we received over two inches of rain. Our back yard, the shallow patch of woods beyond and the vernal pool in the empty lot next door, were all very wet, pooled everywhere with standing water. I stared at the big white pine in our back yard with concern. I was seriously worried it might topple over because it was windy that morning too and the tree certainly had wet feet. I eventually noticed a large egg shape right in the center of the pine where it is bare of needles, not very far up. When I finally adjusted my binoculars, I was truly shocked to see a beautiful but very soggy barred owl right here in our back yard! He wisely seemed to be hunkering down, taking refuge from the wind and heavy downpours. I watched for the longest time, fascinated by this amazing bird ‘up close and personal’, until I had to leave. He had fled by the time I got home, and truthfully, I never expected to see the owl again.
Even so, I continued to halfheartedly look for him for the next day or so, but the owl appeared to be just an extraordinary visitor who had merely paid a random visit during an extraordinary day of weather.
By now Christmas was my central focus with family coming for Christmas Eve and staying the night, so it was a busy day of preparation. I happened to glance out the French door of the master bedroom balcony. To my amazement the owl was back! This time perched in a deciduous tree right out in the open, in the middle of a sturdy horizontal branch. It was a nice day. He appeared to be dozing with his face turned toward the sun. From time to time he would eyeball the bird feeder, or our German shepherd who made a noisy entrance in dry leaves from time to time, chasing squirrels. Yes, we have a bird feeder suspended from the balcony on a pulley system and attached to a tree on the wood line. An owl smorgasbord? The crazy thing is, he hung around all day. I checked on him often, but he never attempted to harm any of the birds or squirrels at the feeder. He hung out until it got dark and I could no longer see him. What a Christmas gift!
Since then, we see him often. It has been nearly three months now. Sometimes he visits for several days in a row, sometimes we do not see him for three days or more. I have heard him hoot his famous “who cooks for you? who cooks for you-all?” just the once. However, I have observed a few things about him. For instance, he really does seem to love to warm himself in the sun. Often in the morning, he returns to the white pine, tucks himself in along the tree trunk on the eastern side, always in the same cozy spot where the sun sends in a warm beam of light. Then, he moves to a different perch in the afternoon when the sun moves around to the west. I have also marveled at his gorgeous camouflage. This is why I began to refer to him as Waldo, as in the Where’s Waldo books. He is a master at blending into the environment, often hiding in plain sight, but I like to think that I am getting really good at spotting him now. Then again, on days when I don’t think he is here, I prefer to think he has managed to fool me again. He is also surprisingly bold. He recently landed on the low branch of a maple close to the house. I went outside to get logs to make a fire. When I looked up, he was right there on a close branch, staring at me. We took stock of each other for a several beats, I eventually said hello. We stared at each other for a few more beats.
Finally, I went about my business, grabbed some logs and went inside. I fully expected him to bolt but he didn’t. He remained on that branch till twilight, a dark egg shaped silhouette against the western glow of the sky; a close encounter of the very best kind.