An Eerie Scene from the Trenches

A hundred years ago, the French soldier Albert Hugues wrote from the trenches near Reims:

Sometimes even the night birds visited us, and the play of the searchlights, the flash of the rockets were part of a nocturnal spectacle these birds had grown used to.

One night around midnight, the sole sentinel of a small patrol positioned in front of the trenches and 200 meters from the enemy line, I was visited by an owl, which perched on a tree 15 meters from my patrol’s place. The bird stayed for a good ten minutes, and neither the shots fired from the enemy trenches nor the heavy tread of the men on watch atop the concrete walls disturbed the bird at its own watch post; the owl was the only witness to my own vigilance and faithfulness to my duty.


Cold Owls

Fuertes eastern screech-owl

It’s a mild Christmas weekend here in north Jersey, but it isn’t always that way. On December 28, 1922, our area was hit by a severe ice storm, coating “every tree, wire and shrub.” The next morning, Louis S. Kohler checked on his local eastern screech-owl: the entrance to its roost hole in a dead chestnut was

sealed over with a sheet of ice about an inch thick…. sure enough the owl was within, but so nearly dead from want of fresh air that I carried him into the house to warm him.

Unfortunately, the bird did not survive. Kohler had it mounted:

It is sad indeed to lose his services as a mouse-trap, but I am compensated by having him with me for all time in the cabinet.

Let’s hope the rest of this winter is easier on our little neighborhood owls.


A Surprise Houseguest!

Nearly a year ago, I spent a pleasant hour cobbling together an owl box out of scrap lumber and salvaged nails, then another, less pleasant hour trying to fasten the thing into our mesquite tree. This spring, Gila woodpeckers and Gambel quail showed an interest (those quail will nest anywhere, it seems), but the box was empty until today, when I looked up at it–less hope than habit after all these months–to find a tiny gray face staring back at me!

Western Screech-Owl in our yard, Tucson

We have a western screech-owl, finally, the first owl ever to occupy any of the clumsily constructed boxes I’ve put up over the years. But now how to keep him in there? I spread some extra seed on the ground under the tree, hoping that perhaps it will draw kangaroo-mice or some other suitably tasty morsel for his dining pleasure.