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Owl & Hula Popper

During my senior year in college I did a lot of canoeing and fishing to unwind and satisfy cravings for bass, crappie and catfish dishes. Sometimes frog legs were included in fare harvested from the canoe and once a soft shell turtle became a savory wine-enhanced soup.

I liked to canoe at night a lot on weekends after getting all of my class assignments completed for the following week and frequently spotted wildlife out and about doing their nocturnal hunting thing.

One of my favorite encounters was with the barred owl. This one was spotted one night while floating the Little Wichita River in north Texas. I heard it hooting several minutes before getting close enough to snap these photos using old fashioned camera technology and 35mm film. It wasn't frightened by my presence after gliding my canoe to a silent stop just a few feet away from its perch, watching me intently until something flying nearby caught its attention for a moment.

I couldn't see what it was. It may have been another barred owl or possibly a goshawk or great horned owl, both of which will prey upon barred owls. What ever it was, the owl tracked its flight a moment before returning its attention to the riverbanks below its low perch.

Barred owls will hunt raccoons, weasels, rodents, reptiles, small birds, bats, fish, amphibians and crayfish. While fishing on Salt Creek north of Lake Graham one evening at dusk, a barred owl spotted my hula popper as I worked it across still, dark water at a wide spot of the creek. I hadn't seen or heard the owl before beginning to cast and didn't hear it when it attacked.

It swooped down in as smooth and silent a glide imaginable without beating its wings even once, neatly snatched the lure from the water and then flapped its wings a couple of times as it flew across the creek toward a tree on the other side. I freaked out, worried the treble hooks on the hula popper would snag the owl and harm its feet. Mesmerized by what I was seeing, I didn't think to release the fishing reel brake and just before it reached its target perch, the line went taught and the owl lost its grip on the lure. I frantically started reeling it in as fast as I could, telling the owl to stay away from it, that it wasn't edible and that it could hurt it. The owl didn't listen to me. It took flight and swopped down again.

This time it missed when I jerked hard on the line just before the owl could grab the lure and I managed to get it into the canoe. It flew back to its original perch, turned on it and watched me as I removed the two treble hooks from the hula popper then cast it out into the middle of the calm waters of the creek again. The owl took the bait, snatching it out of the water with ease. I enjoyed sight of it hunting the lure before tugging it firmly again before the owl could reach the far-side perch and it dropped it. By then it had figured out the prey was not real and gave up the hunt, flying away upstream seeking better night hunting spots.

I didn't have my camera in the canoe that evening, and I was canoeing alone so I have no way of proving this happened, but it doesn't matter. Crystal clear images of the owl swooping down to and fro while so gracefully hunting the lure will never fade from memory.

I try to keep a camera on me all the time now, but sometimes still forget. It happened a couple of months ago while out walking along the creek under the aspen trees. I heard a spotted owl hooting and a crow replying in a strange, non-cawing voice. Spotting them both perched a short distance from each other, I stopped and watched them carry on their conversation until the crow flew away. It may have been disturbed by the owl's presence, thinking it was searching for the crows nest full of eggs or baby crows. I wish I'd had the camera with me then. It was such an odd thing to witness, especially the sounds of the crow.

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