Early on Sunday morning two friends and I hiked along the Wallkill River, hoping to see white-tailed deer. We were walking along a dirt lane bordered with a sixty-foot strip of open meadow and then forest on the left with a deciduous woods on the right. Our eyes were up looking for deer when we noticed a gray oval shape on a tree branch in a low solitary tree ahead to the left. The binoculars came out and to our amazement we saw that it was a barred owl. We immediately gave up on deer and began stalking this owl, getting closer and closer until we were within fifty-five feet of it. It was perched about twelve feet off the ground and although the sun had not risen yet, daylight was advancing.
We stood motionless for half an hour and watched it hunting for its breakfast. Twice it leaped from its perch and pounced into the grass, probably after a meadow vole, which we were unable to see. Both times it returned to its perch and gazed downwards with its dark brown eyes. Occasionally migrating birds would pass high overhead and it would crane its neck back and watch them fly by before returning its gaze to the action below.
After some minutes, the owl was spotted by a white-breasted nuthatch passing by. The smaller bird immediately started scolding and before long the warning “jay, jay” of an approaching blue jay was heard. I could hear reinforcements coming from the distance. Soon a mob of blue jays and nuthatches was attacking the owl. The owl quickly had enough and glided away into the forest on absolutely silent wings. The jays and nuthatches were mystified as to where it had gone and started systematically searching the branches of the tree where it had been, without success. Eventually they dispersed.
Now the owl leaped from its sheltered perch. Coming straight toward us with wings straight out to the sides, it returned to a nearby tree to resume its hunting.
Photograph by Stiles Williams