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Nature & You: Columnist says, 'Do as I say; not as I do'

A barred owl sits in a tree within the park at Martin Park Nature Center. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES PHOTO]

A barred owl sits in a tree within the park at Martin Park Nature Center. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES PHOTO]

Columnist says, 'Do as I say; not as I do'

In an earlier installment of the Nature & You column, I ever so gently encouraged you to pay heed to a bird-watching code of ethics. One of the key components was a plea to not disrupt the birds' courtship rituals by playing bird song recordings when you are afield.

Well, in a spirit of "honesty is good for the soul," I'll have to 'fess up that I am guilty of committing that cardinal sin.

Before you decide on my punishment, please hear me out.

I live within the confines of the city limits, but my home is out on the edge of town. Cattle pastures are more prevalent than concrete and asphalt. Going hand in hand with that is the good fortune that my home is positioned in a higgledy-piggledy fashion adjacent to some bountiful natural areas. One of the key residents of this area near my home is a barred owl.

When the sun is shining, this bird is hidden in some dark alcove of the forest.

After sunset, however, the owl ventures forth, but it is still hidden from my view owing to the lack of light in the woodland.

"How," you might ask, "do you know that the bird is present?" The answer to that riddle is the pleasing situation where this owl and I share a bond of friendship. The owl talks to me when I step out into my home's front yard after sundown. At first, I thought it strange that this otherwise-shy bird would betray its presence by vocalizing as it does. Later on, I figured out that it was talking to me. I accepted the challenge. I humor myself in supposing that I can use my voice to replicate the call of a barred owl. My owl call probably sounds downright silly to the ears of my feathered friend, but the owl and I do our vocal exchanges for minutes on end.

Here of late, I have been so bold as to initiate the conversation. If I am out in my home's front yard at night and all is silent, I'll give the eight-syllable hoot in the direction of the owl's favorite tree. Often as not, the owl will answer back.

My latest adventure was when this owl's mate joined in and added his voice to the conversation. (I'm only guessing, but I wonder if the second owl was saying: "Madge, for gosh sakes, you're married; why are you talking to that other owl?")

It's my sincere hope that I am not disrupting these owls' courtship rituals. That's not my intent. In my defense, I'll reiterate that it was the owl that initiated this interplay. I just took the cue from there and carried on the back-and-forth to its next level. Simply said: I just want an owl as a friend. I am of the opinion that the owl wants the same.

— Neil Garrison, NewsOK Contributor

Neil Garrison was the longtime naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center.

Neil Garrison

Neil Garrison is an outdoor nature enthusiast. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University/Stillwater; he earned a B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology. Prior to his 2009 retirement, he was the Naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center for 30... Read more ›

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