Great Horned Owls at Twilight

The last day of November was cool and half-cloudy, with a soft, milky light, high clouds and patches of blue sky here and there. It was the end of the day before I could get outside for a walk, so it ended up being a sunset walk. As I walked along the old field, with loud traffic noise coming from the highway hidden on the other side of it, the sun slipped down behind a layer of dark-gray clouds, rimming them in gold, while higher clouds scattered all over the sky turned pale, rose-pink.

At this time of year, light and colors fade fast at the end of the day, and by the time I got back home, it was deep twilight, the sky crowded in dark gray clouds, with a band of pale orange on the horizon in the west. As I walked down our driveway, from somewhere in the darkness of the woods in back of the house came the deep, resonant hoots of an owl – but not the Barred Owl we usually hear. These were the hoots of a Great Horned Howl – a distinct, repeated pattern of hoo-h’hooo; hooo-hooo, so low and expressive I felt the hoots as much as heard them. Then I realized there were two owls calling – one call followed by an answering call that sometimes overlapped the first. This was repeated several times. I stood and listened, watching the woods in the direction from which the calls came, the black silhouettes of bare-limbed trees melting into the last dim light of the sky, but I never saw any movement, or sign of a large bird.

I think this is only the second time I’ve ever heard a Great Horned Owl here. Barred Owls have been common since we arrived twelve years ago, though we hear them less and less often now.

Hearing the deep, foggy hoots of Great Horned Owls from some hidden place in the dark woods, in a gray November twilight, felt like the perfect end to the month.

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