Tyler Arboretum held an Owl Prowl on Sunday, January 16th. Despite the frigid temperature and early hour, eight intrepid owl prowlers gathered at 6:00 am to search the Arboretum grounds in hopes of finding, or at least hearing, owls.

Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus, great horned owl

My car thermometer read 10°F as I pulled into the Arboretum parking lot. Fortunately, the gusty wind that accompanied the arrival of a cold front the previous day had abated. The moon, only one day short of being the January “Wolf” full moon, was shining brightly above the tree line just to the right of the maintenance barn. As the participants arrived, we watched the moon drop behind the trees, its light silhouetting a web of leafless limbs, until it disappeared below the horizon.

We headed out in the dark along the paved pathway toward the Pinetum, stopping along the way to play recordings of Eastern screech-owl calls hoping to get a response. Screech-owls are common and usually respond to recorded calls readily, but we had no luck that morning. It was a bit chilly, so we chose not to be too aggressive with the recordings in order to not disturb the owls unnecessarily.

As we approached the Pinetum, the sky was brightening in the east and the pink glow of the coming sunrise appeared on the horizon. This is often the time of day when great horned owls become more vocal. After just a few tries we heard a distant great horned owl respond to our calls. After playing one more call a great horned owl suddenly appeared, flying, backlit against the twilight. It flew at treetop level over our heads and disappeared into a stand of trees to our right. We tried hard to find where it had roosted. As we searched the trees, the owl, apparently deciding there was no real threat to its territory, suddenly and silently reappeared, flying across the path and out across the Arboretum in the direction from where it had come.

great horned owl

After marveling at what we had just witnessed we moved on, listening intently along the edge of the woods in the growing light. We played more calls, including those of Northern Saw-whet and Barred owl, but to no avail.

Although we had hopes of finding more than one owl, the participants all declared hearing the haunting call and witnessing the majestic flight of the Great Horned Owl, silent as it glided directly over our heads twice, worth the early hour and frigid cold.

We were also grateful for the opportunity to experience the beauty of Tyler Arboretum in a magical hour. We had watched the nearly full moon set in the northwest followed by growing twilight and a gorgeous sunrise casting a pink glow on the tall conifers and bare limbs of the deciduous trees all around us.

It all added up to a memorable morning. Since our owl prowls are so popular, we added another date. Saturday, February 19, 6:00 – 8:00 am.