Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 14, 2011


We drove to the crowded trailhead parking lot to begin our backcountry trek, passing hordes of folk out for a gorgeous day in their national park: bicyclists competing with vehicular traffic, a man throwing up on the side of the road, giant rental RVs jockeying for a parking spot. Tricia and I looked at each other wordlessly, communicating with our eyes the desperate “let’s get out of this madness” that we both felt.

By the time we broke off from the main trail 45 minutes later, we were most grateful for the escape. Traversing the trail-less (but sadly trodden) desert backcountry for another mile, we arrived at our destination: a hole in a cliff where we had found Great Horned Owls nesting last month. We sneaked — and I mean sneaked — stealthily to a far viewing point so as not to disturb its occupants, and lifted our binoculars.

Great Horned Owlet (google image)

A fuzzy owlet was sitting like a motionless snowman right at the hole’s entrance, black beak standing out from downy fluff. We two human mothers simultaneously emitted sounds that even an alien could identify as meaning “isn’t that the cutest bird you’ve ever seen” — high squeaky sounds that would never escape a male’s vocal cords…

Mother owl appeared to be asleep in the back of the nest hole, as only her ear tufts and top of her head were visible. I wondered whether she had given her child the ‘Harold, Mommy is going to close her eyes for a little bit, and she needs you to remain still and quiet’ talk. We set up a spotting scope, trained it on them, and began our long wait. Since Great Horned Owls often lay 2-3 eggs, we wanted to know whether the youngster had any siblings, and we also wanted to see if the other adult might come back. With perfect weather, no bugs, and a nearby American Kestrel nesting pair to entertain us while we watched, it was pure joy to stake out this nest.

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