(Banding in progress; later, I held this owl gently but firmly around the chest and the legs before placing her on a branch to adjust and then fly off.)
This post is one of several forthcoming about experiences in the Finger Lakes District in upstate New York as the Trias writer-in-residence at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Geneva).
My experience observing the banding of saw-whet owls near the house of biologist John Confer outside of Ithaca, New York, had a little bit of everything really: unexpected discovery, the police, and, of course, owls. Since the Finger Lakes District is rich territory for birders and my fiction often includes ecological themes—my first journals as a kid growing up in Fiji didn’t contain personal entries but instead bird sightings–it seemed like potentially a unique experience and one close to my heart. And I accepted the invite not so much to learn how to band owls as to get a broader sense of bird migration studies and a better sense of the area. What I find fascinating about upstate New York, too, is the way in which everything is so much more self-contained than North Florida because the distances aren’t as vast and yet there’s a great variety of landscapes and micro-climates.
I’ve always liked owls, and enjoyed observing barred owls, screech owls, and great horned owls on hikes around Tallahassee. I once even came across an image so weird I didn’t know what I was looking at at first…until it resolved into the form of a tortoise…and the great horned owl on its back, pecking away at the tortoise’s soft bits. All of this owl observation culminating in a great horned owl having a pretty large role in my novel Acceptance.