Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Sound Like Water Dripping

In Search of the Boreal Owl

Youthful idealism motivated the author to tackle the boreal owl as a research project while attending the University of Guelph. At the time little was known about the species, including whether or not it even nested in Ontario.

Undeterred, he set out for Kapuskasing in late winter equipped with camping gear, climbing irons, and a recording of a Tengmalm's owl (a European version of the boreal). Thanks to his determination and resourcefulness he not only confirmed that the owl was indeed nesting in the province, but also gathered much useful information about the species.

The following year he continued his research in northern Alberta, and travelled to Sweden in the book's final chapter to compare notes with a fellow biologist studying the Tengmalm's owl. A few of his experiences:

One moonless night while returning to camp he walked smack into a moose.

Boreal owls are quite small, and so unwary he was able to catch one with his bare hands.

He got a personal demonstration of an owl's striking power (their prey is usually killed outright) when an attack left him with a splitting headache and bloody talon marks across his face.

One of the best anecdotes in the book explains how a snake was cowed by its intended meal, a fearless white lab mouse.

While you'll learn a lot about owls and nature and wildlife biologists, what really makes this book so readable is its human side. You'll meet the guys at a logging camp, and a married couple running an owl rehabilitation centre, and a fellow student the author fell in love with. You'll admire his resourcefulness when he makes an owl-trap out of an aluminum lawn chair, and uses a mechanical clock to record the comings and goings at a nest, and fixes up an old cabin by installing windows, door, and a pole floor.

This is a quintessentially Canadian book, infused with honesty, enthusiasm, and a genuine love of nature. It contains 23 b&w photos and a beautiful line drawing by one of the author's friends (whom you'll also meet in the book). The title comes from the Montagnais name for the boreal owl: the water-dripping bird.