The Aspect of an Owl

To my sister’s great delight, her dog once demonstrated both the extent and the limits of its canine brainpower after happening across a cat in the bush at the end of the road. Such was the thrill that, every time after, Doggo would get all excited as they approached the bush where the cat had once been. This feat of doggy geography and recall impressed my sister, but the nonsense of repeatedly hoping that the cat would still be there seemed indicative of a certain kind of stupidity.

I have to confess that I stand with the dog in this matter. Several years ago, whilst walking to the South London station close to where I then lived, I spotted, through the frosted glass of a bathroom, the fuzzy outline of a naked woman. From that day on, I am not sure that I ever managed to not glance up at the house as I walked past on my daily commute. I suspect that my sister won’t be quite so impressed by this particular feat of geography and recall, although she might well be inclined to take this anecdote as being similarly indicative of a certain kind of stupidity.

It isn’t just naked women that do this to me – owls do it too. One of the great treats of my current commute is seeing barn owls from the train window. There are a couple of spots where I have seen them often, but others too where, in ten years or so, I may have had just a single sighting. All of these places, both consciously and subconsciously (depending on the quality of the book or conversation) cause me to glance up, hopeful of seeing one of these wonderful birds. In one of these sites, perhaps 150 yards from the railway line, there is a fence post that has been painted white at the top. There is something about the shape of this post that describes the aspect of an owl and I, almost without fail, will do a double take. Just in case.

It isn’t completely daft – I often see owls on fence posts around there, enjoying the morning sun and digesting whatever unlucky rodent has just been gulped down. Morning is the best time to see them. The evening sightings tend to be at dusk and, whilst atmospheric, are more often than not just glimpses, or a flash of white in the gloaming. But seeing a barn owl in full sunlight is something rather special. I saw one a few days back, almost gliding, moving effortlessly along a line of trees – with barely a beat of its wings. I was thrilled, obviously. It was particularly beautiful and I was fortunate that it came at a moment when the train had slowed down – it allowed me to follow its progress down almost the full length of the field.

In recent years we have been spoilt and sightings common, but not so this year. Whether this is simply a case of being unfortunate, or the consequence of a drop in population, I do not know, but it was certainly the case that I had only had a couple of uncertain snatched half glances – not even a definite maybe. I was worried that they had gone, so last week’s owl came as something of a relief. It also provided me with a new spot on the journey to pause from my book, look up hopefully and maybe, just maybe, get another look at this most magical of birds.




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