Snowshoe Hike for Screech Owls at Murray Tract

The night was warm for January – only -6º C or so, with lightly falling snow. A group of 24 people gathered at the roadside next to the Murray Tract. People buckled on their snowshoes in preparation for the hike, and slowly all the lights were extinguished. A diffuse light from the moon filtered through the clouds, enabling us to see our way along the trail.

Everyone followed John into the woods, and conversations died down. The crunch of snow-shoes was the only sound, other than the wind soughing through the trees. After about 15 minutes the group stopped and gathered in a circle. John explained what he was about to do, then played his recording of Screech Owl calls. As we fell silent, the sound of snowmobiles became apparent in between the recorded owl calls. Unfortunately no live owls answered the taped calls.

Four more times, we trekked a distance, then stopped and gathered in a circle. The same thing happened at every site we visited. No owls were heard throughout the hike; only snowmobiles, dogs and the wind in the trees. Luckily, this is an unusual occurrence on these hikes. There have been owls seen and/or heard on most of the last 8 night-time outings led by John for the Saugeen Field Naturalists. Experienced birders pointed out that if the moon had been out, we would have had a better chance of seeing and hearing the owls.

Despite our disappointment at the non-appearance of the owls, everyone had a very pleasant evening. The Murray Tract has a large spread of fairly flat terrain and is relatively easy to negotiate in the dark. Night-time hiking has a mysterious aspect that is missing in the day-time. The added challenge of seeing your way in the dark and the heightened sense of hearing makes it a unique experience that is definitely worth the effort. We all look forward to trying again next year!

Submitted by Nikki May

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I the undersigned, wish to have my child
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