Barn Owl – The Enigmatic Bird, a visual rarity!
The author speaks about his accidental encounter with the Barn owl and how he was mesmerised by its resplendent beauty.
The light of the sun was diffused by thin layer of clouds. Fresh leaves wore a more saturated look. A mixture of crumbled leaves, dried grass and newly sprouted twigs were lying on the path, on which I was out for an evening walk. The Air all around was crisp and carried an intense perfume of flowers. The calls of commoners like sparrows, mynas and crows added a musical touch to the evening. However, the fighting of Egrets and Night Herons made the whole scene a little eerie. Humans around me paid no attention to the minute details of nature as they were lost in their own world. I on the other hand, had my eyes fixed on the canopy of Chinar(maple) trees, with my eyes on the tree cavities, throned by mynas and jackdaws, the duo variant of the leaves narrated tales of miseries and pleasure, that autumn and spring bring respectively. Busy in scanning the textured branches of the great Chinar, little did I know that I was being watched. Looking at the majestic tree that stood alone in a corner, I noticed a gaze from a Heart that brought my heart back to life! The eyes on his heart shaped face were starring right at me until he closed them again! The Barn Owl in the small cavity of that majestic Chinar tree was roosting.
According to Merlin, It’s a Pale owl; white below with gray spots on a bright orange coat above. It has a Heart-shaped white facial disc. It primarily hunts rodents in open areas at night. Usually roosts in old buildings and nest boxes in the day. Widespread across every continent except Antarctica, It appears very white in headlights at night. Its call is a bone chilling rising shriek.
Barn Owl is considered to be one of the widely distributed raptors after the Sparrow hawk, but in Kashmir, particularly in Srinagar, there are very few records of this owl species. According to the data from local birding groups, Barn owls are still considered rare.
“Locals don’t know about this bird yet, that’s why it’s not found easily”, Said Wajid Lone, a local birder.
This bird tends to live in close proximity with human populace. In 2015, this bird was spotted in the Batamaloo area of Srinagar city, where it was nesting on a rooftop. Another photographic evidence was from the Safa Kadal area of Srinagar city, where it was perched on an electric pole. The recent sighting was from Hokersar, situated on the outskirts of Srinagar city, where it along with two fledglings were living in an old Chinar tree on the roadside.
After my encounter with him, his charm kept me awestruck for a while. I couldn’t help but notice the innocence gleaming from his calm sleeping face. I clicked some photographs but he didn’t open his eyes, neither did he wink. I stayed there for nearly an hour. People around me suddenly became conscious of my activities, they started staring at him, but he remained undisturbed. So calm and composed, he almost looked angelic! I quickly shut my camera and left the spot.
On the very next day, I visited the venue again. But this time, I went there in the afternoon. Deep inside I was praying for him to be there, and to my surprise he was! Sitting still, eyes closed, a part of his face covered with the nest, he was the epitome of beauty. Just as I started clicking his pictures, he opened both his eyes, the feathers on either side of his belly were a little puffed, as if he was stretching his arms to hug me and I wasted no time in capturing this delightful moment- the beautiful creature, in its natural element. Soon, after a few seconds, he closed his eyes again and went back to his deep slumber.
The duration of his stay there is unpredictable. The people of Kashmir, being believers of folklore, consider owls to be ill omen. This is merely because of the lack of knowledge and insignificant exposure of people towards nature. Numerous cases have been reported where the nails of owls were plucked, tail and legs were chopped- leaving them barely alive.
Whenever I come across that photograph, strange unknown feeling creeps into my soul. A feeling of pleasure and of fear at the same time. Pleasure of what I experienced and the fear of his survival!