Silently swooping and noiseless in her hunt stalks the Great Gray owl, the phantom of the northern pine forests! With a wingspan of over four feet, an almost humanlike facial disc, nature’s oddity to rival the most advanced sonar, adorned with a speckled silver-grey plumage, it is a beautiful creature to behold if only it can be found so easily. An inhabitant of the northern Tundra forests it is rarely seen further south. Occasional sightings happen and usually, it is front page news when that happens as it did in Malmö last winter. I received a text message late in the evening about a Great Gray roosting in a public park. The next day I drove out to Malmö first thing in the morning from Lund. There were several of us scouting the municipal park that morning checking every tree and post but to no avail. The bird had flown away probably back to the cold Tundra.

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The Owlets 1
The Owlets 3

In August, I am at Kuhmo a small northern town in Finland and I get to talking with a photographer over coffee when he mentions a local Finnish birder by the name Ville who has recently been close to a nesting Great Gray family. I reach out to Ville who describes a nest deep in the boreal which he has been observing all through the summer. There were 

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apparently three chicks that summer but it is already late now in August and the young ones have probably fledged and left the nest. To me, it was still a chance worth taking as this was the closest I would get to see the Great Grays. So we arrange to meet at the edge of the forest one evening and walk into a maze of old tall pines on a bed of wild blueberries and mushrooms with no path leading anywhere. But Ville seemed to know his way and soon we arrive at a  small clearing in the forest where the nest originally was but not anymore the tree stump was torn down by a storm. So where have the fledgings gone, they are about a month old now, old enough to leave the nest but their wings are not strong enough to fly and they are still dependent on their parents for food. At this stage in their lives, they are curious and hop from branch to branch not really flying and keep relatively close to each other. But where are they today? we ponder as we slowly scan the trees searching for them. The daylight begins to fade and the forest is quiet when I spot the first owlet maybe a month old an adorable bundle of soft fluffy down still in immature plumage looking at me from the stump of a tall pine tree. Young Owlets typically stay close to their siblings.

And soon we find the second one not too far off perched on a Pine branch. The fading light is pierced by the begging calls of the young Owlets but still no sign of the returning parents. Perhaps they have not found food for the hungry kids… And so we wait, the Owlets and us, as darkness slowly descends on the forest. The mosquitoes now become relentless as they swarm over our exposed faces and hands. I exchange looks with Ville our wait to glimpse the returning parent Owls was proving to be futile, perhaps it was time to end our venture. So we slowly tread our way in the forest back to our cars still hearing the hungry calls of the young Owlets behind us. Someday I will get to see an adult Great Gray but not today.


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