The observed watcher

It is last Wednesday. I am going for two days in the mountains, the same mountains where a few weeks ago I discovered an elk. I want to see it again but after the first day : nothing ! I have wandered all around the area : not a single animal. Maybe everybody is sheltering because of the strong wind blowing today. It is 2:30 pm when I set up my tent because the sunset is in one hour and will only come up again in eighteen hours ! We are close to the solstice and at this latitude, days are very short.

The next day I am heading to the forest. I still often surprise a few Woodcoks on my path which always take off in a hurry, I am still waiting to observe one on the ground ! While I am struggling on a very wet slope, between rocks, peat and tussocks, I lift up my eyes and see a big owl flying away from me. I follow it with my binoculars until I loose it between trunks and branches. My imagination is running wild straight away. A owl this size, at this season, in this region, I start dreaming about big nordic owls ! But I have to find it again to be sure. I don’t know how far it went, if it landed, how shy it is and the forest is vast. I decide anyway to take my chance and to look for the needle in the haystack. Few steps, pause, binoculars, few steps, pause, binoculars, few steps…nothing, nothing, nothing…few steps.. In the corner of my eye, a mass against a trunk, on sky background. It is her (or him, but we say « UNE chouette » in French!), ten meters from me. No big nordic owl but a Tawny Owl ! One of the most nocturnal species, yet here it is in broad daylight, without paying me the slightest attention.

I slowly back off, install myself on a rock, set up the telescope and immediately start a sketch. But it seems like she is going to stay. This opportunity is too nice, I try a watercolor.

While I am painting she suddenly lifts up her head and start following something very attentively. I follow her sight to find, very high perched in the clouds, a White-tailed Eagle soaring. Thanks owl ! Slowly my painting takes shape. It is working ! Nothing better than an amazing observation that you achieve to seize with such simple tools as a pencil and brushes. While I am finishing my watercolor, she turns her head again but this time towards the forest. The head is turning, slowly, little by little. She is following something. And here comes a hiker, twenty meters from her in the opposite direction from me. I realise that we are in fact close to a quite popular hiking trail ! Busy walking he does not notice me and even less the owl. I cannot help but think about my empty-handed yesterday. Next to how many owls of that kind have I passed by without seeing them ? How many Woodcocks ? How many animals watched me pass, them the observers and me the bitten biter !

In these regions, at this time of the year, nature is not luxuriant at all. It is austere, sober, quiet, still. A naturalist can easily get deseperate here when he doesn’t hear a single bird call, when he does not discover a single animal. And yet, this Owl, these Woodcocks and Roe Deers are well and truly here. One has to accept the effort and perseverance it takes to find them. One has to accept at the end, to be much more often the one watched than the one watching !

It is almost night and the owl is watching in every directions
Getting around the tree for a face to face