The Grand Duke, the Medium Duke and the Little Dukes

Monday Morning: The Weather Worm Has Turned

Yesterday was sunny and plenty warm; this morning at 5am we were awakened by a heavy shower.  I jumped up to shut windows and look for our cat, Angus, who likes to spend nights outside prowling.  He’s a sleek Siamese –rain tends to run off– but when he rushed in after this shower, he was plenty wet.

We Sask folks rarely see a year like this where we don’t have to irrigate lawns and gardens; often by mid-July our lawns are crisp and brown if not watered.  The predicted high for today is 30° C (86° F) so this early morning rain is welcome, though it will be humid this afternoon.

Wandering around our yard last week I was amazed at the phenomenal growth of our trees during the past several ‘wet’ years.  There is a price to pay, however: roots from nearby poplar trees are spreading through my garden and sending up tiny poplars here and there.  I’ve been digging them up with a spade, and am rather dismayed at the spreading root systems I see.

Oh, well.  We wanted trees.  The garden will just have to move over – with the help of my trusty spade. ☹

The Grand Duke, the Medium Duke, and the Little Duke

Attention, ornithologist readers.  We’ve had some owls paying us regular visits for the past few weeks and I’d like help to identify them.

When it comes to owls, the French have far more interesting names than we do in English.  The great horned owl is “le grand duc” (the grand duke.)  Very fitting when you see one sitting in state on a tree branch!  The long-eared owl is the “medium duke”; the eastern & western screech owls are the “little dukes.”

In the past we have had a nesting pair of great-horned owls, so I just thought “young Grand dukes” when I’ve seen owls around during the past few weeks.  But the few times I’ve gotten a look at them, I see they don’t have the ear tufts of the Grand duke.  Often one will appear when I’m not at all expecting it, so I don’t get a proper look before it takes off.  For example, one evening just after dark I saw a lumpy gray thing sitting in my driveway and I exclaimed to my husband, “What is THAT?”

An owl swivelled its head around to look at me, thought about it a bit and then slowly lifted off.  If I’d kept quiet, I might have been able to identify it!  One evening I heard the robins making a racket behind the trailer; I looked out and saw an owl sitting on the back lawn.  He saw me and flew over to the edge of the garden.  One night I came around the back of the trailer and two flew out of the trees beside us, disappearing into the woods.  Huge wingspans and, like most owls, light tan bellies and underwings.

Of course I run for the binoculars each time, but hawks and owls never like being observed through binoculars.  Maybe with their binocular vision they can see into them from the other end and spy your eyes staring at them?

This morning I went to pull down my window blind without looking, so had it almost down before it registered that there were two big owls sitting on our garden shed roof.  Why didn’t I look out first?!  Through the 6″ slit that remained I peered at the dark grey, barred and very ragged-looking birds.  Maybe a lighter head or face?  They appeared slimmer than a Gand duke but almost as big; definitely no ear tufts.

Ran for the binoculars again.  (Why don’t we have a pair in every room?!)  I came back and focussed on them –and of course one flew away– but the other stayed a minute longer and let me observe him.  Poor fellow must have hit the clothesline hard as he flew away, set it to twanging for awhile.

I wish I’d gotten a better look at their faces; I might have been able to tell if they were barred or great gray owls.  (Looks-wise they could have been great grays, but they’d be out of their area here.  Maybe the fires in the northern woods have displaced them?)  I don’t know if they are that big, either, so I’ll go with barred owls unless someone can tell me Grand dukes don’t always have ear tufts.  (We’ve observed before that even the youngsters have them.)

I regularly spread bird feed out on the ground past the driveway; during the daytime mourning doves, sparrows, brown thrashers, even gold finches and sage grouse, come and feast.  But I’m guessing that at night mice come and clean up what’s left, which is why these owls tend to hang around that part of our yard.  Several times as I stepped outside I noticed one fly away.

We had a number of barn swallow babies fly into our yard a few days ago; they sun themselves on our garage roof or sit on our clothesline near our bedroom window.  As I write this, four are perched on the edge of the roof above our back door.  Brown thrasher youngsters are running all over the yard, too, making little ‘dusting dips” in bare spots here and there.  Bird-wise, I’d say it’s been good harvest.

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