The sound came from the right side of the forest path, low and very close.
It was an owl, suddenly, pulling itself into the air on great gray-brown wings, then slicing acutely across the trail in front of me and ghosting away out of sight.
Based on the telltale nighttime hooting often heard in the area, it was probably a barred owl, which comes equipped with a wingspan of nearly 3.5 feet.
The dawn encounter on a run in the cool of Glover Archbold National Park earlier this month put an extra bit of lift in my strictly terrestrial step.
I imagine it was among the feelings the establishers of the Park hoped to inspire in preserving the forest, a breather from the hot cacophony of the surrounding city. The narrow Park runs past Foxhall Village and Georgetown University, stretching nearly 3 miles from the C&O Canal to Van Ness Street, a length where “Silent Spring” author Rachel Carson once led birding hikes.
The barred owl, with a recumbent figure-eight face, fancies wooded river bottoms and swamps, with a lifestyle that includes making low-level dusk and dawn hunting sorties, according to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds.
They tend to stick to one area and probably one mate during their lifetime, nest high up in tree cavities, and might even lay a talon on a person who interferes with their parenting, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The Lab claims that no one knows whether the male or female chooses the nest site. But I’d be willing to make a bet.
© 2016 John A. Bray