Tuesday, June 20, 2017

On the impact of owls

I am sharing a different experience in this post to speak to the power that owls have to influence our lives. I do so with permission of the family involved. Normally, when I do educational workshops in schools or for a young audience, the props for teaching include photos, pellets, mounts from the museum’s education collection and other items. Sometimes however, when a child or children show(s) a genuine spark of interest, there can be opportunities for something even more impactful, as long as the proper precautions are taken.

Recently, a close friend, who is a stellar naturalist, and I took his two young nephews to see some Northern Hawk Owls in the flesh. The boys have a fascination for wildlife and it seems their interest and love of owls is particularly ardent. I had been watching a pair of Northern Hawk Owls (with intentionally infrequent visits) and after patiently waiting for over two months for the post-fledging stage (i.e. getting past the times when they are most sensitive to disturbance), we decided the time was right to show the boys this family of owls.

It was a truly amazing experience for them and for me as well. Their fascination with the form and grace of the owls was apparent; for example they were quick to spot the plumage differences between adult and juvenile, but there were also many subtle teaching opportunities. These opportunities were not just about the owls per se. It was a lesson in respect in a few different ways, the obvious ones being keeping still, remaining quiet at all times, staying well back to observe the owls from a distance (with the aid of a spotting scope/long lens) and limiting the time of observation to just a few minutes. There were also more subtle points like sticking together and not trampling vegetation. The boys got to take some photos which will now be printed as a keep-sake of their big experience. I was so impressed with both their enthusiasm and their respect and, above all, with the way they handled one of childhood’s most difficult challenges… balancing enthusiasm with respect!

Any observation of nesting owls requires great care and I never underestimate the challenge of observing with minimal impact. This guides all my actions as an observer and as an ornithologist. However, especially when I think of my own formative experiences, I see immense value in this type of education through direct experience and I believe that with caution and care this can be done with respect.

The two photos are of us observing the owls from a distance and one of a Northern Hawk Owl fledgling (1 of 4) taken by one of the boys (cropped and processed by me).

1 comment:

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