Strix aluco

Sin Dios y sin Santa María, por la chimenea arriba!… parten las brujas volando en escobas o transformadas en cárabos… rumbo a Cernégula…

The afternoon falls in some lonely and secluded place in the imposing and wild Caroig Massif Natural Park. After a long day traveling along paths and roads, I arrived at the edge of an immense forest, after having crossed an endless sea of olive trees.

I see in the distance flocks of finches, pipits and starlings wandering through fields and fields on the outskirts of the town in search of seeds, while the mourning and solemn crows bustle in corrals and pastures.

It’s starting to get dark. We are in autumn, the cold is noticeable, accompanied by a fog that, descending from the peaks, slowly begins to invade the valley, to penetrate the wooded thickness into which I am preparing to enter, where the weak light that reflects The moon is filtered by the branches of the trees, which further increases the sensation of darkness. It’s been a while since I stopped listening to the daytime creatures, now all is silence in this lost place; Well, not everything, if you stop for a few moments, you can hear the wind whipping the branches of the trees.

A reason has brought me here today, I have come to listen to the tearful lament of a nocturnal bird of the strigidae family (owls and owlets) with large black eyes and a lover of the forests, the tawny owl or caro Strix aluco, known in many places like the witches’ bird, and I can assure you that its ghostly cry, is a unique experience that leaves a special auditory mark.

For many years I traveled these mountains in search of their elusive fauna and specifically, this enigmatic bird was my photographic objective for a long time. Some of the photographs I obtained at the time can now be seen in this article. But today I have not come to photograph it, but to listen to it, to recreate myself, to satisfy my senses, because now, on autumn nights, when the moon projects its light on the forest and covers the mountain in shadows, it is very likely to hear the shocking and powerful low and deep hooting of the tawny owl, and for this I stop in a clearing in the forest where the light of the goddess Selene filters with more intensity, where in about two hours a relevant astronomical event will occur: an eclipse partial, which of course I am going to photograph and which will be immortalized. The scenario, if the clouds do not prevent it, promises.

How there are still a few hours before the shadow of the earth bites a piece of the moon, I ascend a steep slope that takes me to a cliff, a dominant point from where I will wait for this enigmatic, elusive and distrustful bird to leave. hear, because seeing it is almost impossible, since its grayish brown plumage that can vary to the darkest brown-brown, tan or clay tones blends perfectly with the bark of the trees.

With a height of about 45 cm., its appearance is stocky and compact, highlighting in its figure a voluminous and rounded head, lacking the characteristic plumes that other nocturnal raptors do display with a pair of strong and robust legs covered in feathers.

“In the imagination of the rural man, ghosts, mysterious beings and other representations of the unknown are revived… thus, in the shadows of the night the witches fly riding their brooms, while the owl flaps its wings among the glow of the night. moon and the faint flicker of the starry sky.”

Its eyes are two large black balls that appear even larger due to the facial discs that surround them, with an extremely dilated pupil, one hundred times more sensitive to light than the human eye. They also have the ability to turn their head up to about 270º, a quality that together with the previous one makes these birds have a privileged vision in angles and clarity of nuances.

It basically feeds on rodents: shrews, voles, rats and mice, although it also captures small birds, reptiles or insects, sometimes even larger prey, such as rabbits.

The Tawny Owl is monogamous and mates for life, bravely defending its territory, which is usually the same each year. At the end of autumn they begin their heat, which will last well into winter. It will build its nest in the hollows of old, large trees, but also in old abandoned houses. The clutch of three to four white eggs is incubated for a month by the female. The chicks begin to fly camouflaged around the nest in early spring and become independent and disperse in summer.

During the day it remains hidden in some shadowy corner of the forest to come out only when darkness reigns. And now, the moment has arrived: From the high cliff where I am sitting and while I observe in the distance the murmur of the river, which stands out under the light of the moon, resembling a gigantic snake, I take out of my pocket my handmade claim that imitates the tawny owl’s voice and I start calling him. Being a very territorial and curious bird, it does not take long to come to the encounter, flying silently over near my head, perching for a few moments on a nearby tree, and after checking who the intruder was, disappearing into the darkness taking flight.

And you can believe me that, in the dark silence of the night, this time, under a full moon in the eclipse phase, hearing its pitiful hoot similar to laughter, is impressive. When this happens, beyond any shudder, its enigmatic and mysterious hoot never leaves you indifferent, an unmistakable sound that directly links us to the wildest nature that we have invaded and altered without its permission.

Playing his song:

Emerging from the darkness, without knowing very well if we are facing a bird or a ghost, the owl’s hooting breaks the silence of the night and disturbs us with a cry that seems to come from a tormented spirit that hides in some lost corner of the thickness. This painful and melancholic ululation, reminiscent of the inconsolable cry of a child, has been the greatest fear of countless men and women in the countryside, who, rushing to work on their land, have been surprised at night, still far from the light. reassuring of the people. The fear that this plaintive song provoked in generations of people who did not know the author of the blood-curdling ululation is understandable! (Aquila

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