Birding at our property beside Sawmill Lake in Telegraph Creek is something that I always look forward to. Telegraph Creek, B.C is a nine-hour drive from our home in Tagish. Our smallest cabin is at the top end of a long clearing in the middle of a hill that slopes downward to Sawmill Lake, and at the very bottom of our property is a small marsh. To access the marsh we have to bush-whack through the poplar trees and thick undergrowth which consists mainly of High Bush Cranberries, Wild Roses, Dogwood, and Devil’s Club. The marsh was created by people who came to that spot to dig up the rich soil for gardens, and eventually it filled up with water, turning it into a wonderful frog pond and a great habitat for various bird species. On my first trip down there, Mom and I stepped out of the trees and onto the edge of the pond and flushed a beautiful Great Blue Heron which gracefully glided and landed on a log at the other side of the pond. In the spring, melt water from the mountains run through our property and into the marsh, creating tiny streams and small puddles throughout the trees.
In the spring when the water is very low or almost non-existing, American Pipits gather on the miniature mudflats along with the odd Robin. Downy Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are often hanging around in the trees nearby, and warblers sing from in the bushes and tree canopies. Sparrows blend into the grasses so well that they often appear only as a rustling of the grass stems, while chickadees (Black-capped and Boreal) are heard chatting and squabbling with each other. Sometimes in the summer the brilliant flash of a male Western Tanager catches your eye from among the green leaves.
There is an abundance of wildlife; Moose hang out in the little marsh early in the mornings (tracks are everywhere!), bears forage in the undergrowth, and many, many rodents of all kinds live under, around, and when we are not there, in our cabin. On our last trip we unlocked the cabin door to find the inside trashed by a squirrel that had chewed a hole through the wall and lived happily inside all summer. In our little cabin (We have two, a little one and a big one on the same property) there is a big window on each wall, and only one has glass. The others are covered with plastic. One morning our dog Ruby woke us up with her alarm bark, and we looked out the window to see a massive bull moose standing just outside looking through the window. When we saw him he turned around and ran off. He had a massive rack, and was one of the most impressive moose I had ever seen. Another night while we were sitting around the table playing cards and drinking hot chocolate, we could hear wolves howling outside. They were a very long way from us, but I still felt nervous about going to sleep in a cabin where the windows were plastic.
The evening that we arrived at our cabin this fall it was crystal clear with not a breath of wind stirring the air. No clouds were in the sky, the moon was lighting up the clearing in front of our cabin with a pale glow, and the milky way swept in a sparkling river overhead. I decided to try mimicking owl calls to see if anything would respond; the weather was perfect for owling and the owls would be migrating (they are very responsive during fall migration because the weather is similar to the spring). I started out with the song of a Saw-whet Owl before I attempted any of the larger owls. However, after standing on the deck and calling for more than an hour with no response, I started to get a little discouraged. I was chatting quietly with my Mom when suddenly the clear tooting of a Saw-whet started nearby! It was loud and close; I guessed the little owl to be about 200 meters away. Then a second starting singing on the other side of our cabin further away, maybe 350 – 400 meters back in the trees. Mom and I stood and listened to the wavering, but clear notes of two different Saw-whet owl songs; when their songs tapered off I called to them and they would begin another chorus. They were so attracted to my calls that I saw one fly up and land on the roof above me, but it started to slid and took off, flapping its wings wildly like a bat. Every once in a while they would take a break and crash into the undergrowth after mice, or I would see slight shadows flickering quickly past the edges of the lamp light. There was no answer to my Boreal Owl recording, so I tried Barred Owl. After calling only once, the Saw-whets fell totally silent. Then I heard a scream. It was to my right. I called again, mimicking the typical “Who cooks for you” song of Barred Owls. The scream came again from in the trees on my right, closer this time. It sounded different. Instead of this scream going up in pitch like the Saw-whet Owl screams do, this one went downwards and had a faintly muffled quality to it. It matched the description of Barred Owl screams in my field guide, so I continued to call. This time there was total silence, and the silence was deepening. The lamp was getting low and the cold was starting to creep through my clothes so I was preparing to head inside when I almost fell off the deck. I didn’t slip; what had caused my to fall was a shrill, eerily cackling, chattering sound from a tree only fifteen feet away from me! It was so sudden, so scary coming from the thick black silence of the night, and so loud. I knew it was close. After quickly recovering my dropped flashlight I shone light on the tree exactly in the spot where I knew the Barred Owl would be; there was nothing but empty branches. I scanned the trees from top to bottom all around me but the owl had gone, probably startled from the noise of the flashlight landing on the deck. Somewhere in the forest the stars in the midnight sky were captured and held in the eyes of an owl, silently watching me.
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