Photo by Emily Hoyer <http://www.flickr.com/people/flavor32/>
As spring and summer approach, I look forward to hearing the barn owls as they engage in their nightly hunts. Between about 9:30 and 10:30 PM, they glide up and down the C/D street alley and the north end of C Street. You can't see them (except for the occasional glimpse of their grey underbellies when they pass a streetlight), but you can hear them: a high-pitched eek . . . eek . . . eek or clicking sound that moves up and down the street as they fly.
I never knew for sure what kind of bird was making the noise. My friend, master birder Ken Ealy, told me they were barn owls, and I should have believed him. But since I merely imitated the sound while we were talking in his office, he never actually heard our C Street birds "in the wild." Our colleagues probably thought that the vicissitudes of work life finally driven us off the deep end--two business-suited professionals making little eek . . . eek . . . eek noises at each other in the middle of the workday.
I finally got confirmation when Carlos Royal posted his webcam "owl box" feeds on http://ustream.tv>ustream.tv last year. Most of the videos record the owls' normal hissing/shrieking call. But for a few days, Carlos had the camera outside the nesting box, when the babies were learning to fly. As the parents returned to the nest, I heard the familiar eek . . . eek . . . eek fading in and out as they circled for landing, and I finally knew what our C Street night watchmen . . . er . . . watchbirds . . . were.