[TN-Bird] Night birding in Gulf Shores

  • From: ByrdBrainBBW@xxxxxxx
  • To: tn-bird@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003 19:34:13 EDT

I am about to tell a tale that is a little unbelievable. And I hesitated to 
even tell it here- I know this is a bird list. There are those who will think I 
am crazy after reading it, and justifiably so. But I think some of you will 
find it, perhaps, a bit magical.
I recently returned from a little vacation. This is the third year I have 
visited the area of Gulf Shores, Alabama in the early fall.

We stay at a place called "Martinique on the Gulf".  It's a lovely spot on 
the Fort Morgan Peninsula, far from all the high rises of Gulf Shores. 
Martinique is a small, private, secluded beach community that borders Bon 
National Wildlife Refuge. Because of this, there are miles of unspoiled beach. 
And a 
lot of care has gone in to preserving the surrounding marsh and dunes. We all 
love this beautiful place where nature surrounds us.

As a hobby I do amateur nature photography, and I totally enjoy wildlife and 
birds. But on this particular trip I did not do much birding. Not as much as I 
would have liked, anyway. Sometimes you get lucky, though, and the birds come 
to you. Or one, particular, spectacular bird.

Our group of four headed down to the pool one evening around 9 PM, to use the 
hot tub. It's located close to the beach. This is a very lovely spot, where 
you can see the stars clearly and hear the ocean for background music. 

One of the guys in our party was a few steps ahead of us. He suddenly 
stopped, and said, "There's a large owl over there on the chair!" He said he 
knew it 
was real, because it turned it's head. The rest of us looked that way. There 
stood a beautiful, adult Barred Owl on the back of one of the lounge chairs! We 
all stopped dead in our tracks, mesmerized at this gorgeous creature perched 
on the back of that chair. Then, suddenly the owl flew right over and landed 
on the hand rail going in to the hot tub! I could not believe this. I quietly 
inched a little closer, expecting him to fly away at any minute. 

A few more people came through the gate to the pool area. I was afraid they 
would walk up and scare the owl away. So, I told them what we were looking at. 
And one of the people said that he knew this owl! It had been found injured, 
and raised by someone around there. He thought the owl was fine now, but that 
it was not very afraid of people.

Armed with this new information, I became braver. I slowly approached closer 
and closer. 15 feet, 10 feet, 5 feet, then I walked right up to the owl! He 
just turned his head and looked at me, never acting afraid. So, I sat down on 
the edge of the hot tub, right next to him. No more than a foot away, and eye 
eye. It was just amazing. The other people had left by then, except for our 
group of four. They did not want to share the hot tub with this owl. I, on the 
other hand, most certainly did :)

One of our friends got in the hot tub, and the owl flew over and landed 
beside him, staring in the water at any movements being made. The owl just 
watched and watched. He seemed to be looking for something to eat. Perhaps he 
was used to catching the crabs that wandered into the pool area at night.

Another one of our group, Mike, had gotten in to the actual pool. I think he 
was a bit nervous about the owl on the hot tub. Mike was near the pool ledge, 
facing the water, with his back up against one of the jets (think free back 
massage :). Suddenly and silently this large owl flew over to him. It was 
funny- the owl landed on the ledge, right behind Mike's head. We told him to 
turn around. He did, and was startled to see the Barred Owl almost on his 
shoulder. Mike slowly moved to the middle of the pool :)

Back the owl flew to us at the hot tub. My best friend had left to get the 
camera. She came back with bread and bologna too. I had no idea if the owl 
eat any of this, or if we should even try feeding him. He easily took the 
food from our hands, but only broke off bits with his beak, and dropped them- 
never eating, what to him, was probably junk food. I wished we had something 
to offer him. But I didn't happen to have any mice handy :)

The Barred Owl flew over to another area, and I went over to him. He was 
sitting on a lounge chair. I thought I would try and pet him. I may be crazy, 
I was just so overwhelmed by having this beautiful wild creature so close by. 
And guess what- he let me pet him! He was so, so soft. Then I tried scratching 
his head! I dug down past the soft feathers on the back of his head, to where 
I could feel the quills. And you won't believe this, but he hunkered down and 
closed his eyes as I scratched. He liked head scratches!

This whole thing was so unreal. The owl flew over to another hand rail 
leading down in to the pool. I followed, and did a really stupid thing. Let me 
emphasize that I knew this was stupid, but I somehow could not help myself. I 
oddly like I was safe, and the owl was not afraid of me...

I stretched my arm out next to the owls feet, offering me as another perch. 
He kept reaching with one foot to my arm, and grasping me lightly with his 
claws. I could feel them barely scratching me, but not hard enough to hurt me. 
I knew, had he so desired, he could do some serious damage to my arm.

All of a sudden this owl stepped fully on to my fore arm with both feet! He 
kept using his beak to lightly bite (more like nibbling) on my arm. Nothing 
hard there either. Seemed like he was trying to see if I was tasty or not. 

Then I slowly stood up, with this big, beautiful Barred Owl perched on my 
arm. I was so caught up in it all, and I just could not believe what was 
happening. I took several steps with this magnificent bird perched directly on 
Then this bird of prey gripped my arm a little tighter, and bounded into the 
night air. Off he flew from my arm, to a nearby post. I felt a huge rush of 
as he sprung from my arm.

After a magical hour of interacting with the owl, the security guard came 
down to lock up, and we had to leave. But not before we rewarded "Marty", our 
Martinique owl, with a couple of tasty frogs. These he graciously accepted and 
promptly devoured :)

I have several photos of that surreal evening if anyone is interested in 
seeing them. 

Marian Delaplane
Nashville, TN

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