Living in wild areas after graduating from college has given me the opportunity to experience some amazing and often unexpected wildlife encounters. I’ve seen the extraordinary Florida Panther, had an alligator living in the canal behind my house, gawked at fishers climbing over rocks near roaring rapids and paddled kayaks behind mischievous river otters. Almost all of my favorite encounters have been those I’ve had by chance. The kind of thing where you just end up being in the right place at the right time. Today, I once again found myself front and center for another dramatic display of nature when I least expected it.

In true Wisconsin spirit, the long winter is refusing to go away peacefully. Instead, she’s decided to blanket the forest with nearly two foot of snow in the last few days. While the forest is truly a spectacle when the arms of old trees are covered with a fresh snowfall, the romance of a heavy snow is all but gone by April for most. I’ll include myself in that category. I was fully focused on sweaty, sunshine filled days. Alas, I found myself today at the center of a constant deluge of snowfall.

Snowy trees.jpg
The snowy trees that make up the forest where my office is located. There is a mix of deciduous and coniferous species growing next to the Peshtigo River. The perfect habitat for a barred owl!

I was growing curious as to how much snowfall we had accrued, so I made my way out of my office with a makeshift measuring device to make some observations. For those who don’t know, my office is tucked into a beautiful section of woods next to the Peshtigo River in Wisconsin. I have a bird feeder outside of my office window that provides me with great joy throughout the winter as my favorite winter guests come visit throughout the day. I love the chickadees, nuthatches, finches, woodpeckers, and all the other birds that visit. There are red and grey squirrels that often crash the party as well.

As I was preparing to take a picture of my crude measurements there was an ornery red squirrel chirping for the tree above me. His constant bickering caused me to peak up at him just in time to see the sharp talons and stern face of a barred owl making a dive towards me! I immediately froze and watched the dramatic scene play out before my eyes, seemingly in slow motion. The owl, making not even a single sound through the air, came colliding with the tree within inches of the squirrel causing him a good amount of panic. I stayed crouched, stunned and breathless at the spectacle taking place right in front of me.

The owl had missed his mark but the squirrel was flustered. The silent predator took another leap towards his prey, who had now found another tree just 5 feet away. I watched the winged killer leap silently through the air but this time the small rodent had the upper hand. The element of surprise was gone and the squirrel bounded off through trees to safety, chirping an alarm as he went. I finally stood up just in time to see the owl fly off into the canopy of a few massive pines.

Still shocked at what I had witnessed, I moved inside to get back to work. It wasn’t long until something caught my eye above my computer monitor. There he was! Perched in just the perfect place for me to watch him once more. I tiptoed to my camera and I was able to capture just a few shots of this magnificent creature before he decided to be on his way.

Barred owl 2 (small)
The steely gaze of the barred owl is intimidating.

As much as we like to prepare for our adventures, sometimes it is the things that catch us off guard that end up being our favorite moments. Keep that in mind as you are pursuing your own goals and taking on new roles in your life. Preparation is key and an extremely valuable part of success and happiness. With that being said, it is good to also keep yourself open to the unscripted moments that seem to appear without the slightest warning. Like my brief rendezvous with this owl, it might be something that you’ll never forget.

Until next time my friends… get a haircut and get a real job!

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