For the Birds Radio Program: The Brownie Connection

Original Air Date: Jan. 26, 1996

Laura went searching for owls with her 11-year-old friend, Mariah. 3:55

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One of my favorite birding traditions is eating a brownie every time I spot a new species of owl for the day. I don’t remember when I started this tradition, but it’s deeply ingrained in my psyche. There are few if any greater pleasures in the universe than looking deep into the eyes of a Northern Hawk Owl while eating a fresh-baked, deep chocolate brownie.

Nineteen-ninety-six is proving to be the winter for both owls and brownies. Two weeks ago, I spent a couple of days birding with my good friend Mariah. She’s 11, and had seen only one Great Horned Owl in her life, so we set out early one Thursday morning to rectify that situation. We first headed for Haines and Arrowhead Road in Duluth, where a hawk owl had been seen several times, but we couldn’t find it. I’d been sick for several weeks up until then, and suddenly realized that I’d forgotten all about baking brownies! No wonder we couldn’t find the hawk owl! So we made a quick stop at a convenience store to stock up. Store-bought brownies are big enough to split, and being optimists, we bought four in hopes of seeing the four winter owls: Great Gray, Boreal, Snowy, and Northern Hawk Owls.

Then we headed up to Saginaw, where a Boreal Owl had been hanging out at a feeder for several days. The owl wasn’t around when we first arrived, but in a few minutes it flew in and we got wonderful looks at it looking back at us. Meeting an owl’s eyes is always a special treat, and Boreal Owls are so cute and intense that even a quick glimpse is memorable. This owl sat and watched us for a good 10 minutes, a feast for our eyes and souls that was especially wonderful for Mariah, who badly wanted to see this rare and lovely species. We watched it until it tucked in its head and went to sleep, and then headed to my car to break out the brownies. We ate our first one in full view of the owl and then headed up to the Sax-Zim Bog.

Mariah spotted our first Great Gray Owl as we drove past it, and I screeched to a halt and backed up, but it flew off before we got a good look. Our second one hung around for a good five seconds, but it, too, hightailed it to the woods. The Boreal Owl had spoiled us, so we decided to trust our luck and wait on the Great Gray brownie till we got a really good look. Driving down County Road 203, we came upon a totally unexpected sight—a Barred Owl sitting right out in the open in an aspen. Mariah had never before seen one, but instantly called out “Barred Owl!” This one sat watching us with its soft brown eyes while we ate our second soft brown treat.

We finally came upon a cooperative Great Gray who gave us fine looks and the chance to eat our third brownie. We’d covered quite a bit of ground already without seeing a hawk owl, and it was now getting close to 3 pm, so we moved on back to Duluth in hopes of a Snowy Owl in the harbor. On the way, we saw our fourth Great Gray Owl, this one the most cooperative of all, sitting calmly and studying us as hard as we studied it.

We couldn’t find any Snowies—this year there apparently have been only three in the harbor, and they’re often hard to find. It was getting dark, so we headed back to my house with big hopes for the next day. Sure enough, we got two Northern Hawk Owls at the Sax-Zim Bog, along with another Great Gray. Then, on our way back toward Mariah’s Wisconsin home, we even saw a third hawk owl at Brackett’s Corner on Highway 13. But we never did find a Snowy Owl, and learned two valuable lessons: next time we’ll bring at least five brownies, and also, if we go out owling too often eating too many bwonies, we’ll soon be as thick and chunky as those owls we’ve been watching.