Friday, August 15, 2008


Who Cooks for You?

The mystery animal we’ve heard at night that might have been a moose, that might have been a bear, has finally been identified.

I heard its loud, whooping cry very close to the house the first time; in the middle distance the second time, answered by another of its species far away; and again last night not too distant and very clearly. I went to sleep with it in my ear and, having worked it out in my sleep, woke to say to Fritz, “what if it’s a bird—an owl.”

I went for the book he’d given me for Christmas, “Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song”. Four owls were featured, the Barn Owl, the Spotted Owl, the Eastern Screech Owl and the Barred Owl. For some reason I decided to check out the Barred Owl first, found its page and the code number of its recorded voice on the digital player bound into the book. And there it was, the strong, deep, aggressive series whoops organized into two sets
that were so familiar.

The Barred Owl lives in woods in the East and the Northwest. It feeds on rodents up to the size of rabbits, other birds as big as grouse, reptiles, amphibians—and fish. Besides providing a clear recording of all the birds in the book, the author provides simple devices for memorizing their characteristic cries (mating, aggression, or in this case, territorial possession). For the Barred Owl, he provides the following: Who cooks [slight pause] for you? [pause] Who cooks for YOU ALL?

Now, just imagine an upward whoop replacing each word, a loud whoop like that made by a teenaged boy with a bronchial infection whose voice just cracked into a deep bass. That’s the sound of our mystery animal.


We took Fritz’s office manager on a little excursion today for her birthday. It was a lighthouse tour in the Portsmouth area that included a harbor cruise. We began by climbing Portsmouth Light which sits in a harbor fort dating back to the early 1630s, one which saw the seizure from the British of the cannons, ammunition and gunpowder that would eventually be used against the British in the battles of Lexington, concord and Bunker Hill.

We then boarded the cruise boat moored next to a big Panamanian freighter, the Saint Demetrios that was just leaving the harbor after unloading tons of road salt mined in Chile and Peru. The Demetrios slipped her moorings and we followed her out of the inner harbor and past the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Now involved in the construction and maintenance of nuclear submarines, the shipyard’s crew of 14,000 women turned out submarines during World War II in record numbers, some in as little as 180 days, becoming the second biggest target for Nazi submarine attack on the East Coast.

Just past the shipyard is the now-abandoned Navy maximum security prison. Built on an island amid the swift currents of the Piscataqua River and inspired by Alcatraz, the prison held 3000 inmates guarded by active-duty marines in severe conditions that made it the single most feared military prison in the country from 1908 to 1974. The massive building is now being offered to developers who are hesitant to take it on because it’s full of asbestos and because the mortar that holds it together was mixed with salt water instead of fresh and is now deteriorating badly.

The river mouth widens rapidly once past the prison as we headed to our goal of Whaleback Light, a small, very tough little structure build on a mostly submerged rock shoal.

It was there that we joined the big surprise of the day—the tall ships parade back into the harbor, led by two fire boats spraying huge plumes of water and featuring the Friendship, a replica 1797 China trader built and berthed in Salem, Ma. The Roseway, a replica Grand Banks fishing schooner followed her in, and then we came along, side by side with a Coast Guard cutter and a flotilla of smaller boats.

The trip ended with a visit to Cape Neddick Light, popularly called Nubble Light, in York, Maine.

We lucked out on weather; the day was fine, mostly sunny with only a few small patches of fog. But all good things come to an end, and it’s now raining heavily once again as I post this.


The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

Whether or not it needed to happen, I'm still convinced it needed to happen. [explaining why he sent U.S. troops into Iraq, Dec. 12, 2005]

It sounds like you had a great day. Thanks for the tour.

BTW about 3 years ago, we had a Barred Owl take up residence in Killian Court for a few days. They are really beautiful birds. Definitely big enough to take down a rabbit.
Glad to hear your mystery animal was found. At least now you know what's making the noise.

The lighthouse tour looked interesting. I loved the pics of it!
But, WAIT! I want to be your houseguest and go to Portsmouth and climb around and go on a ferry ride....andand and and and.
Anthony--I didn't know about the owl. I did see several times members of a family of red tail hawks that settled somewhere in the East campus area. One of them liked to sit in the grassy area between the Medical Building and the Media Lab and watch the people go by--who were of course watching the hawk.

Matt--there are a number of light houses on the shores of the Great Lakes--if you've never been to one, they're a lot of fun to visit.

Lewis--and so you can, and will, when and if you get back out here again. Hopefully next time we'll get both of you out here!
you are again fortunate to have owls nearby; good luck animals in many cultures.
I love owls.
When I visit my parents in the country, they have a different kind of owl that also seems to say "who cooks for you" but it is done in a very owl-ish hooting voice so there is no mistaking what it is. Also some times we hear the Great Horned owls which give a very deep hooting sound. My fav night bird of all time though has to be the Whip-poor-will, sadly there are not as many around as there used to be.
We have a little owl that is nesting in the woodland next to us too. We always hear it making noise at night. The Portsmouth area looks lovely.
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