Westport Column: Owl prowl, Chief Mooney and more

Posted:  Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 7:30am

Hello friends and neighbors!

I am sure you have noticed that the weather seems more unpredictable than ever. Snow, rain, sleet, freezing rain, wicked cold, unusual warmth — we get it all, and sometimes within the same day! If you love playing in the snow, take advantage when it is here. Last week we managed several nice days of skiing before the big melt and rain came again. We also enjoyed hiking in both of our local preserves, and are grateful that we can drive to them in about ten minutes.

Friday evening we met some other folks at the Segerstrom Preserve to “prowl for owls.” The Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT) sponsored a guided night walk complete with owl calls, owl descriptions, and hot chocolate! Although we did not hear any hooting creatures that night, we learned more about great horned owls, barred owls, and northern saw-whet owls, all of which are native to our area.

The great horned owl can begin its nesting season anytime soon, which may account for the fact that a territorial owl has recently been swooping at unsuspecting skiers at Pineland Farms! The familiar barred owl’s call kind of sounds like someone chanting, “Who-cooks-for-YOU? Who-cooks-for-YOU?” The tiny saw-whet owl weighs about as much as a robin, and thus can be extremely hard to spot. The abundance of rods in owl eyes results in excellent vision. However, since owl eyeballs do not move in their sockets, owls have an adaptation of turning their heads almost 270 degrees! Furthermore, the disc shaped facial features and slightly askew ears contribute to owls’ superior hearing abilities. Plus the shape and fluff of owl feathers allow for silent and more successful hunting of rodents, rabbits, and other small creatures. Owls are fascinating, and now I am more astutely on the prowl for them!

We were surprised to be the first humans on the trail at the Bonyun Preserve after last week’s snow. However, a lot of other animals had been out and about, as evidenced by the many tracks we encountered. Clusters of turkeys had obviously been foraging for seeds, nuts, fern fronds, or anything they could find to fill their bellies at this time of year. Deer had crossed the trail multiple times, along with raccoons and somebody in the weasel family. We also saw the paw print of either a coyote or fox. We heard woodpeckers and geese, and saw ducks and guillemots. The forest is indeed a busy place, and winter is a great time to practice tracking which animals we share this lovely island with.

If you happen to see Fire Chief Bob Mooney in your travels, please congratulate and thank him for his 25 years of service to Westport Island. Bob will be retiring as chief at the end of this month, and five year department veteran Stacy Hutchison will be assuming that role in February. Bob is only the fourth person to serve as fire chief since the department’s inception in 1955. Volunteer firefighters and first responders have to meet the same requirements and certifications as full-time firefighters; however, they are currently not reimbursed for their efforts. Chief Mooney has expressed concern for the future of the fire department and the need to attract more members. During his tenure, Bob has helped transition all records onto computers, overseen an increasing administrative workload, set up WIFI at the station, and supervised the purchase of a new pumper truck and self-contained breathing apparatuses. Bob was always there to support runners at the Westport 10K and to offer to be dunked for good fun at the annual barbecues. Many, many thanks to Chief Mooney for his selfless efforts to help Islanders for two and a half decades! Those are big boots to fill!

How do you stay sane in the crazy winter weather? Contact your newshound pat-dick@midcoast.com or call 231-4049.