Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The ghost

The night in IISc is full of sounds. Listening is a far better way to explore the universe at this time. Take a walk, try and figure out how many distinct sounds you can distinguish. Birds coming home to roost. Bats leaving their roosts to forage. Crickets, new and familiar, changing through the year. Slender lorises whistling to declare their territories. And then finally the owls.

We have four on the campus. The tiny Spotted owlets, the common commensal Barn owl, the Collared Scop's owl and then the ghost, otherwise known as the Mottled wood owl. Each of them have unique and beautiful calls, (what I would give for decent recording equipment!), but the call of a Mottled is more equal than the others.

Gerry, had once rescued two little fledgling Mottled wood owls from a tree that had been struck by lightening. One of them survived and it was called Merlin. He kept it in a little shed that he had. He initially hand fed it. Then eventually, he just let rodents go in the shed and Merlin would get them. It grew up and when breeding season came around and Merlin was being courted by another owl, so we began to suspect that he was really a she. We never really bothered to find out and I think G eventually deemed it fit and set it free. He doesn't know if M hung around or left. There are still Mottled's near his farmhouse, but who knows?

The first time I met Merlin, was when I heard this call the first time. It's an unforgettable sound and the name G had given it suddenly seemed most fitting.

PS. G, is Gerry Martin of NG fame and he's hosting a herpetology course, those of you are interested take a look here.

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