Sunday, December 09, 2007


A month later I'm finally getting around to posting Part II of my European owl adventure. As you can see, I'm not a die-hard blogger by any stretch of the imagination.

It was tough saying goodbye to all of my new (and old) friends at the end of the World Owl Conference, but I know I'll see many of them again. And e-mail is always a great way to keep in touch.

The day after the conference I flew to England to meet up with Tony Warburton, founder of the World Owl Trust. I had met him in March when he came to our Festival of Owls to be inducted into the World Owl Hall of Fame. He invited me to come visit him in England if I ever got the chance, so I was taking him up on his offer.

I met Tony at the airport in Manchester (we were on separate flights back from the conference) and it was a 2 1/2 hour drive back to his place near Ravenglass in Cumbria. It was late, and there were tons of fireworks. (Fun to think that they were in my honor, but I suppose most would say it had something to do with Guy Fawkes Day.) The icing on the cake was seeing wild Barn Owls out hunting along the road in different locations near Tony's house--the first wild Barn Owls I had ever seen!

I felt so at home staying with Tony and his partner Jenny Thurston. Their house is out in the country (like I'm used to), there were birds coming and going from the feeders like crazy (including a very out of place and exciting Water Rail!), their house is loaded with owl everything, and I had an incredibly comfy bed to sleep in. Ahhhhh!

Tony didn't mess around. After he stuffed me with one of his excellent English breakfasts we were off to the World Owl Centre. I met the staff and spent a long time seeing all the owls on display and talking to Tony about everything owl and then some. The Centre has something like 40 different owl species...including many I had never heard of before, and most of which I had never seen.

I was really hoping one of the pairs of South American Great Horned Owls would do some hooting so I could hear it in person. As part of my vocal study on the species, I am looking at regional variation in their territorial hoots. From the recordings I've collected from sound labs and individuals, South American birds have a different phrasing than North American birds. And here was my chance to hear it in person!

No luck on getting them going, though Tony sure tried for me. He did get the North American birds going though!

The next day was The American Tour of the Lake District. Tony drove Jenny and me all over, explaining that their mountains are called "fells" and the loose rock on them is called "scree." We stopped at a nature center, had a "tatie pot" (lamb stew) at a little pub, and finished the trip with an unbelievable drive over a mountain pass. Wow, I can see why people there don't have large vehicles!! Those incredibly tight turns on a VERY steep one-lane road would freak out my husband for sure. Thankfully I had the utmost confidence in Tony's driving abilities, even though Jenny didn't!

The day ended at The Ratty Arms pub where we met Clive Mojonnier (who had come to Houston with Tony in March) and his wife Jill for supper. Fish and chips were excellent, but I have to admit I had no idea that "chips" were fries!

The next day we were back at the World Owl Centre, this time touring the cages of breeding owls that are not open to the public. Since I'm seriously considering growing the Houston Nature Center into the North American Owl Center, I had question after question about staffing, boards, caging, and more. Tony patiently and honestly answered all my questions from his years of experience. He is truly a wealth of knowledge.

Tony and Jenny took me back to the airport the next morning, where I was told my flight back to Amsterdam would be delayed at least an hour. We spent some extra time visiting, but it was hard to say goodbye. I had spent so much time talking with both Tony and Jenny, and felt we had become dear friends. Thank goodness for e-mail, but it's not the same as hearing someone's voice, or a real hug in person. But I headed off through security, and hope I will see them again someday.

Thankfully my flights over to Europe were no problem, but my flight back left me a more seasoned traveler. My flight to Amsterdam was actually delayed several hours, so I missed my connecting flight to Minneapolis. There were no more flights back to the U.S. that day, so the airline put me up in a hotel overnight. My Minneapolis flight the next morning was still delayed about an hour, so when I got there I had to run through baggage claim and customs to catch my flight to LaCrosse, WI. I made it with just a few minutes to spare, but was the last one on.

It was great to see my husband waiting for me when I got off the plane in LaCrosse. I got a BIG hug, and was not surprised to find that my suitcase didn't make the connecting flight to LaCrosse. I filled out the necessary paperwork and we headed home. Alice was hooty when I got home, but then again, she'd been hooty since before I ever left! I was asleep by about 6 PM. My luggage was delivered to our house at 10:30 PM. Now THAT'S service!

It took a week or so to fully adjust back to our time zone, but here I am. In some ways my time in Europe seems like a dream, but one I will never forget. I'm already looking forward to the next world owl conference in Uruguay in 2010!