They were just weeks from leaving the nest for the last time, still learning to fly, but the trio of fledgling Eastern Screech Owls seemed ready to conquer the woods. Every night at dusk, they’d materialize around our campsite in the hills of Virginia and put on a show.
They swooped from tree to tree and practiced hunting for insects on the ground. One of them even walked across the road. Every once in a while they’d land on the same branch for a dose of sibling togetherness. They swiveled their heads as only owls can do, and let out sweet little calls that were nothing like the eventual screeches that give them their name.
Though still unsteady at times, these fledglings were growing up fast. Matt Larson, a researcher with the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Montana, told us these owls should be leaving their parents behind within two weeks. So it was pure luck that we got to experience them as a family.
We heard about the owls on our first afternoon at Sherando Lake, in a remote corner of the mid-Atlantic southwest of Charlottesville. A neighboring camper saw us returning from a birding walk draped in binoculars and cameras.
“Have you seen the baby owls?’’ she asked.
“Baby owls!?’’ we said in unison, probably a little too loud.