Owls are a magnificent species of birds that have always caught my attention. Something about them seems so intriguing. They do not shy away from eye contact. When they stare at me with their characteristic, huge eyes, I seem to get drawn into them. With so many ill-founded myths that we humans associate with the species, looking into the owls' eyes, makes me wonder as to what might be running in its mind, apart from the expected displeasure of encountering a human.
Little Andaman, also known as Hut bay, is lovely island off in the Andaman sea. It was a fine morning that day and I was in luck. There was news about a species of owls which had been eluding me for quite a while, the Andaman Masked Owl (Tyto deroepstorffi) or the Andaman Barn Owl. I had never gotten a glimpse of this beautiful species on any of my previous visits to the place. The closest I had come was only hearing its screeching call while birding on one of the nights. So, obviously, this species was very high on my list and any news was good news. More so, the news was about a pair of them which had been sighted roosting around an abandoned house.
Andaman Masked Owl is endemic to the Southern islands of the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago, inhabiting the coastal plains, forested areas and found around human settlements as well. This is a distinct species and stands on its own when compared to the Western and the Eastern barn owls.
When we reached the location we had been directed to, we saw that it was indeed a very old, abandoned house, in quite a dilapidated state. It was surrounded by areca-nut and palm trees. The location also seemed to host a good population of rodents and small reptiles. Definitely, an ideal place for the owls to roost in.
We went around the house multiple times. But, there was no sign of the owls.
It was mid of Feb and the temperatures were already soaring with the weather being very humid. It was expected though, in a small island like this. Panting, we came out of the house to take a breather. That is when we noticed a pair of eyes staring back at us from atop a palm tree. It was indeed the Andaman masked owl. Our excitement knew no bounds. I had finally seen one!!
This individual (probably a male) had been intently watching us all the while. He might have been wondering as to what these people were up to, running up and down an abandoned house.
He sat there for a few seconds and took off to perch on a tree on the other side of the house. We slowly followed him there.
Within a few seconds, to our sheer amazement, another individual came and joined him. The second individual (which looked like a female) was his mate, the lady of the house. The curious residents of the place were surprised by the visitors and came out to have a look.
Then ensued a serious exchange between the man and his lady. As I stood there transfixed, taking in the amazing sighting and making images, I kind of could make out as to what the conversation was, between the two birdies.
Something like this perhaps… :-)
Lady - Hey, look, there’s someone here. Not sure what they want..!!
Man - Yeah, I noticed them too. They were very busy looking around for something. They didn’t have a clue that I was watching them all along..!
Lady - Oh! :-)
Man - After a hard night’s work yesterday, was thinking about getting some good sleep and this happens !!
Lady - Yeah. Also, did you notice that guy there (probably referring to me :-) He has been staring at me right from the moment I arrived. What’s gotten into him…
Lady - Let me come closer and tell you a secret….
The lady gets closer to the male, stretches herself and utters something in his ear.
Lady - Another crackpot with a camera :-D
Man - Enough of this, come, let us get going...
Lady - Ok. Let us give a final pose for these poor fellows who have come all the way here…
And, they both flew away.
Thus, ended the morning with the wonderful Andaman barn owls. A morning that I considered amazing, not sure about the owls though :-)