Albufeira’s Natural World: Part Two – Tales of a Tawny Owl (Strix Aluco)

A large tawny owl arrived in my life in quite an extraordinary way – by seemingly jumping into our swimming pool and then perching soaked on the pool ladder. From this moment on, Tawn, as I affectionately call it (I know, not very original), has become a regular feature in my life. 

Where I live in Albufeira, there is a beautiful communal garden with a shared pool. This was the backdrop for my first introduction to Tawn. Early one August morning, I opened my backdoor shutter and sleepily noticed something large and dark perched on the pool ladder. A tentative investigation found a rather wet but incredibly calm (perhaps shocked?) owl sitting on the top rung in the gentle morning sunshine. 

Had the owl mistakenly landed or slipped into the pool? Had it just fancied cooling off? I read later that tawny owls are not unknown to take a little bath now and then. This owl was so docile; I got very close and it did not object. It actually seemed to have its eyes closed. I did not know what type of owl it was at the time. I have had a little owl as a back garden friend for a few years, but this one was far larger and very different. 

Now, they say that owls visit you to impart wisdom. This is comforting as many believe an owl appearing to you can mean doom and gloom. In my experience, it is the opposite. They do seem to turn up when you need some guidance.

The next time we were to meet was about a week later as I went for a walk in the valley near where I live. It was already getting dark and there was no one much around. Suddenly a distinctive hoo hoo hooooo really made me jump, the call of the tawny owl. It came from the upper side of the valley, so I headed that way to see if I could spot the owl. 

Another hoot, but from behind me, I walked back and then one even louder right above me. I looked up into a tall palm tree and I could see a large, darkish shape (was it part of the tree?), but it was an owl: big, quite regal, dark grey in colour with sort of streaks of lighter colour on its front. I imitated its hoo hoo hooooo and when I hooted again, it looked straight down at me intently with black eyes. I felt spooked by the sheer size of him, being used to little owls, but I also felt a connection, so I began chatting. He may have been listening, but it was only when I hooted at him again that he looked directly down at me with a snooty air of, “You call that an impression of me?” 

There have been various exciting encounters with this owl since, mostly close to the valley. One evening, I rushed off up the dusky hill with a strong feeling I might see Tawn. I glanced up at his favourite lamp posts and other possible perches – there was nothing. I reached the crest of the hill and there was Tawn, just sitting on the thin branch of an alfarrobeira tree as if waiting for me. My skin prickled as I pondered how the skinny branch could hold Tawn’s weight. 

A favourite perch of the owl, top of the valley

The owl was so close (maybe 1.5m from me) and that evening, it felt like something changed: the owl was not so haughty and I was not so unnerved. For the first time, I felt a friendly vibe between us. So I chatted, and every other moment Tawn would look at me out of those dark, dark eyes. Eventually, I had to say goodbye. After a few steps, I glanced back and he had gone. So beautifully silent I had not heard him depart.

Photos © Marina L Mildenstein


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