On our recent trip to Ohio, following a monotonous, eight-hour drive across the flat Glaciated Plain, we turned north on I-71, angling toward the Appalachian Plateau. To that point, my wildlife observations had been limited to starlings, pigeons, crows and those reliable red-tailed hawks; there were also quite a few white-tailed deer along the highway, almost all bloodied and lifeless on the side of the road. Then, about ten miles north of Columbus, a peregrine falcon streaked across the Interstate, no doubt targeting a flock of waterfowl beyond trees to our west.
Then, yesterday afternoon, sunny, cold weather coaxed me into the countryside and I rescued my wife's Beetle from its winter hibernation. Despite the invigorating weather and snowy landscape, my bird sightings were limited to a flock of waxwings and the occasional cardinal or mockingbird before I caught sight of a bulky form in a lone, barren tree. Sure enough, the distinctive shape proved to be that of a barred owl, basking in the mid-day sun and likely watching for signs of voles beneath the snow. Frequently active early and late in the day, especially in spring, barred owls are not often encountered on a bright winter afternoon and I certainly welcomed his presence.
Such are the rewards that feed the enthusiasm of naturalists. Regardless of the weather, landscape or time of day, unexpected sightings can and do occur. After all, if the events of every hike or road trip were known in advance, all sense of adventure would be lost.