In our family the practise of going out at night into the bush with torches to spot wildlife used to be known as ‘spotlighting’. However in Australia, ‘spotlighting’ is most often associated with hunting/shooting aboard vehicles lit up with spotlights and the term just didn’t seem right. After we read the poignant and poetic children’s book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, these night walks have ever-after become known as going ‘owling’.
Just like in the book, going owling is something we do individually with our kids, and only as they are old enough, for the owlers need to walk in silence for an hour or more in the dark over rough terrain.
During these star-lit rambles, the land we know so well takes on different faces in the night, and the forest is full of shadows. We see kangaroos and wallabies, wombats, and different types of possums. We have been searching for gliders as they soar between the treetops. We see sneaky foxes on the prowl and think of our last batch of chickens that went their way.
But the ultimate prize is to see an owl. The general aura of mystery and magic with which owls are associated mean that the children regard them with an instinctive reverence and wonder. Whilst we hear them relatively often, sightings are far more elusive. So far we have seen the Barking Owl, Southern Boobook, and the Tawny Frogmouth.
Returning from an owling walk when the other children are asleep, the owlers are full of stories of what they have seen. Sometimes we review the nocturnal creatures in a guidebook to check up on what we saw or heard. After a drink of hot chocolate it takes only seconds for the weary owlers to nod off to sleep, with visions of wings still hovering in the darkness.