You stand surrounded by trees in the chill of the night. The sounds of nature are all around you, accompanied only by your breathing and that of a handful of others standing close by.
Suddenly, it happens.
An owl breaks through the crisp night, wings stretched as it soars through the darkness, an ocean of sky behind it. This is its world – you are only visiting.
This is not an uncommon experience for those who take part in Metroparks’ Owl Prowl.
For the past few decades, guides have taken groups into the parks to observe these majestic birds in their natural habitat.
“There’s nothing cooler than seeing an owl in the wild,” says Kevin Arnold, Metroparks southern district interpretive supervisor and Owl Prowl guide.
Armed with the greatest technology of the ‘80s – tapes and a boombox, Arnold leads the group to a place to play the calls of owls. Then, he shines a flashlight up so the birds can be seen more easily.
Just what you see is dependent on the owls’ mood. Sometimes there are a lot to see, and sometimes visitors aren’t so lucky.
“Some nights we do really well, but some nights we don’t see anything,” says Arnold. “It’s all up to the owls.”
While some nights the birds don’t seem to give a hoot about showing off for their visitors, you are always guaranteed to see their natural habitat, which is beautiful.
You can join an Owl Prowl at:
- Oakwoods Metropark Nature Center in Flat Rock. Cost: $5 per person, children under 2 free
- Lake Erie Metropark in Brownstone. Cost: $5 per person, children under 2 Free
- Stony Creek Metropark. Cost: $3 per person
Please check the times and dates at the different parks.
Depending on your location, you may see the Great Horned Owl and the Eastern Screech Owl, whose calls are the ones used on the boombox. If you’re lucky, and the owls are in a good mood, you could also get a glimpse of the Barred Owl, Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, and Snowy Owl.
These nocturnal creatures don’t have the same aversion to types of weather that many humans do, so be prepared and don’t be discouraged. Arnold takes people out in all types of weather, clear, stormy, heavy snow. In some of the worst weather owls show up.
All types of groups come to take part, not just owl enthusiasts. For example, Arnold recently guided a middle school ecology club. However, the most common groups are families looking for something to do. It’s fun and educational.
The Owl Prowl isn’t just randomly meeting in the park. There is a very real attempt to teach people about owls and their habitat.
Before you leave for the trail, there is a conversation about owls with a Q&A. Afterward the walk there is a discussion on what the participants saw, and even more questions are answered.
For those wondering if they can stump Arnold, you can try, but he has been leading the Owl Prowl at the Lake Erie Metropark for 20 years. He has a degree in biology, which included ornithology classes, and has spent those decades learning more about owls.
As you might guess things have changed a bit under the pandemic. Pre-COVID, groups could total 35. Today the maximum number is 20 visitors. Masks are required, and social distancing is enforced.
The before and after meetings, held also inside before the pandemic, are currently outside.
Those interested also need to call ahead, at least one day, at (734) 379-5020. You can (586) 781-9113 to pre-register.
“Owl” see you there!