I was down the little side path that I like to go down, which has lately been inaccessible, due to a broody goose and her protective mate. Fortunately, the goslings have hatched, and life is beautiful again. I walked down the path and began idly scanning with my binoculars.
I saw a little bird, probably a blue-gray gnatcatcher, flit by in some nearby trees, raised my binoculars to try to catch it, and froze.
There was something on a branch there. Something BIG.
It was astonishing that I had missed it before, but it was bark colored and I simply hadn't seen it. If not for the motion of the little flitting gnatcatchers, I would probably have missed it, despite the fact that it was at least the size of my cat.
The back was brown and grey and pinstriped, and the rest was an explosion of cream-grey fluff. It was enormous, sitting perched on the branch with its back to me, and it had massive yellow raptor talons that gripped the branch, nearly buried in the sheer floofiness.
By the fluff, I knew it was a juvenile, but a juvenile what? From the way it was sitting, from the sheer size, I had a crazy idea--it couldn't possibly be--not in broad daylight--but it sure looked like--but could it really be--?
The juvenile great horned owl turned its head around and looked at me. The heavy beak was very dark against all the fluff, and its eyes were enormous and gold and had dark rings. It even had pale fluffy "horns."
I greeted this moment of surpassing natural splendor the way humans have been greeting natural splendor for years. I said "Holy....shit..." and nearly dropped my binoculars.
This makes me realize that I gotta get a birding buddy. I was this close to assaulting random passersby and MAKING them come see the owl, and if they hadn't all been wearing iPods and resolutely not making eye contact, I probably would have. Ah, well...
Visual Aid Update: It looked like the young one in this photo