Yes, the giant warned Agent Cooper in early 90s cult classic Twin Peaks, and I'm here to tell you that he was right.
Last night, I was driving home from Nottingham, at about 11.30pm. It was rainy and windy, and I’d got about two miles from home, on a straight, downhill stretch, when I saw a Tawny Owl standing upright at the side of the road.
I slowed right down and managed to avoid it, and pulled to a halt a little way further on, hazard warning lights blazing, before going back with a torch. To my surprise, it was still there, and didn’t fly away even when I got to within almost touching distance.
Now I was worried. I assumed it must be injured, so I started trying to work out ways to pick it up without hurting it, and without suffering severe injury myself (the wildlife photographer Eric Hosking famously lost an eye to a Tawny Owl). Quite where I’d have taken it, I’m not sure, there not being any all-night owl surgeries in the vicinity. I went back to the car, found a padded photographer’s case to put it in, donned gloves, and prepared for the difficult part.
It had gone, thankfully. I had a good look around the area, drove back up and down three or four times, but it had clearly flown away rather than just hopping into the ditch.
Thing is, this is the third time something like this has happened to me. The first, ten years ago, was on a similarly lonely stretch of road near Bourne, where I was living at the time. That time it was a Long-eared Owl, which was stood in the centre of the road, stock still. I only saw it late and was terrified that I’d hit it, but when I got out to walk back, it watched me part of the way, then flew easily away.
Just a couple of months after that, the same thing happened with another Long-eared Owl (odd because I don’t know of any breeding locally) just about a mile from where I saw last night’s bird.
So, I’m baffled. Roads must be great places to catch voles, etc, as they emerge from cover, but I can only assume the owls get rather dazzled by headlights and are unable to fly away from approaching cars. I’m trying to get an owl expert to explain more, but I'd love to know if anyone has had a similar experience.
PS: I incorporated one of the above incidents, very fictionalised and with some extra drama added, into a poem, The Mad Mile, which appears in Troy Town (the road’s known as the Mad Mile because it’s long, very straight, and includes one rollercoaster-style dip).