Well, okay, maybe lurking is too sinister a word, but truly the situation was both exciting and disconcerting. I’d heard rumours as we passed others on the trail; it was all the talk of Water Ranch the day we there. Something was in the women’s washroom.
Now the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, apart from being a spectacular natural habitat, also has very civilized restrooms scattered throughout the 4.5 miles of trails, and the day we visited I was ready by the time we reached the facility in question.
A tall thin woman, with a broad straw hat, was headed into the women’s before me and even though I hadn’t yet turned the corner to the entrance, I could tell something was going on by the raised voices ahead. A woman was exiting the washroom and as I caught up to them I heard the words: “It’s asleep, I assume.”
Hat woman was hesitating at the doorway, craning her neck to see if she could spot the culprit.
“Should we go in?” I asked. I really had to pee, and was hoping that whatever waited for us was not too wild.
“I guess so,” she said tentatively and so we did, me scanning the floor and sinks for something that didn’t belong.
“It’s here,” she pointed out. “Between the stalls.”
And so it was! A small, owl-like head peering into one stall with its tail hanging over the other. It was clearly not awake.
“Will we waken it?” Urgency asked. “What is it?”
“An owl of some sort,” the woman said confidently. “Likely a baby.”
The ‘owl’s’ head rotated but the eyes didn’t open.
I ducked into the stall behind the bird thinking that if it woke up it might not see me right away.
“Do you think it is safe to close the stall door?”
Hat lady entered the other stall and closed the door. The head moved again.
“Too small for a Screech owl,” my neighbour said aloud. “Must be a saw-whet.”
Jobs done, we carefully exited our stalls and washed our hands deciding not to use the noisy dryer.
“It’s not a baby,” she decided. “Definitely full-grown.”
I had no idea, but excitedly flagged down the men and told them to take their cameras into the women’s washroom.
Our birding guide said it was for sure the highlight of the day for him. “Imagine, an owl in the women’s toilets.”
On the way back to the car, a young woman, heading in the opposite direction, asked us if the bird was still in the bathroom.
“It is!” We said. “It’s an owl!”
“No,” she corrected us. “It’s a Common Poorwill. It’s been there since yesterday. In the winter months they go into hibernation…usually in a hollow log or under rocks.”
I looked it up when we got home. Sure enough, these birds drop their respiration and body temperature and sleep the winter away, instead of migrating. How interesting is that?
Best bathroom adventure ever!