My daughter is the middle kid. I love all my children immensely, but there is a special quality to my relationship to my little girl. I hear it’s that way between dads and daughters a lot. Like me, she was a little late to bloom. Here she is, turning 30 and finally graduating college. She’s a scientist, my little girl, a GPA of 3.8 turning into a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She’s into animals, and fungus. Don’t ask me to explain that, I can’t. She’s outdoorsy; a skydive, hiker, and raiser of chickens and the odd turkey, all of which she executes at a certain age, inflicting the postmortem violence that turns them into food. She likes to spend time in the woods and out on the beaches, he inquisitiveness giving her a sharp focus on the flora and fauna she encounters.
We were in the Pacific National Forest, moving along a trail made for the public. I was driving my scooter and she was hiking it, both she and her dog, Cletus, laden with backpacks. My stuff was in the carry basket of my scooter –ever the fitness buff. I had brought a quadcopter drone that carried a high definition camera. It was my way to vicariously experience the great outdoors. My daughter was carrying a camera as well, hung on her neck reminiscent of Japanese tourists. Except for the heaping backpack that towered above her, all the stuff she had packed into it and tied on. The farther up the path we went, the fewer people we were running into until after a while, the only people we saw were natural science people just like her. Occasional conversations would break out, discussions that used names and phrases that left me staring at the majestic beauty of the ancient forest. Eventually, it was just us, quietly moving along.
We heard it before we saw it. Even then we had t look hard to see the owl that had been calling Hoo-Hoo noises, a beckoning to a mate? I don’t know. A quick conference between us determined that neither of us spoke owl. Of course, she found it first. It ws a white owl, a beautiful think that evoked thoughts of Harry Potter. Even with its color, it was blending with the paper birch it was roosting in. It sat in a nest.
My daughter commented that it would be great to be able to see into the nest, summoning the possibility of owlettes under parental guard. Looking at the tree, I figured she could climb it and look, but she deferred. “I don’t want to disturb the nest or anger the owl. They can be pretty brutal, especially when tending their young.” she mused aloud. I had the answer, of course, and dug in my carry basket to pull out the quadcopter and controller. “Cool!” she said. “We can get a look right into the nest with that, right?” I assured her we could.
I prepared the quad for flight, attaching a Contour Roam high definition camera to the underside of the drone. I don’t have a fancy gimbled camera mount, I have to fix the camera position and change perspective by moving the drone. Kind of like the PT boats of WWII; the torpedoes they shot simply exited forward facing tubes, so the boat had to be facing the target if they wanted any chance of hitting it. I did a recording test with the camera, verified it was operating and released the drone into the air.
From the camera perspective, I saw the trees sinking downward in the frame as the aircraft rose upwards. The nest was about sixty feet up, almost to the top of the tree. The owl had built its nest on the last intersection of thick branches to the trunk. Nice and safe and stable. Under my control, I took the drone above the treetops, giving it a wide open perspective of the surrounding forest and mountains, turning a lazy circle. We decided not to go directly to the nest, but to give the owl a chance to get used to the intrusion of movement and noise –see that the quadcopter was a harmless but slightly noisy part of the forest population. Video of owls in their nests are rare, and it would be quite the feather in my daughter’s cap (pardon the expression) to have the footage.
I maneuvered the drone around the tall birch, being careful not to bump into any branches. That would cause the drone to fall to certain destruction from such height. Where the nest was though, offered a large opening between the branches and their leaves. It’s possible the owl had removed some foliage to accommodate it’s huge wingspan. For a bird that stood only a foot or so tall, the wings could spread almost eight feet, tip to tip. The owl regarded the drone with suspicion, but no apparent anxiety. It just sat there with an annoyed look on its mug. It’s face was mostly eyes, or gave that opinion. It consisted of two large circles looking not unlike a couple of pineapple rings side by side. A nasty beak protruding just below the union of the circles. In the center of the rings were eyes with that same clarity you see in human babies during their first few months.
The camera was giving a pretty good shot, but the owl was a small spot in a large frame, and my daughter asked if I could move in closer to get a tighter shot of the owl, and just as importantly, the nest and its construction and content. I moved my controls and inched the drone in closer. “More” said my daughter. I moved in tighter, watching the camera’s view on my tablet computer. I stopped looking at the drone itself and began to use the tablet to adjust position because that gave me the best perspective. We got some excellent video; I shot the nest from above, side and below, and then put my focus on the bird. I figured it might be getting tired of our voyeurism and would suddenly spread its wings and be gone, so I moved in closely for a good clear shot of the bird.
There was a sudden explosion of feathers and redness on the tablet monitor and then a dull thump as something white and ruined, splattered in red fell to the ground at our feet. The drone was wobbling and began to make loud beeping noises, the alarm of lost stability. It came down to a hard but survivable landing a few feet away. It was smeared with redness as well and sported a pair of damaged propellers. “oh, damn!” said my daughter in a stage whisper. “These things are protected.”
“Apparently not,” I replied, looking at the corpse. A number of white feathers were still in fluttering descent as we collected up our stuff and headed rapidly back down the path the way we came. “I bet we’ve got some great closeup footage of the bird.” I said, trying to comfort my little girl. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Maybe we can use this footage to get people to donate money to buy more of these quadcopters.” I said. “I mean, they really offer a great perspective on the wildlife.” My daughter made a noise I’ve never heard before, staring at me with wide eyes.
At the base of the path, where we’d parked the van, we bumped into a ranger in full regalia, Smokey the Bear hat and all. He smiled at us and asked if we enjoyed our hike. We nodded and he asked if we’d seen anything special.
“No.” we said in perfect unison.
Of course, not a word of this is true. Happy April Fools day!