Resting her talons on her caregiver’s glove, Athena the 10-year-old barn owl peeked out her one good eye at her spectators at Lake Cachuma. Several children and their parents and guardians were at Creepy Creatures, an event put together Saturday by the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area and nonprofit Neal Taylor Nature Center.
One of the many children who were in awe of Athena was Gianna de Sisto, who is the same age as the barn owl. When Gianna found out the barn owl’s name, she called out to her mom.
“Mom, her name’s Athena! That’s also a Greek goddess, and her symbol is an owl,” said Gianna. “She’s the goddess of wisdom.”
While she knew quite a bit about Athena the Greek goddess, Gianna also seemed to admire Athena the barn owl for her age and apparent calmness.
While talking about the barn owl, Gianna said with a smile, “I don’t mean to be rude, but wise and old.” Gianna may be hesitant to call Athena old, but she is not wrong. Barn owls typically do not live past four years in the wild, and Athena was a grandmother compared to others of her kind.
By Gianna’s side, her older sister Nina, 12, was snapping pictures of Athena, who regularly closed her eyelids. Unlike the shutter of Nina’s camera, Athena was in no hurry to open and close her eyes. While her little sister was smitten with the owl’s calmness and age, Nina was impressed by Athena’s perseverance.
“Even though she has a hardship, she can get through life,” said Nina about how Athena sees out of only one eye.
One way Athena gets through life without having both her eyes is by relying on her other senses. Her concave face captures sound waves, giving her an acute sense of hearing.
Another owl that was relying on her senses, perhaps even more so, was Puku, a 9-year-old Western screech owl who was completely blind. The little owl impressed one of the little ones of the de Sisto family: 8-year-old Luca.
“Puku, even though she’s blind, she can still hunt,” Luca said. With arms outstretched, he said how amazed he was by “how big the wingspan” of Puku was.
Sarah and Mike, the kids’ parents, were happy to see their four children (the youngest one Gisella, 6, was playing and exploring during the group interview) interact with nature. The family regularly visits Lake Cachuma.
“This is hands down way better than video games or a device,” said Sarah. “Nature, live animals, natural resources, getting up close with an animal.”
Sarah found out about Creepy Creatures on social media and informed her family. But, the family would have probably found out about the event even without social media.
“We always stop by at the Nature Center when we’re here,” Sarah said.
At the Nature Center, a must-meet tour guide is Barbara Gutmann, who has been volunteering for the Nature Center for almost 25 years and is currently the board president. During Creepy Creatures, Ms. Gutmann recruited wanderers of the Nature Center to show them some treasured artifacts there. One of them was a whale vertebrae, which was found not too far from the Center.
“You know what that means,” said Ms. Gutmann to a tour group. “All this,” she pointed around her, “was underwater at one point!”
Ms. Gutmann gave the tours dressed in a Halloween-themed outfit. It was, after all, a Halloween-themed event, and spiders, snakes and more joined Athena and Puku.
Those who wanted to learn more about nature (or just the world in general) were able to check out a book sale, where books were 50 cents each. Some carried one or two books home, and others carried almost 20 to meet the $10 minimum for credit cards. The next book sale out of the Nature Center will take place during Thanksgiving weekend.
For more information about the Nature Center and other programs the organization offers, visit https://www.clnaturecenter.org/