Hoo Goes There

A long-eared owl takes up residence in Central Park

A few minutes later, Jim Lewis, an advertising consultant, shows up. He likes the flyout because "it's something you can count on. It's like clockwork." Lewis has built his own routine around the owl: He gets off the bus after work and walks into the park, stopping to see who has come to witness the bird's exit. If there's a friend, perhaps they'll go out to dinner. "For some people, it's 80 percent owl, 20 percent people," he says. "For me, it's 60 percent people, 40 percent owl."

The last observer is Lee Stinchcomb, who comes equipped with heating packets to warm her hands. "I'm a little bit nuts about it," she says. "You do become compulsive." Stinchcomb, like Kennedy, is a true devotee. She's seen the owl perched on a playground jungle gym and silhouetted against the full moon. She even produced a woodcut of the owl on a limb, against a backdrop of stars, and sent it out as a Christmas card.

This evening, Lewis hasn't even brought binoculars. He rocks back and forth on his feet, trying to keep warm. Webber slips off the frigid boulder, then seems to lose the silhouette. Only Stinchcomb keeps it in view. "It's looking south," she says. A few moments later: "It's stretching." And finally: "Ah!" A silent explosion of movement, almost too quick for the eye to take in, a nanosecond's glimpse of a dark, winged form hurtling through the air.

"Did you see it?" Stinchcomb asks.

"I caught a flash of white," Webber says.

"That's it!" Stinchcomb says happily. "You got a good one." Then the tiny crowd, like the owl, vanishes into the night.

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