Running Commentary 1/22/2024
6 min read

Running Commentary 1/22/2024

Garlic Bites, Northern Hawk-owl


It's been incredibly chilly where I live lately. I haven't been able to get out birding much in the harsh weather. I have had tree sparrows coming by my window, which has been nice.



Garlic Bites

This recipe has its origins in America's Test Kitchen's Bread: Illustrated's recipe for garlic knots, and in the breadsticks at a local pizza place. Bread Illustrated suggested the bold move of mixing all the garlic from making the garlic butter in with the dough, which, who knows, might be good, but it's not what I was looking for in garlic knots. And, honestly, if I'm making them I'm not gonna bother tying knots. So here's my, rather modified, recipe for garlic bites. They were so tasty I didn't even get a picture; they look like bits of bread soaked in butter.


Bread Bites:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 TBSP butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil

Toss in:

  • 9 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 TBSP + 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 tsp water
  • 8 TBSP butter
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tsp fresh herbs, chopped (Use oregano, basil, or parsley, according to taste 


Bread Bites

    1. Mix flour, yeast, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer.
    2. Whisk together water, oil, and melted butter
    3. While using a dough hook on low speed, add the wet mixture slowly and mix until a cohesive dough forms and all dry flour is incorporated. Increase speed to medium-low and knead for 8 minutes.
    4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured counter and hand-knead to form a smooth, round ball.
    5. Place the dough in a large container, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise for 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.
    6. Once raised, punch the dough down and form it into a 6"x12" rectangle.
    7. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into roughly 1"x3" pieces.
    8. Arrange on a baking sheet, cover loosely, and allow to raise for another hour.
    9. While the dough raises, prepare the garlic butter and preheat the oven to 500° F.
    10. Bake the bread for 8 minutes
    11. Immediately out of the oven, toss the bread in a large bowl with garlic butter, 3 TBSP olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and herbs.
    12. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes, then serve digging bread out from the bottom first.

Garlic Butter

    1. In a small pan, cook garlic in 1 TBSP olive oil and water, until fragrant and lightly browned.
    2. Add butter, cut into small chunks, and melt in with garlic, stirring thoroughly.

Bird of the Week

It is always disagreeable to an author to come forward when he has little of importance to communicate to the reader, and on no occasion have I felt this more keenly than on the present, when introducing to your notice an Owl, of which the habits, although unknown to me, must be highly interesting... 1

So opened J. J. Audubon in his own account to accompany his own illustration of this week's bird, the Northern Hawk-owl. In the intervening centuries between then and now, the challenge to write a few paragraphs about this bird has not lessened, I'm afraid.

Found in northern latitudes just below the Arctic circle, all the way around the world, the northern hawk-owl is a unique owl, the only member of its genus. It is named for its resemblance to a hawk, what with its long tail and diurnal habits. That's right, this is no night owl. Like its neighbors the snowy owl and the short-eared owl, the hawk-owl hunts in daylight, something in long supply during the summer months in the far north. During the winter, it wanders south, not really migrating as such, but seeking food that becomes unavailable as the tundra freezes over.

And that's about it. That's what's known about hawk-owls. Their nesting has not been well-studied, and their population is difficult to count with any accuracy; most knowledge about them is anecdotal, rather than systematic. There's just not much I can write about it. 2,3 (Audubon spent most of the rest of his space explaining where to go to shoot them, but shooting owls isn't generally allowed anymore.)

The northern hawk-0wl, for how little it's been studied, is a prized sighting among birders, especially in the northern U.S. were it occasionally arrives in the winter. It's striking appearance and relative comfort around people make it a relatively easy spot if it's around, while its rarity makes it an impressive boast. The one news story I could find is a bit of a sad one: a Washington state property owner allegedly shot a hawk-owl that was drawing unwanted photographers.4 Such assassinations are rare but such invasions by birders are unfortunately less so, so let me take the space I have left to encourage you all that birding does not excuse trespassing. Do what you will in public parks, nature reserves, and roadsides, but otherwise it's probably best that a bird you can't get to doesn't get gotten to.

Linnaeus first named the northern hawk-owl Strix ulula, or the "howling owl", though having heard recordings, I might have gone with "yodeling owl".5 Since then, the bird has been reclassified to the monotypic genus Surnia, by M. J. C. Savigny, a French scientist who also studied the nature of Egypt on behalf of Napoleon. That name comes from "surnion", a name for an unknown owl in an obscure Latin text.6 The term "northern" is to differentiate this from the Australasian boobooks of the genus Ninox, which are sometimes also called hawk-owls.

  1. Audubon, John James. “Hawk Owl,” The Birds of America
  2. Duncan, Patricia A. (April 3, 2013) “Status Report on the Northern Hawk Owl, Surnia Ulula." CW66-901/1992E-PDF. Government of Canada Publications
  3. BirdLife International (BirdLife International). “IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Surnia Ulula.” IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, August 13, 2021.
  4. Cudmore, Becca. “A Rare Owl Turned up Dead—Are Birders to Blame?” Audubon, February 21, 2023.
  5. Peyton, Leonard J. “ML49544 - Northern Hawk Owl (American)." Macaulay Library. April 29, 1970.
  6. Jobling, J. A. (editor). The Key to Scientific Names in Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman et al. editors), Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Ithaca.

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