I saw my first Long-eared Owl in March 2016, during a California Young Birders Club field trip. It was sitting in a tamarisk tree, and the small crowd pointing and shouting at its tree was beginning to irritate it. It briefly squinted with one eye, and shifted its talons ever so slightly. Yet one or two people, failing to take social cues from both the owl and a few people telling them to back off, moved closer to take photos. The scene was thoroughly uninspiring.
Five months later, I had an idea born from summer boredom. It was a pretty simple one. I wanted to create a publication to show the writing, art, and other talents of young birders. There was nothing complicated about it, frankly, with the internet providing an easy method of distribution. The name? Wrong-eared Owl (cue the dramatic music that would play if Wrong-eared Owl was actually well-known).
Now, the beginning anecdote has nothing to do with my newsletter. It only introduces California Young Birders Club (a self-promotion) and reinforces the point that I find Long-eared Owls uninspiring; the name choice for Wrong-eared Owl was no way influenced by the actual bird. The name Wrong-eared Owl comes from a sound identification challenge, back in 2014, during a Western Field Ornithologists conference. There were competing teams. One of the names was “Wrong-eared Owl,” which I thought was clever. That was not my team. I have a scarce of who came up with the name, maybe Kimball Garrett. For a long time I debated whether adapting the name would be a case of egregious plagiarism. A recollection of third grade, when I copied a water-saving slogan, “Saving water makes cents!” for a school project weighed on my conscience. Finally, I decided that Wrong-eared Owl was a better name than “The Pelican” “The Gnatcatcher,” “The Booby,” or whatever name everyone else would probably vote on. So my newsletter became “Wrong-eared Owl.”
Names are important. National Geographic and Audubon are household names, Wrong-eared Owl is not. But if Wrong-eared Owl were to ever be a household name, it would be a good one, in my opinion. “Honey, the newest issue of Wrong-eared Owl just came in!” has a satisfying ring to it. So once I was satisfied with the name, there was a furious effort for maybe a month, in which I concealed the idea from nearly everyone, including my parents. I wanted it to be a secret. I knew the project was going to a big one, and the encouragement you receive for ambitious projects is usually half hearted and sometimes discouraging. It is better to unleash the final project and remove all the doubt from everyone’s mind at once. “Just wait til August 1st!” I repeated to everyone. “I have a surprise!” I appointed my copy editor, Cayenne Sweeney, in the cover of darkness. Or, to state it less dramatically, without anyone else in the club knowing.
This is where the mildly interesting parts stop. It took me a long time to begin writing this piece. It has been requested by a few people. Maybe they find Wrong-eared Owl impressive, but I didn’t know how to write about it and not have a boring piece that noone wants to read. Most of the processes of content editing and designing just involve me sitting in front of a computer for hours, opening blank documents over and over again, writing down dozens of ideas recklessly, and emailing people asking for interviews or samples of articles. Designing the newsletter is even worse. I use Adobe inDesign, and each part of the newsletter must be preened to satisfaction. You can always tell when I am designing the newsletter because I will sit down in a comfortable chair, glue my eyes to the screen with two songs on repeat, eating whatever my mom sets down on a plate beside me. And I will eat anything. It’s a great way to get me to eat my vegetables.
The most interesting part about the Wrong-eared Owl is the actual thing. It's the product of about a week of highly intense work. I usually begin prepping for an issue a month before I want it to come out. A month is usually more than enough time. One thing you learn while working on a publication by teens, however, is that other teenagers are just as lazy as you. They will procrastinate, far past the deadline. As frustrating as it is, I have a sinking suspicion that adults are no better, anyway. And someone needs to give young birders a voice. Maybe someday, being featured in Wrong-eared Owl would be something to be proud of. For now, I'm only on my second issue, and it was a week ago that I raged at Adobe for having charged me for the past three months even though I had only signed up for one. I have a long ways to go, and that's okay. It's the Wrong-eared Owl, not the Right-eared Owl.