Cape May, NJ - For over 20 years, the fall arrival of Katy Duffy and Patrick Matheny in Cape May has meant the start of the owl migration season.
Every October, the "Owl Pals" have traveled 2,000+ miles from Yellowstone, Wyoming, to Cape May to spend their vacation banding owls and teaching people about these elusive and wonderful birds.
But this year Patrick will not be with us.
Patrick passed in early August, after a long illness. He was 56. With his passing, many of us here in Cape May have lost a friend.
Originally from California, Patrick was always wisecracking and laughing, when he wasn't busy maintaining equipment or talking about owls.
He could build things. He put that talent to work after marrying Katy Duffy in Cape May Point State Park and getting involved in the owl project in 1985.
Each fall, Patrick and Katy's owl banding operation was one of the largest in North America.
They would spend hours setting up nets to catch owls, then tend the nets all night, banding owls and recording data.
Over the years, I spent many a night walking through the Cape May Meadows in pitch blackness with Patrick and Katy, looking to see if an owl had flown into one of their nets.
Patrick always made me and many others feel welcome, letting us hold Saw-whet or a Long-eared Owls, then letting us release them back to the wild.
What a wonderful feeling it was to have a tiny owl in your hands and then watch it disappear magically into the night.
Many birders and Cape May residents never knew Patrick's last name.
They just knew Katy-and-Patrick, or the owl people, were back again.
While Katy, a Yellowstone National Park naturalist, would give the talks, Patrick was the man in the shadows, walking the nets and keeping the equipment working.
It was a perfect team.
They became as much a part of the fall in Cape May as the migrating birds.
This October, when the sawhets start to move, I know, without thinking, I'll be looking for Katy and Patrick again, just I have every fall for the last 20 years.
Patrick, we will miss you. Katy, our hearts go out to you.
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