Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Tale Of Three Females and Charles

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Charles has a new mate!  Her name is Olivia and she has been with Charles since early October and they first mated on December 7!  Here she is on November 18. What a beauty!

I will be discussing this great turn of events and another huge owl-related milestone at 12:00pm CST tomorrow, Wednesday, December 30 on St. Louis on the Air on St. Louis Public Radio, KWMU 90.7FM.  If you are not in the St. Louis area, you can listen live on the web here.  Thanks go out to KWMU and the St. Louis on the Air team for having me back on to discuss the owls and my work with them!

UPDATED: Radio appearance and corresponding story now online here.  Thank you, KWMU and St. Louis on the Air, I had great time once again!

Before I go into what I hope will be a fun and fascinating post about what Charles has been up to in the last few months, I must take a moment to thank all of you who via conversations, e-mails, and other means took the time to express your kind condolences about the loss of Sarah.  The outpouring of grief, compassion and kindness continues to warm my heart and demonstrate the impact these owls have on so many people.  I feel Sarah's loss daily but her passing is softened by the kindness of her many admirers. Thank you.

This fall's owl doings amazed, intrigued, challenged, delighted and occasionally frustrated me but I would not change it.  I expected the fall to be like this and it exceeded my expectations.  I find myself often feeling like I am back in 2005-2006, my first year observing these owls, as so many new things occurred and new wrinkles and aspects of behavior witnessed.  My knowledge base of observation and research helps but only so much as it is a whole new set of circumstances.

I wondered when the owlets would disperse and if an adult female would be seen and court with Charles only after dispersal took place.  I soon had my answer.  An adult female Great Horned Owl arrived on September 1. Completely amazing to see this!  Large but not quite as large as Sarah, her darker coloration and massive talons still reminded me of Sarah.

She landed in The Jungle Gym Tree Near The Overlook Hotel Tree only a short distance from Grace; the older owlet. Stunned to see another female, what happened next took things to another level. Grace, who had just made a predatory attempt and had not vocalized before this female made her presence known, now began to make begging cheeps towards this female.  Did Grace think this female that resembled her mother was in fact Sarah?  This thought was mournful and heart-tugging. Almost immediately a more tactical possibility came to mind. Was Grace's begging the legendary opportunism of Great Horned Owls coming into play and Grace seeing if she could cadge a free lunch?  Either way the begging fascinated.

The shorter, softer, higher and numerous notes in her hoot confirmed this new adult's sex as female.  As with a human voice, the hoot of each Great Horned Owls is unique.  The tonality of this owl's hoot was unusual as it had a liquid/aquatic edge to it as is she was hooting while blowing bubbles or gargling.  Whether in the wild or via video clips, I have never heard a hoot like this. Everyone who heard her hoot has said the same thing.

This tree was regularly used by Sarah,, however this female landed in a section of the tree not used regularly by Sarah but it was still odd to see a different female in this tree.  Grace's begging continued to such a point that she flew and landed right next to the female, who promptly flew away from the hungry owlet. This behavior was quite like Sarah and although I had made the call that Sarah was gone, part of me kept a small window open that this might be her.  Overall though, I knew it was a different and new female.  One aspect of her behavior, which struck immediately was how uncertain she was in her movements and overall posture.  Not for the first time, I wondered if she was a young adult, just under or over a year old.

Charles was not found that night.  Perhaps he carefully observed this new female from a hidden vantage point.   I had an owl talk the next night but thankfully my friend and all-star owl mentee, Brenda Hente, was in the park.  She did not see Charles but saw both owlets and had her first sighting of the new female. I could not wait to return the following day and observe the owls.

After searching without success a wide area on my own, I ran into Brenda and we agreed to split up to cover even more territory.  We eventually saw two owls but by then it was quite dark and neither owl vocalized.  Despite this lack of information from what we did observe of them we decided it was either both owlets or one owlet and the new female. While we did not see Charles that night, we were glad to hear him hoot several times.  Knowing the distinctive hoots of the owls is a huge asset when observing and documenting them.

The next night, September 4, was a big night. It got off to a great start with an early and close view of the new female near The Permanent Puddle, her large talons in clearly evident.

I soon found Grace in the Jungle Gym Tree Near The Overlook Hotel Tree and the new female moved to this tree before going to The Jungle Gym Tree itself. Again Grace begged at her while the female hooted from this jungle gym tree's namesake location.  By now I was joined by Brenda and my girlfriend Wendy Schlegel. What happened next took things to the next level and it was quite correct to have these incredibly important owl folks with me.

We began to hear Charles hooting from the 2010 OP (Observation Post) Trees.  The new female soon flew towards him and they began to duet for the first time!  

This was my first time seeing courtship behavior between two Great Horned Owls and more specifically, seeing Charles court for the first time.  Beyond exciting to see Charles back in the ring! I knew that it was too early to call them a couple but the excitement of seeing this behavior could not be denied. They had a solid duet and then went their separate ways. 

With Sarah's passing Charles was more vocal in the late summer/early fall than he usually would be. This period of time is when the adults begin to vocalize more but this was a noticeable increase from years prior.  I think this served two functions. One: without Sarah to help him declare and defend their territory with hooting, he had to make up the difference.  Two: hooting solo with no female to duet with may have helped him declare his status as a single and territory holding male.  More on this point later.

The next several days passed with great interest and no lack of variety. Sometimes I saw Charles, Grace, Harold and the new female and on other days, just one or two of them.  While leading an owl prowl on September 11 I saw the best, closest and most intense duets so far between Charles and the new female.  Charles was on the right and the new female on the left.

Another good duet took place on September 14 but still I refrained from calling them a couple or the new female, the new mate of Charles.  I tend to err on the side of conservatism when it comes to making such calls.  That said, my track record is sufficiently robust to defend this pattern.

Throughout this time, one of the challenges continued to be finding the owls each night.  One of the joys of the late summer-early fall period is having so many owls to observe and conversely it is one of the biggest challenges as well. This challenge was markedly increased with significant variations and inconsistencies in perch/roost-site usage.  Patterns would emerge only to fall apart and then re-emerge. Still the challenges, as always, were worth the candle especially when rewarded like a sight like this of Charles hooting on September 20 silhouetted with pink clouds.

September 21 was a noteworthy evening in several respects as it was the first part of a collaborative project between the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Forest Park Owls.  I led two Zoo personnel, Rachel Killeen and Whitney Collins, on an owl prowl/filming expedition to obtain footage for an upcoming St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert with whom St. Louis Zoo was collaborating.  This would have been sufficiently cool but our evening began by finding a third adult owl even before we found Charles and the new female.  This owl was near the two of them but I never observed it vocalize even when a hearty duet started between the other two. It may have been another adult female trying to court with Charles or an owlet dispersing from another territory or an intruding adult male trying to obtain a territory.  This well-concealed owl's silence and lack of movement made it appear to say, "Nobody here but us owls."

Our time in the park concluded with Charles and the new female meeting to duet in The Jungle Gym Tree By The Overlook Hotel Tree before heading off yet again.

Rachel and Whitney were able to film this same moment and thanks to discussions with them and their supervisor, Kim Hoorman, I was able to see their footage while the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performed for a large audience on a Sunday afternoon in Powell Hall. The performance was preceded by several educational displays including an owl table hosted by your humble servant. All of this along with seeing the words, "Thank you to Mark Glenshaw and Forest Park Owls" on a large projection screen behind the orchestra made for one of my owl outreach highlights of the year and in general.  In addition, the footage was used for several subsequent concerts attended by thousands of local school children. 

An owl prowl on September 22 yielded another solid duet between the new female and Charles but I had no idea how quickly things could change.  The following night I had to work much later than usual and I stopped by the park well after sunset, hopeful but doubtful I would see much owl activity. As I parked my car, I saw Charles perched thirty-forty yards ahead of me, which was a jolly nice coincidence.  Grateful for my lucky find I got out and observed him in this large Cottonwood.  He flew south-southeast up a hill and as I walked quickly to try and catch up with him, I heard him hoot followed quickly by a female hooting.  It was a different female!  This now newer female had a much more conventional female hoot; quite reminiscent of Sarah's in all respects.  She and Charles began to duet in a glade of trees just opposite the 2010 Nest Tree. 

This brief but intense duet concluded with Charles flying off while hooting in short, sharp notes known in the literature (thanks to the world's leading expert on GHOW vocalizations and a huge owl advocate and expert, Karla Bloem) as staccato hooting,

I had no doubt that this was a different female but it was good to get supporting feedback on the above videos from Wendy, Brenda other owl friends/fanatics/mentees.   Was this second female the third owl seen, but not heard on September 21 or another individual altogether? I missed the next night due to an owl talk, my fifth one for the Maplewood Public Library (thank you, MPL for hosting so many of my talks!) but Brenda was in the park and reported a brief duet with the now newer or second female.   The next few nights yielded no additional sightings of this female or the first one.  Thoughts, theories and the like whirled around as I tried to remember to just keep observing and documenting as that would provide the best evidence and possible answers.  

During this time is when the owlets dispersed. As they were close in age I was reasonably confident that Grace and Harold would disperse close together.  That said, I think they dispersed later than they otherwise would have due to Sarah's death.  Without both parent owls duetting, refusing to feed the owlets and, if necessary, chasing the owlets away from the parents' territory, Grace and Harold remained in their natal territory.  Dispersal is always a bittersweet time in the owls' breeding cycle. It is vastly important that dispersal takes place both to ensure the health of the population of prey in the parents' territory and to keep the gene pool deep and wide.  Still though one cannot help but miss the owlets and their antics that accompanies their slow maturation.  The fact that Grace and Harold were the last owlets that Sarah ever had made this time more poignant than usual. 

September 29 found Charles again solo but a memorable night was made when it began to rain. When the rain arrived, Charles was perched in his former favorite conifer, one of The Quartet Conifers.  This tree and another of this foursome died in the last few years and while sad to see formerly regular perch/roost sites fade away, I have come to learn that perch/roost sites (and nest sites) come and go.  Usually when it rains as the owls are getting active, they tend to stoically endure the precipitation but not tonight.  For only the second time in over nine-and-half years of watching these owls, I saw Charles use the rain and take a shower in rather dramatic fashion. See for yourself!

When discussing the owls and my work with them, be it in a formal talk or with a passerby in the park or a colleague, I try to emphasize that one of the reasons that myself and others return to see the owls so frequently is that, every night is different and you will never know what you will see. This remarkable and beautiful bathing behavior by Charles in the drenching (yes, I was drenched too) rain I think is a stellar example of this aspect of the owls' allure.

The following night proved noteworthy as well. I found the newer female early on and after walking right past him him at least once, I saw Charles. The two owls were close together and the female began to hoot regularly.  (Kindly forgive the blurry videos)

Despite his proximity to this female, Charles did not respond. He watched her carefully but nothing more. She landed closer to him and hooted at a greater pace but still he did not respond.  Charles flew off a short distance east before blasting far off south.  I decided to follow him and I reacquired him in The Hilly Wooded Area, where upon he began to hoot for the first time that night.  I did not hear the newer female respond to him. Charles then blasted off flying east. Seconds after his eastward flight, which immediately took him over a tract of nearby woods occupied by a pair of Barred Owls, a large owl flew out of these woods going north-northwest.  I tried to find this owl but, to the best of my knowledge, was not successful.  I then heard the newer female calling from the Barred Owls' tract of woods and I found her there.  I watched her until I did the classic take your eyes off the owl for three to five seconds and you look up and the owl is gone. I looked around several areas but did not find Charles, the newer female or the third mystery owl. Was the latter owl a Barred Owl or another Great Horned Owl and if so, was it another female, a dispersing owlet, etc.  I have no idea but I remain fascinated by the possible permutations.  Subsequent days of observing Charles solo told me that the newer/second female was gone.  

While I believe my conservative approach about waiting to make the call about a variety of developments is the right way to proceed, my observation and documentation of the new females did not exist in a bubble.  While I did not update my blog during the last few months, sadly not the first or last time this occurred, I had numerous discussions with many people about these new females, their courtship with Charles and what might or might not come to pass with them.  It is heartening to recall the enthusiasm and vigor of these discussions, which again demonstrates the depth and breadth of the owls' impact on people.  

One topic that came up immediately as the first female made her appearance was what to call her and then the second female.  My friend and colleague, Julie Portman, both in jest and in seriousness stated matter of factly, that the first female should be named Julia as the name is obviously a superior one.  Julie referred to this owl as Julia demonstrating her human resolve and good-natured kidding.  Without too much contemplation my response to the many and kind name questions and suggestions is that I would not name any female until I saw her and Charles mate thus making them a couple and her his new mate.  Thankfully, people understood my, for lack of a better word, policy and approach.

Of the many challenges stemming from Sarah's death was how to talk about it when I giving talks on the owls.  I decided to do so after I posted about her passing, that way it was "officially" out in the public sphere.  From there, I decided to give my talks in the usual fashion but then just before the very end, tell my audiences that she died, how I saw that unfold and the two important silver linings of her passing (the owlets at the very cusp of independence and never seeing courtship behavior).  Even with this plan and the appropriate slides in place, it was tough each and every time to bring  up and discuss this sad turn of events.  The audience responses to Sarah's death are remarkable.  In front of a packed house at the Daniel Boone branch of St. Louis County Library I heard gasps of shock when I turned to her passing.  A kind woman attending my talk at the Festus Public Library came up to me insisting that I get a hug while plainly but endearingly saying, "I cried when you talked about Sarah."  With a cracking voice and tear in eye during this portion of this particular talk was the nearest I came to becoming emotionally overwhelmed in the moment.  

On a lighter but hopefully no less interesting note, one of the more curious aspects of Sarah's passing and Charles' subsequent courtships has been the questions people ask about these developments and how the questions are delivered.  For the most part the questions are solid, fact-gathering questions without any other agenda than obtaining information and understanding.    On the other hand, many questions are asked with people layering the question with their baggage, biases and the like especially when it comes to romantic/reproductive relationships.  For example, quite early on a woman asked me in all seriousness and with an abundance of vehemence, "Do you think Charles has betrayed Sarah?"  I was literally speechless for a few seconds after that one.  During the Q&A period of a talk, a lady asked me a long question and while I cannot remember her exact words, it was so baggage laden that I could not help being a smart-ass. I started my reply by saying, "Well enough about you and your boyfriend..."  She blushed crimson but to my credit, I did answer her question in full.  Many women and men upon hearing about Charles and the courting say things like "Wow-he doesn't waste any time."  or "Already playing the field, eh?"  To these and all similar comments and questions I try to first remind people about the nature of nature by paraphrasing the character, Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfus, in the film Jaws by saying,  "All he does is eat, fly, hoot and make little owls."  

Being mindful of this and keeping an open mind as to the possibilities and permutations is vital but not without its challenges.  We all want a nice clear-cut narrative with easy answers to challenging questions but it is best to keep the jump to conclusions mat in its box.  With this in mind, why did the courtship fail with the new female and the newer female?  I do not know and the literature, while describing courtship behavior in detail, does not give much insight on exactly how a mate is chosen.  From what I have read and now observed I think it is a two-way street, it takes two to tango scenario. In this case, Charles must demonstrate that he has a territory and that it is a good one as well as his fitness, in general, so that a female will decide to invest her time, effort and genes to mate and nest with him.  From his perspective, a female has to show that she has the ability to successfully mate, nest, defend and raise young so that his reproductive efforts and massive food provision responsibilities will be worthwhile.  The first or new female seemed clumsy and uncertain of herself perhaps demonstrating a young age and subsequent lack of poise and polish that did not click for Charles.  The second or newer female courted well initially with Charles but the courtship stopped so quickly.  I am still fascinated by the disparity in the time that the two females were around; the first for three weeks and and the second for a matter of days.  I would love to know what accounted for this.

Speaking of the literature, mate replacement is a frequently observed phenomenon and one that often occurs quite quickly after the death of a mate.  That said, the literature is quick to say that it is not understood how mate replacement takes place.  One of the fun and beneficial things about doing intensive naturalist work with a particular species for a long time is that you begin develop your own thoughts and ideas on such poorly understood matters.  Even before Sarah's death, I considered how mate replacement might take place. To begin with in all owl species there is a significant pool of single, un-mated owls.  These owls are called floaters and while we have learned more about floaters and how they live and interact with mated pairs there is still much to learn.  With this in mind, I think that in the case of a dead male, the male floaters are listening for the hoot of a male owl in a potential territory.  Not hearing the male hoot they investigate the territory and find the surviving female still in the territory.   This indicates that the territory is available, it has a female on it and now courtship can take place.  If the courtship is successful the new male has a mate and a territory.  

In our case, with the female gone and the male still on the territory, I think the female floaters heard Charles hooting but having not heard a female reply the floaters knew that he was a single male with a territory.  I have likened this process to the following joke I heard the late, great Robin Williams tell while being interviewed by David Frost.  There's a woman living in Miami Beach and she's been in this one neighborhood for years and years. She knows everyone and everything there. One morning she sees a new man there so she says to him, "Oh, you're new here."  The man replies, "Yup, I just moved in a few days ago."  The woman has a quick follow-up question, "Really, where did you move from?" The man shifts his feet and says, "Well, it's embarrassing to say this but I just got out of prison."   Taken aback the woman still pursues her line of questioning by asking, "Really, what did you do?" Even further mortified the man says, "Well I hate to admit it but I... murdered my wife."  The woman pauses but does not move her eyes from him before she smiles, touches his arm and asks him, "So, you're single?"

In my post about Sarah's passing and in talks and discussions over the last few months, I have continuously put out there that Charles might be on the older side of the equation and having not courted for many years, may not have the stuff to play the courtship game successfully.  In recent talks I have described this in terms of human courtship by saying that "Hey, baby-what's your sign?" may have been a successful opening line in 1977 but less so in subsequent decades.  

With the departure of the second, newer female I wondered what would happen next.  With summer ended and the owlets dispersed Charles hooting became a daily and more pronounced behavior.  I continued to observe and document and as if often the case, the work paid off handsomely. 

October 7th was a mild and sunny autumn day and I arrived at Charles' territory at my typical time; an hour or so before sunset.  I was near The Quartet Conifers when I heard an owl hoot.  It was not Charles, that much was clear, but I was not sure what kind of owl it was.  I heard it again, now louder and I thought, "The length and number of notes sounds like a female Great Horned Owl but the tonality sounds like a Barred Owl."  Hearing it a third time gave this same impression and no clearer identification.  On a few occasions I have seen the neighboring Barred Owls in the Great Horned Owls' territory but I had only once heard them call from there.  What was clear was where the hoot was originating, in the general vicinity of The Training Area; part of Charles' territory which includes several important trees used by the owls including The Eastern Tree, The Overlook Hotel Tree, The Rain Tree and The 08-09 Salon Trees.

As I headed down to The Training Area I felt more certain that it was a female Great Horned Owl and not a Barred Owl.  The hooting became louder and the position of the owl more distinct. There in The 08-09 Salon Trees was a new female Great Horned Owl!  

I knew I could get a better angle on her and I moved accordingly and could see her close from her left side.  She continued to hoot and her hoot pace quickened. 

Secure in the knowledge that this was a female Great Horned Owl and now the newest or third female. I observed her hoot more closely.  I noticed that her first several notes were especially close together but her last two notes were quite pronounced and long.  Her tonality kept striking me as a mix of female Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl.  

She continued to hoot but I was not hearing or seeing Charles yet.  This latest female then flew east out  of The Wooded Area and across a nearby road.  I heard some Northern Cardinal calling near The Eastern Tree and The PX Tree.  Searching there did not pay off but I gratefully heard Charles hooting not too far away in The Middle Tree or its neighbor; The 08-12 Nest Tree.  I headed that way and found him in the latter spot.  Charles had not perched in either of these trees for several weeks now so to find him here again led me to shake my head at his recent variations in perch/roost usage. He flew to The Middle Tree and then to The Nest Tree (formerly known as The 06/09/11/13/14/15 Nest Tree, nesting there 6 out of 10 times more than qualified this tree for its more efficient name).  I could not tell for certain but he may have landed in The Nest Hollow.  A short walk confirmed that he had landed in this hollow and was now perching at the ledge while hooting, his hoots often proceeded by guttural clucking/gulping sound.

The female began to respond in the distance.  I was amazed to see Charles in this hollow for a couple of reasons: 1) He had not been in this hollow for months now after Grace and Harold fledged from it in the spring  2) With the other two females I had not seen him hoot near any previously used nest sites and here he was hooting from his and Sarah's most fruitful and recent nest spot on the first night with this female.  Was this indicative a new level of courtship with this female?

Courtship went up another notch as this female moved closer to Charles flying to and landing in The First of The Three Trees putting her about twenty meters from Charles.  Right away I wondered if Charles was luring her in not only with his hoots but by his position in a former nest spot; one that might be used again.  I was so excited to see the female come closer to Charles that I took my eyes off him and lost sight of him.  He continued to hoot and I knew he was nearby possibly down deeper in the hollow.  The female flew past The Nest Tree and they continued to duet. I finally concluded that once the female arrived in First of Three that Charles turned around and went deeper into the hollow.  While puzzling I had seen him engage in this seemingly contradictory, playing hard to get behavior with Sarah on many occasions.  I still do not understand this behavior but having precedent is always helpful.  

My friend and owl mentee, Rusty Wandell, arrived and I quickly caught him up on what had happened so far.  Just then the courtship continued to ramp up as the female now flew over to The Nest Tree and landed on top of The Nest Hollow a few feet from Charles!  Simply amazing! 

After several minutes of close quarter duetting, Charles flew out of the hollow going east/southeast.  She moved over to The Middle Tree and then The 08/12 Nest Tree.  She stayed in this last tree for some time and we pointed her out to several park visitors.  

We began to hear Charles calling from the northeast about a hundred meters away.  The female blasted off in his direction and we followed her.  Rusty and I reacquired her and Charles and they resumed their duet with a few memorable flights.  We decided to leave them to their courtship and we headed back to our cars shaking our heads with delight at what we had witnessed.  

The next several nights continued with some of the patterns from this first night: Charles flying into The Nest Hollow to hoot often proceeded with guttural/clucking notes, then luring the female into close proximity to duet, Charles disappearing into the hollow and duetting continuing in The Arena and other nearby spots.  October 10 provided some memorable sights as she flew to The Second of Three Trees and I was able to photograph her from several angles and get a good luck at this beautiful female.  

I noticed early on that while darker than Charles she was not as dark as the first female or Sarah.  More striking was her smaller size.  In species of owls and most birds of prey, females are larger than males. This phenomenon is known as reverse sexual dimorphism.  At the same time, within any species of animal you have smaller to larger individuals.  Charles is a very large male Great Horned Owl, 20-22 inches tall. Sarah was a huge female, 22-25 inches tall.  This new female looked about the same size as Charles.  It took me a while to see them close together but when I did it proved my initial impression to be correct.  This female is about the same size as Charles and she might be ever so slightly smaller.  To me this underscores how big Charles is for a male and how massive a female Sarah was. 

Variations in duetting and perch sites began to grow over the subsequent days with a big new turn taking place on October 14.  I was with Brenda and we found Charles on the western edge of The Wooded Area, a spot he had rarely used this summer and fall, in marked contrast to prior years.  We began to hear the third female from near The North-South Path but we could not see her.  Eventually Brenda's sharp eyes and ears led her to find the female in an incredibly well-hidden spot.  The below photo is one of the "best" I was able to get of her that night.  A hive of leaves and branches all but completely obscured this massive but well-camouflaged bird. 

She used this spot for the next few days and I found Charles in an unusual spot near The Rain Tree. Now here is where things began to get interesting and not for the last time either.  Charles began to use her well-hidden spot on some days and other days she was in it.  When Charles used it, she sometimes used the spot near The Rain Tree and other times was in The 08-09 Salon Trees or elsewhere in that general vicinity.  Among the many things I would love to know was this trade off of perch spots done easily and politely in a "No, after you" manner or with competition or even contention. I often tell people how perch spots vary seasonally and some spots are used over and over again while other spots come and go.  This well hidden spot of the female's, now regularly used by Charles was a completely unprecedented spot, regardless of season.  Thankfully with time and effort, I was able to find angles where I could look for one of the owls in this spot and even film and photograph them there.  With more time and application, I could even look sometimes see an owl perched there in the morning as I drove to work.

Here is Charles in this perch on October 17.

Here is the third, newer female on the same perch on October 26.

As the fall progressed her perch sites began varying making her harder to find.  I found her in places as varied as the western side of The Wooded Area,  The Rain Tree, The Overlook Hotel Tree, The Great Northern and more.  Another unusual challenge in recent years arose when I had several nights of not finding her or Charles.  I had two nights in a row like that and four overall from October 31-December 22.  As my ESL (Experience, Skill and Luck) has grown I will usually go many months and often years between nights of not finding any of the owls.  Not seeing them so often this fall was especially odd as they are quite vocal at this time of year as they declare their territory and court or maintain their pair bond. 

Speaking of vocalizing, there were some interesting variations in their duets.  Their early duets occurred in and around The Nest Hollow for the first few weeks but began to vary in location, some typical others less so.  I noticed quickly that she was quick to respond to him on most nights when he began to call.  Also, they switch off hooting first much more than Charles did with Sarah.  Charles still hoots first most of the time but I have had several nights where the first hooter is Charles, then her, then back to Charles and so forth.  

On November 7 she had been there for a month, a week longer than the new or first female.  I was thrilled that she was still with Charles but I still not making the call that she was his new mate and related to that, I had not named her.  The more time she was there and the more they duetted, the happier and more hopeful I became but I maintained this conservative approach.  I often joked that the invitations had not been sent yet and the owls were not registered anywhere.  

A moment the following night, November 8, displayed another possible good step forward towards couplehood. I was leading the monthly, public owl and we had heard and seen both owls.  I went to get a closer look and then have the prowlees join me when all of sudden I saw a third Great Horned Owl flying fast over the tops of the trees of The Wooded Area pursued equally fast by Charles and the third female.  They were chasing this intruder out of the territory!  I saw Charles and Sarah do such territorial defenses several times over the years but they were a mated pair.  Perhaps the third female was demonstrating her commitment to and investment with Charles and the territory.  While this was fascinating to see, we did not find the owls after their blazing fast flights making it an intense but brief owl prowl. 

In November Charles also began to use a regular fall perch spot, Sarah's Autumnal Perch.  Sarah began to use this spot in the fall of 2009 and in recent years Charles has used this spot a great deal in the late fall.  The tree retains its leaves for a long time and offers great concealment.  One night in October I saw the third female in this tree but not in the usual spot.  I was thrilled to see her in the usual spot on November 20 and even more thrilled when I saw them perched together there on November 23 (Third female on the left, Charles on the right).  

As November was ending and December approached duetting began to increase in intensity, some of it focused around the hollow in The Third of The Three Trees.  I will talk more about this hollow in an upcoming post. The hooting began to get so intense that on several nights in late November-early December that I thought mating might occur at any moment.  One aspect of their duetting that I noticed as the days went on was that while one would often fly closer to the other, sometimes neither would budge from their respective spot.  I wondered if this was a contest of wills or another part of the whole courting process.  Still I watched and waited.

December 7 began promisingly with the third female perched in Sarah's Autumnal Perch and Charles nearby in The Trio Conifers.  They began to duet and Charles flew down to the Third Tree Hollow. She moved a little closer but the physical proximity part of the duet hit one of the aforementioned stalemates. Things looked less promising when she flew out of my sight going deeper into The Wooded Area.  I kept a little hope alive when Charles flew to The Crossroads Tree, a large and prominent tree in an especially visible location.  He hooted regularly and I thought I may have heard her reply.  Not for the first or the last time, I briefly took my eyes off of him only to turn back and find him gone. I cursed my lapse in attention but kept ears, eyes and mind open.  I soon heard him hoot from the area where I though I heard her minutes earlier.  I moved in that direction and I began to hear both of them in the vicinity of The Trio Conifers.  I found her in The Jungle Gym Tree Near The Overlook Hotel Tree and he was nearby, to the left of her.  The duetting intensified and he flew over, landed on her and they mated!

The cold air was not the only reason my eyes watered just then!  So exciting to see them mate, to see all of Charles' courtship come to fruition and a new couple made!  I quickly texted Wendy, Brenda, Barb, Chris, Robin, Julie and Rusty the great news and my phone exploded with joyous replies. Bloody hell-what a night!

The above folks and many others knew that if/when mating occurred that is when I would name the female.  I had a name in mind but after consideration and consultation, the name was withdrawn.  As such it was back to the drawing board.  Suggestions still came in including a suggestion to have a contest to name the female. I appreciated aspects of that idea but ultimately I knew the name had to be my call.  To stimulate the brain and research name meanings/origins, I consulted an Oxford name dictionary at my job at the Taylor Library at Fontbonne University.  I found some good names but no slam dunks appeared.  Then one day, the name Olivia popped into my head. It is a beautiful and classic name. Although a tad trendy right now it is a name that sounds, looks and feels great. I had not come to the Os in the name dictionary but I certainly looked it up there and in other sources.  In English usage as early the the 13th century as a female form of olive, it came to greater attention as main character name in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.  As a film fan I quickly thought Olivia de Havilland and Olivia Wilde.  As a martini drinker, I prefer olives to lemons or onions. I consulted with Wendy, Brenda and Julie about the name and got a strong thumbs up from them. I began to mention the name to others and use it a little in my recorded journal entries while in the field. And now I happily present Olivia to you all!  

There is so much more to say about Olivia, Charles and the last two-and-a-half months such as her pre-sunset eastward adventures, she and Charles duetting throughout the territory, her use of some of the exact same hunting spots that Charles uses and Sarah used, and more.

I have now seen them mate six times including last night and while it is too early to know if they will nest, I hope to write about that big topic.

Thank you for reading and for your support of the owls and my work with them.  Happy Holidays!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sarah Is Gone

Monday, September 7, 2015

It is with a heavy heart that I must report that Sarah, that most amazing Great Horned Owl, is dead.  I have not seen or heard her for seven weeks and when I last saw her she looked ill or injured. These last weeks have been an agonizing time of continued searching, hoping against hope and keeping a window of possibility open for some good but unexpected news.

 I will try to summarize while providing key details.[My apologies to my  friends Robin Street-Morris and Chad Henry for plagiarizing from an e-mail I sent them but hey-if you cannot plagiarize yourself, from whom can you plagiarize?]

My friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente, and I saw Sarah on July 14 and she was her usual amazing and beautiful self. I did not make to the park on 7/15 as I had an early evening talk. I was making dinner on 7/16 so I only had time to stop by the park for about 30-40 minutes right after work. I found Harold but no one else. Not surprising given the early hour and the brief time. I did not get to the park on 7/17 due to a social outing.  Thus there is a gap in data and that is most unfortunate.

I came out on 7/18 and after finding  Charles and Harold  I heard some low-key Robin alarm calls, that led me to the Barred Owls' portion of the Successional Woods. There in a perch 15-25 off the ground was a Great Horned Owl. Just recently I found Charles hunting in a tree close to where this owl was perched but when I did so it was close to or after sunset. This owl was there well before sunset, which was odd.  Odder still was how it was perched. Instead of the more forward facing stance, it was leaning over to the side in a slight but discernible manner. The owl's eyes were partially open.  Almost immediately I wondered if the owl was ill or injured.  I did not see any visible trauma or injury though. The owl looked like Sarah and like Grace.  Grace is huge and dark like Sarah and this owl had that but I was seeing more blond, owlet-like feathers especially on the head.  I thought that there was an 80% chance it was Grace and a 20% chance it was Sarah.

 I continued watching the owl as the sun set and my concern and puzzlement grew.  It did not stretch or groom and while its eyes changed some in position, they were never in wide awake state or position.  Finally it defecated and it moved up on its feet as if to fly but it never flew and continued to remain perched.  I was there until almost an hour after sunset and it never moved nor hooted, begged or squawked.  I went home full of worry and confusion and told my ever-sympathetic girlfriend, Wendy, all about it.

I went out the next morning 7/19 and the owl was still there.  This was weird and worrying. I have seen owls leave a perch at night and find them in that same place the next day but I had not seen this owl leave and it looked like it had not budged.

 The owl seemed more alert and I was able to get some pictures of it from the front.  This angle showed me more blond feathers and the owl opened its eyes and gular-flutted in the heat.  It looked much less like Sarah and it seemed better than it did 12-14 hours earlier.

I showed Wendy my pictures from the morning and she was surprised that it was the same owl given the differences in appearance.  I had a prowl that night and I told my prowlees about this situation and our concern. We found this owl again and not changed its perch but its stance had rotated some more. It looked more like the night before than it did that morning, which was depressing.

We found Harold and then Charles.  Charles landed 20-40 yards from the mystery owl and began to hoot.  I went to observe how this owl reacted to Charles hoots and I saw no reaction at all.  We headed home with this owl again not having groomed, stretched or called at all.  I still thought it was more likely Grace than Sarah.

I spoke with Brenda, who was out of town, and she shared my concern and puzzlement.  I sent her these pictures and other pictures and she agreed that IDing the owl was challenging.  Brenda and I are both certified Missouri Naturalists and volunteers for Forest Park Forever but Brenda also volunteers for the World Bird Sanctuary; one of the nation's premier bird of prey rehabilitation and education institutions. Brenda called WBS and spoke with Roger Holloway, the Director of Operations.  With care and concern, Roger listened about the situation and encouraged us to be patient, careful and thorough.  Roger confirmed our thoughts that it would be more harmful to try and extricate the owl out of its perch.  Such action would stress the owl far too much. Brenda went on to tell me that Roger told her that if the owl was found on the ground to contact WBS and that they would contact some of their folks and have them retrieve the owl and bring it to WBS for treatment. This generous offer greatly impressed Brenda and me as we knew it to be contrary to standard WBS policies and procedures. They simply do not have the resources to pick up injured birds of prey.  The acknowledgement understanding of the widespread knowledge of and love for these particular owls that Roger and WBS expressed is most touching and appreciated. It is especially appreciated and heartfelt as this period of time was a trying one for WBS as their founder and executive director, Walt Crawford, passed away on 7/17.  I never met Walt Crawford and I wish I had but I am a great admirer of his work and that of WBS.

I stopped by before work on 7/20 and again the owl was there.  For the first time it was facing forward but I did not have my camera with me.  In this sighting and all the others of this owl I never saw any expressions by this owl that made me conclude-yes, it is Sarah.  I know her looks and facial expressions quite well and I never saw any of them definitively from this owl.  While at work I received an e-mail from the previous night's prowlee, Melissa, saying that she had returned to look for the mystery owl but could not find her.  I thought that there was good chance that Melissa, had not remembered where this spot was and was looking in the wrong place.  I stopped by that afternoon and sure enough the owl was gone.  I went home, got my gear and began searching around the area, both in the trees and on the ground, where this owl was perched.  The perch tree is close to one of the mitigation areas of these woods so there is much water and mud and dense vegetation.  I scoured the area but knew that that were was so much I couldn't see given the vegetation.  I looked for the other owls and found Charles and Harold but not Sarah or Grace.

Since then I have regularly seen Grace, Harold and Charles but not Sarah. Grace looks well and her behavior indicates health too. I have been out most every night since 7/18 and it has been an emotional, intellectual and physical drain to look for Sarah and continuously not find her. The more time that has gone by and the more I continue to see Charles, Grace and Harold but not Sarah I can only conclude that the ill/injured owl was indeed Sarah. Having not seen her for seven weeks it is all too clear that she is sadly dead.

Even with this denouement to concluding that she is gone her passing is a crushing blow on so many levels that I continue to grapple with it. I spent so much time watching her that I cannot help but to still expect to see her when I go to Forest Park.

At the same time I knew this day would come.  Early on in my work with the owls my friend and then colleague, Mark Rank, said to me, "You know, Mark, one day you are going to go the park and one or both of the owls will be gone.  I replied, "I am way ahead of you.  Every day in a small way I prepare my self for this eventuality."  My first goal each night was and continues to be finding each owl; counting heads and making sure that it is well.  Experience has taught me that some nights you will not find all of them but I always feel that much better finding them all and seeing that they are in good shape.  It is a unpleasantly surreal experience to go out looking for the owls now knowing that one of them will not be there.

One of the challenging things, which is both engaging and frustrating, about Great Horned Owls is that there is much that we do not know about them. Prominent in this body of ignorance is that we do not know the average life expectancy of this species.  In all my research I have come across a few pieces that kinda, sorta took a stab at average age: 8-10 years, 10-14 years, 8-12 years.  Unfortunately the data is not there despite the species being the most widespread commonly found owl in North America. We know the record age for a Great Horned Owl: 28 years, 7 months.  But even with this owl there is some grey area as it was banded at an unknown age as an adult. Of course, a record is an outlier, an exception not the rule.

I often tell people that if I could ask the owls one question it would be, "How old are you?"  Charles and Sarah are at least 11-14 years old.  Great Horned Owls typically mature sexually around 2-3 years old. As I have been watching the owls for over 9-and-a-half years and they have had owlets every year they are at least 11-14 years old.  However, given the record age of owls it is possible that the owls are older than that.  Nor do I know if they are the same age. Was Sarah 20 and Charles now 17?  Or Charles 22 and Sarah 18? One of the unavoidable facts is that as the number of years that I observed and studied the owls happily grows and grows the number of years that the owls have to live sadly shrinks and shrinks.  It is quite possible that Sarah died naturally of old age.

Great Horned Owls can suffer from and die from diseases including the West Nile virus but my greatest point of concern with the owls was and is cars.  Most of the time the owls will fly 50-80 feet over the many roads in the park.  All too often they will fly lower than that and sometimes as little as two-three feet over the road.  I have witnessed too many close calls with the owls and cars. One with Sarah was unpleasantly memorable.  It was the spring of 2014 and I saw her eyeing an Eastern Grey Squirrel that was at the base of a tree quite close to a road. I thought, "Sarah if  you go for that squirrel and miss, your momentum is going to take you right over the road."  Sure enough, Sarah missed her quarry and flew low over the road threading her way through two cars.  I aged a couple of years in a few seconds.

Of the many what's next questions the biggest one is what will Charles do?  From everything that I have read Charles will likely remain in the territory and try to attract a new mate.  It is well documented in the literature that when one of a pair dies, the survivor is able to find a new mate and sometimes quickly.  As many different behaviors I have seen of the owls one of the biggest I have not seen is courtship.  When I found Charles and Sarah they were already an established pair and while I saw them renew and maintain their pair bond, which was always amazing to behold, I did not see their initial courtship.

Charles has been challenging to find of late.  I might find him 2-3 days in a row and then not find him for the couple of days.  His perch spots have varied from different spots in The Arena to different spots in The Hilly Wooded Area.  On the days I have not found him, I wonder if he is checking out other areas of his territory, perhaps looking for or advertising for a mate.  As is typical in the summer he is not hooting a great deal but as we get closer to to fall he is hooting more. Here he is hooting on August 22.

As I discuss Sarah's death with many kind and concerned people, I am quick to point out that the potential of seeing initial courtship behavior is one of two important silver linings in this sad saga. The other one is that if she had died earlier than mid-late June, her death would have also been a death sentence for the owlets; Grace and Harold. They would not have had the amount of food and protection necessary for survival during their slow maturation process.  The literature mentions a few documented cases of successful single parenthood but they are the exception to the rule.

Overall the owlets are doing well, looking healthy and well-fed but Grace and Harold are still in the territory and Sarah's passing is a likely factor in this.  The last two years the oldest owlet has dispersed before July and the second owlet before September.  With Sarah gone the owlets have only half the parental push to encourage them to leave the territory.  Overall, the owlets beg little from Charles but some strong exceptions to this occur.  On August 23rd my friend and owl mentee, Rusty Wandell and I saw what was likely Harold follow Charles out north and even give chase.  On September 5th, Harold perched in a tree next to Charles and begged intensely but did not give chase this time instead he flew away from Charles.

During their lives so far, the owlets have been sometimes been easy to tell apart but mostly it's been a challenge to do so.  This pendulum of recognition has swung throughout the spring and summer.
Here they are on August 29, Grace lower down and Harold higher in the tree.



The dispersal period is always a bittersweet time but I do hope the owlets move on soon so that Charles can move on with his life in his territory.  I will miss the owlets as I do each year.

Before I conclude with some thoughts and reflections on Sarah I must take some time and thank some people who have beyond helpful during this challenging and stressful time.  As always, Brenda Hente demonstrated why she is my owl friend and mentee supreme.  Her care for and knowledge of the owls is simply amazing. Her help on so many levels ranging from analyzing pictures of Sarah to working with her contacts with the World Bird Sanctuary and many others to spending hours searching for Sarah and thinking about her with me is beyond appreciated.  Barb Brownell and Chris Gerli are my oldest owl friends and mentees and their care and concern for Sarah and me is incredibly touching.  Early in the search for Sarah, Barb was out of town and she sent me a carefully crafted and superbly considerate e-mail and I am grateful for her heartfelt and compassionate words.
Any and every time I have seen Chris during this time he always with great care and empathy about Sarah.  My friend and former colleague, Chad Henry, is one of the longest supporters of my work in Forest Park.  His wife, Sarah, and their twins, Sean and Maddie, are the inspiration for Sarah's name so the Henry family is closely connected with the owls.  Chad delighted me by telling of their younger daughter, Camille's, recent statement.  Having just turned four and delighting in her status as a big girl, she asked, just out of the blue, "now that she is 4, if she is old enough to hang out with Mark and watch the owls." Chad has sent me several immensely kind and sympathetic e-mails about Sarah.  One night during my search for Sarah the owl I ran into Sarah Henry with her mom and Sean and Maddie as they were on their way to The Muny.  It was great to see them but gut-wrenching too having not seen Sarah for many days at that point and then to see her namesake.  Sarah the owl is gone but it is great to have her human namesake nearby.  Both Sarahs could teach clinics on combining brains, beauty and motherhood.  Rusty Wandell was an instant owl addict, friend and mentee and his keen eyes, sharp brain and love for the owls are always welcome but have been a great boon during this time.  Both he and Brenda, as they often do, kept an eye on the owls and me updated about them when there were nights when I was not in the park.  My friend and fellow owl addict, Robin Street-Morris was kindness itself vie e-mail, text and phone.  Robin and her husband Jerry are former St. Louisans now living in San Diego.  It was bittersweet to meet up with them recently in Forest Park and see the owlets and Charles but no Sarah. My friend and colleague, Julie Portman has become a hummingbird addict in recent years and her kind concern for Sarah and me is lovely.  My brothers Paul and John happily let me bend their ears and offered warm and welcome words over the phone.  My mom sent some terrifically kind and empathic e-mails about the loss of Sarah.  She has always encouraged my passion for wildlife ever since I was a young boy so I am confident that she has the type of insight on what the owls mean to me that only a mother could have.   Of course, the biggest thanks go to my girlfriend Wendy.  Since my first forays into Forest Park to the night when I first saw the owls and the now literally thousands of nights with the owls, Wendy continues to be my biggest supporter on so many levels. Her love for the owls and the silly man who watches them is cherished.  Throughout this search for Sarah, Wendy's support has been without end. The second day that I saw Sarah unmoving in the tree, July 19, was brutally tough.  I came home utterly drained from the emotional rollercoaster combined with the brain-wracking work of observation and documentation while recalling the literature to decide what to look for, do next, do if this or that occurred, etc.  This was also a period of high temperatures and higher humidity levels thus making my drained state both literal and figurative.  A warm and fragrant scent greeted me as I entered our home and it lightened my load as I walked upstairs.  After a much needed and welcomed shower, I all but inhaled the perfumed gnocchi with a sausage sauce that Wendy had prepared. It was not that food was ready for a Michelin star but that it was made with love.

I am considering the idea of a public memorial service for Sarah since she touched the lives of so many people.  I welcome your thoughts, opinions and questions on this matter.

Sarah's death makes me reflect on many aspects of her. I do not know if I will ever see a female Great Horned Owl as amazing, in all respects, as her. Every aspect of what she did, she executed with such amazing skill, dedication, effort, and ultimately, success.  In the time I was privileged to spend with her she nested successfully in ten consecutive seasons fledging twenty-three owlets.  Simply amazing.  As I often say when I give talks on the owls, the reproductive success of the owls is indicative of the individual and combined skills of Charles and Sarah and perhaps more importantly the ecological health of Forest Park.  But attention must be paid to Sarah’s skills.  She was the Beethoven of brooding, the Fellini of feeding, the Salinger of safety, the Newton of nest-selection, the Camus of camouflage, the Prometheus of prey-exchanges, a Hemingway of hunting, and the Mahler of mating.  She was the apotheosis, the exemplar, the standard-bearer supreme.

Sarah’s physical beauty cannot be understated. Her feathers with their deep browns, autumnal oranges, alabaster whites and anthracite blacks combined with her deep yellow eyes and overwhelmingly massive talons presented an unforgettable image.  Sarah was between twenty-three and twenty-five inches tall; as large as a Great Horned Owl can be.  I have never seen an owl of this species, be it in the wild, in captivity or a specimen, of size equal to or greater than Sarah.  In some ways, I hope I never do.  Sarah also had massive shoulders with gave her a distinctive diamond-shaped profile that made her sometimes easy to identify by shape alone.  This distinctive silhouette was very shoulder-pads, very 80s, very Dynasty. In flight her massive wingspan often made her look as if she was doing an award-winning imitation of a B-52 Stratobomber.  Sarah’s eyes had a more hooded looked to them which while not only were distinctive from Charles seemed, at times,  to communicate an ironic and patient outlook on the world around her.  Or at least on her mate, her owlets and those silly humans who watched her for years and years.

As well as I got to know her, I never felt that I knew her as well as Charles.  There are good reasons for this difference in knowledge. When I began to see the owls consistently in late December 2005, it was Charles that I began to see in this way as Sarah was nesting.  As such she was only seen for short periods of time when she took her brief breaks from the nest to stretch, groom, eject a pellet, etc.  The fact that she nested every year meant that she was seen very little each year for a few months each year.  Even in 2008 and 2012 when she nested in a incredibly visible hollow, she was nowhere near as active as Charles due to the difference in their roles during nesting.

Even when the owlets would fledge there was still a distance maintained with Sarah due to the protective nature of female of the species when it comes to their young.  Until early summer and even then with great caution, my mantra when it came to finding the owlets was to find Sarah as fast as possible so I knew where to be and where not to be.  I resolutely avoided putting myself between Sarah and her recently fledged owlets.  Early on my research taught me not only the protective nature of female Great Horned Owls but the massive power and predatory prowess they possess.  My care for the owls and Sarah was mostly about their safety and well-being but also a little about my own.
Once the owlets were older and Sarah’s guard not quite as intense I could then see her and her owlets at closer distance and in greater detail.   Still though the cumulative effect was that I did not know her haunts and habits as well as I know those of Charles.  This is not a complaint or a regret but rather a fact that merits explanation and elucidation.

Despite this distance, Sarah treated me to two of the closest most intense fly-bys I have experienced with the owls.  One night in the fall of 2007, Charles was messing with me.  It was past sunset and he was in and around The Training Area hooting.  He was messing with me by hooting from one spot and I would move closer to this spot only to hear him hooting from a different spot after flying unseen to this new location.  I thought of a Curly-esque response and as I did I felt a gentle but discernable push of air on my left side like a localized breeze.  I looked up and flying six to nine feet above my left shoulder was Sarah.  She pulled and landed in a low nearby branch.  I had two immediate thoughts. One: “Wow that was a beautiful flight. Gorgeous. Amazing example of the owls’ silent flight.”  Two: “…And my pants are dry.”  There was not an element of threat or aggression in her movements but to have her fly so close and to only discern her awesome presence by a movement of air was incredibly intense and more than a little alarming.  

One evening in the fall of 2012 I had found both Charles and Sarah in The Wooded Area.  They began to duet and a little later Charles flew off a modest distance.  I decided to follow him.  As I walked up the hill towards him I looked up and my entire field of view was filled with the underside of Sarah as she flew over me at a blazingly fast speed.  As in the previous flyby there was no sound and nothing aggressive in her approach. She was merely flying between point A and point B and I was in the middle.  Unfortunately, I was too slow on the draw to film her flying over me but I took a quick video note of what happened.  When I played the video back the following morning I could clearly hear my heart rate and adrenal glands in my voice as I told of this stunning flight.  Memories like these will keep Sarah alive in us.

Thank you, Sarah for letting me spend so much time learning about you and sharing your life with others whose lives you also touched in innumerable ways and times. Thank you for your patience and tolerance.  Thank you for being such an amazing owl and an ambassador of your kind in this world we share.  I love you and miss you.  - Mark.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Another Radio Show, Cute Owlet Video and Talks Reminder

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I am lucky, honored and grateful that Jean Ponzi, one of the region's leading experts and advocates for sustainability and biodiversity, invited me on to her second radio show, Earthworms on KDHX 88.1 FM. She interviewed me yesterday and yet again Jean had great queries and zeal.  You can listen to the show here:  http://earthworms.kdhxtra.org/

Tonight is the first of two owl talks I have this week. I hope you can make one or both of these talks!

The first talk is tonight, Wednesday, July 15 for Gateway Greening as part of their Pints 'n Plants lecture series. This will be my second talk for this lecture series and I am grateful to Gateway Greening for having me back. This general talk on the owls is from 6:30-7:30pm at  Urban Chestnut Brewing Company ,4465 Manchester Ave. St. Louis, MO, 63110 in the Grove neighborhood. Urban Chestnut makes great beer and their Bier Hall's food has had some amazing reviews like this one. Owls, beer and food-what a great combination! 

My second talk this week is a more specific one on a rather meaty subject.  It is "Forest Park Owls: Hunting and Feeding", 11:00am, Saturday, July 18, 2015, St. Louis Country Library-Cliff Cave Branch, 5430 Telegraph Rd., Oakville, MO 63129.  This is my third talk at this branch in south St. Louis County.  I have been lucky to present at several SLCL locations but this will be the first time I have given three talks at the same branch. Not the last though:)

I rushed home after my interview, changed into my go-to-the-park clothes and headed to Forest Park to look for the owls.  The first owl I found was the older owlet, Grace, and she was perched right on the ground between The Fallen Tree and The Newer Fallen Tree. I loved watching her look all around demonstrating the amazing neck flexibility of owls.

Thank you for reading, listening and watching!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Radio Show Appearance and Reminder About Upcoming Owl Talks (Plus Bonus Pellet Videos)

Monday, July 13, 2015

My appearance on Growing Green St. Louis on KTRS The Big 550AM  aired on Saturday, July 11, and it is now online here:
http://www.ktrs.com/growing-green-st-louis/      Thank you for listening!   My thanks to Jean Ponzi for inviting me on her show and for her great questions and enthusiasm. 

As a reminder I have two owl talks this week. I hope you can make one or both of these talks!

The first talk is on Wednesday, July 15 for Gateway Greening as part of their Pints 'n Plants lecture series. This will be my second talk for this lecture series and I am grateful to Gateway Greening for having me back. This general talk on the owls is from 6:30-7:30pm at  Urban Chestnut Brewing Company ,4465 Manchester Ave. St. Louis, MO, 63110 in the Grove neighborhood. Urban Chestnut makes great beer and their Bier Hall's food has had some amazing reviews like this one. Owls, beer and food-what a great combination! 

My second talk this week is a more specific one on a rather meaty subject.  It is "Forest Park Owls: Hunting and Feeding", 11:00am, Saturday, July 18, 2015, St. Louis Country Library-Cliff Cave Branch, 5430 Telegraph Rd., Oakville, MO 63129.  This is my third talk at this branch in south St. Louis County.  I have been lucky to present at several SLCL locations but this will be the first time I have given three talks at the same branch. Not the last though:)

We are in the midst of a heatwave in St. Louis so I think some cool footage of the owls shot during cooler weather may bring some relief.  In late November-early December I was able to film, on several nights, Charles and Sarah ejecting pellets.  What was especially note-worthy was the size of the pellets they ejected.  Here's Charles on December 1 ejecting the largest pellet I have ever seen an owl expel.  

While a slightly smaller pellet, Sarah's efforts here on December 4 are intense so as to removed this veritable torpedo of fur, bones and other indigestible bits. 

Thank you for reading, listening and watching!