Monday, May 11, 2009

Extra! Extra! "Owl Man Gets Great Press"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Several weeks ago, I ran into my friend and colleague, Mark Rank in the hallway and he said he had some news for me. His younger daughter, Katie is a writer for her school newspaper and for the final issue, the paper was seeking stories about interesting people doing interesting things in the St. Louis area. Having gone on a few owl prowls and observations led by me with her Dad, sister Libby and mom Anne, Katie knew of the owls and my study of them. Mark told me that Katie pitched a story about the owls and me to the editors for the issue and she would learn the results of her pitch in a little while. I was quite chuffed that Katie thought of the owls and me for such a piece.

In addition to being a prominent and respected member of the faculty of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Mark is one of the longest-serving and passionate members of the owls' booster club. An avid cyclist, he gets to the park with some frequency and enjoys the observing the wildlife as he makes his way. I can't remember now how animals became a topic of discussion between us but we quickly discovered our mutual interest in critters and their doings. We have traded animal observations and even experienced some together on campus for years now, most memorably when a hawk of the genus Bueto plucked a squirrel off a tree and then flew to a building ledge. The hawk had one foot on the ledge and the other on the squirrel, dangling off the roof. Classes let out just then and soon scores of students gave the full panoply of reactions to this predatory moment, everything to revulsion and sympathy to amazement.
After my girlfriend Wendy, Mark was one of the first people to join me on owl prowls in late 2005. This was back when my owl prowls prominently featured absolutely no owls whatsoever. Happily, Mark was also one of the first people to join me after I found Charles' then perch site on December 29, 2005. As I mentioned earlier, his family have come out for several owl prowls over the years. They even saw some of the fledging behavior of last year's owlets; Bart, Lisa and Maggie in the third week of March.

A couple of weeks later after Mark told me about Katie's story pitch, he let me know that the pitch was successful. Thrilled with the news, I worked with Mark and Katie to set a date for an interview conducted by Katie followed by an owl prowl. I have found that Sundays tend to be the best days for owl prowls as they provide me with the most time to show my fellow prowlers as much of the owls and their history (that I know) as possible.

We set the date for Sunday, April 12 and we met at George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis because, y'know, Katie's dad and I both work there and it is close to the park. While Mark and his older daughter Libby waited patiently in Mark's office, Katie conducted her interview with me. She was well prepared with a list of questions and a tape recorder, with which she adroitly conducted a pre-interview test.
Katie and I took a deep breath and began the interview. She impressed me immediately with her questions, which sought out the essential who, what, when, where, how and why vital to journalism of all sorts while simultaneously looking for depth, nuance and complexity. The challenge to me was for me to convey the most information and insights without going on too long as I am apt to do. While I have talked to scores of people about the owls both in the park and outside of the park, it is another thing to do it when the tape is running and their is a definitive end goal to questions. My own modest journalistic experience was also on my mind, knowing how it is one thing to interview a person and yet another unique challenge to take the recording and make something out of it. I did my best to keep my answers brief but informative while including key dates, observations, anecdotes and references to the literature.

Katie came to the end of her questions and we thanked each other before collecting her dad and sister for part two of the afternoon-an owl prowl. As it was Easter Sunday, the Rank family was hosting Easter dinner for a number of family members and could not prowl for owls at dusk and beyond. Thankfully, my ESL (experience, skill, luck) is such that I can often locate the owls before they become active at dusk. ESL was at full strength and we found Charles and Sarah and the two owlets, Art and Mo. The Ranks were excited to see Art and Mo for the first time. Katie took pictures of the owls and me for her article.

As the latter afteroon approached, the Ranks said their goodbyes and departed. I stayed on in the park and headed out to various points and saw a bevy of animals, which I hope to write about soon.

Shortly after our owl prowl, Katie contacted me and asked me if I could provide her with some contacts who she could interview about the owls and me. I am lucky to have several people who have spent hours with me watching the owls and have to come to know me and them well. With my owl friends blessing, I happily gave Katie names, numbers and e-mail addresses. Over the next several days a couple of my friends let me know that they had spoken with Katie.
As the article was written and laid out, all by Katie, Mark kept me appraised of its progress while joking that Katie had written an expose' about me. I put Katie in touch with Don Love, a photographer friend, of Edward Crim's, as she wanted to use a photo of Sarah that Don had taken with an amazing lens of his. Don graciously gave his permission for his great photo to be used.

At last, the publication date arrived and a few days later, Mark stopped me in the hallway and let me know that he had a copy for me. I stopped by his office and eagerly read the piece. Like me, I'm sure you will all be impressed by the excellent job Katie did in all respects: the writing, the photos and the layout. She took a lot of information and condensed it nicely and deftly incoporated quotes from Wendy and Barb Brownell, that helped flesh out the story.

You will find the story below in 2 parts as jpeg photo files. If you would like a PDF of the article, please contact me at:
Enjoy reading! Thank you, Katie and well done!!


  1. I'm waiting for the movie adaptation to come out.

  2. Hi Mark!
    A most interesting story! And good for Katie! Please send me the link for the PDF. I'd be most interested in reading it!
    Your big maternal fan in Silver Spring.