Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Mo (and Charles, Sarah and Art) and a special guest appearance!

April 8, 2009

After finding Mo the night before well away from his family in The Wooded Area, my first priority was to find him again. The bright sunny day was tainted by blasting winds that were so intense that a wind advisory was issued.

While keeping my eyes and mind open to other trees, I went to the tree where Edward and I found Mo last night. I carefully circled the tree, taking it in from all angles, but I could not find Mo. I was just about to head off to The Wooded Area to search for the rest of the family when I turned back and took another look. About halfway up the tree was a good-sized bird. My first thought was, "It's a Wood Duck." I changed my angle slightly and realized that it was Mo! He was well tucked into the corner of a branch that transitioned from horizontal to an angled vertical incline. Mo faced west/northwest Mo slept with his eyes tightly closed against the setting sun. His buff and tan feathers and complete lack of motion kept him well-hidden.

That said, I was relieved to see him but anxious about his safety and well-being in both the long and short term. I found some whitewash under his perch and some astoundingly soft and fluffy body or contour feathers near the tree, possiblity indicating that he was getting fed and the maturation of his plumage continued.

My biggest fear about Mo was the lack of immediate protection from predators by his mother, Sarah. I felt confident that Sarah and Charles would continue to feed Mo but what could they do if a Red-tailed Hawk or other large hawk of the genus Bueto attacked Mo during the day, when he was scores of yards from his parents?

During last year's owlet cycle, I saw a dramatic example of the fierce protection that female Great Horned Owls provide their offspring. As I approached The Wooded Area not long after the owlets had fledged, I saw Sarah fly to the eastern edge of the area. Minutes later, a Bueto hawk landed in the same tree as one of owlets just 20-30 feet above the vulnerable owlet. Within seconds, Sarah came flying back, utterly blazing towards this tree and the hawk in it. The hawk lept off the tree and flew out of The Wooded Area as fast as possible.

Having found Mo, I went to look for the rest of the family in The Wooded Area. Sarah and Charles closely replicated yesterday's perch sites; she was in a big deciduous tree near The Trio Conifers and Charles was in his Favorite Conifer. I found Mo in one of the Trio Conifers, with the wind propping up his small but growing tufts.

Tufts are not ears, despite that they look like ears and some owl species with tufts are named in relation to their tufts such as the Long-eared Owl and the Short-eared Owl. Owls' ears are located on the sides of their heads. Don't feel bad if you thought that owl tufts were their ears, many, many people make this understandable error. Take it from someone that made this error-me! Tufts are thought to act as a camoflouge device and/or as a species-recognition tool. What I find particularly fascinating about tufts is that they are not just loose bits of feathers that hang about but pieces of muscled flesh that are covered by feathers that can be adjusted by their owner at will. Tuft position can help indicate moods, emotions and provide an additional camoflague tool. In my research, I have not found any literature that describes how the muscles of the tufts and the head adjust the tufts. I would love to better understand how these remarkable tufts move.

All three owls wove in and out of sleep as they tend to do at dusk. They can go from the depth of sleep to wide awake and every step in-between within minutes and even seconds. Charles, Sarah and Mo seemed pretty konked out, so I decided to reacquire Mo.

At first, I took a different approach from going right up to his perch. I went to the north side of the waterway and watched him from about 50 yards away for a time. As joggers, dog walkers and other folks passed by his perch, located right next to one of the gravel paths, Mo kept an eye on them but did not get too excited or active.

I moved back to Mo's side of the waterway and took up a concealed and close, but not too close observation post. A few European Starlings and Common Grackles began to mob Mo a little. Nothing too bad but I still felt sorry for Mo all out on his own and getting mobbed. The mobbing lasted only a short while and things improved from there.

My girlfriend, Wendy, called me and said that she was coming out to the park to see the owls especially Mo. Of all the kind and supportive people who encourage my owl observations, Wendy is by far the biggest booster. However, as a self-admitted "weather-wimp" she does come out to see the owls with great frequency. As such, all visits from her with the owls are welcome and special occasions. She arrived a short while later and reveled in watching Mo as you can see below. Please do notice the small look of annoyance (briefly furrowed eyebrows) she gives when she notices that I am filming her.

As a big, almost full moon rose in the sky, Mo became more active; looking around a little and stretching including a big double-wing stretch. His activity increased as he flew to a branch higher up in the tree. He began to head bob a little and he did some talon grooming, which was great to see. When owlets head bob, I try to keep an extra low profile as I don't want to appear too interesting to them. I would hate to have one fly towards me for a closer inspection and possibly injure themselves as they are still learning to fly and land.

As we watched Mo,Wendy and I exchanged story/hopes about helping Mo. She remarked that she would love to bring him some food. I mentioned a crazy notion I had of somehow capturing Mo then releasing him in The Wooded Area so that he could be rest of his family. The last step of my notion was to run like hell to escape the wrath of Sarah!

Mo changed positions on the branch a couple of times, exhibiting the awkwardness these owls have when walking, be it on the ground or on a tree, whether the owl is a youngster or a seasoned vet. This awkwardness may be a type of karmic compensation for their sublime grace in flight.

With the light rapidly falling, Mo became more active and is his activites included begging cheeps and wing flapping. He then flew to another deciduous tree and made a short hop within his new perch. Next he made a longer flight still within the same tree, which you can see below. At these stages of an owlet's development, the fledging and post-fledging stages, each of their flights is a significant event. Over the days and weeks you see their skills gradually improve. I was impressed with Mo's flying and I reminded myself that he had made it from the nest all the way over to his current abode on his own power.

Mo's activities continued with more wing flapping, begging cheeps and repositioning flights along with head bobbing while looking in our direction. Wendy made her own begging cheep for food; namely dinner. I have yet to observe an owlet with a begging cheep more insistent than Wendy's. Mo's begging cheeps increased at a more frequent rate. Thankfully, this did not attract mobbing by other birds. Wendy and I departed for the home or The Boathouse to sooth her begging cheeps. We left still concerned about Mo but guardedly optimistic.

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