I was sitting on my desk working when my cell phone rang. It was Chris Gerli of City Cycling Tours calling, his voice grim and full of concern. I swallowed with trepidation as I awaited bad news about the owls. Chris came right to the point; after coming closer to joining the rest of the Great Horned Owl family last night, the owlet Mo was back on his own on the north side of the lake. Sigh.
Why did he come back? I was still in the dark about what initially led Mo to his lakeside residence but it seemed clear that this return was a deliberate, willful act of his own. Chris said that Mo was in a conifer not far from the dual-use path. I thanked Chris for his call and shook my head at this latest development. I had really hoped that Mo would be with the rest of the family. This place would offer him greater access to food and more security from his watchful parents.
Armed with the news about Mo, I headed off into the park, which was reveling in a bright, mild spring day. I walked up Skinker Blvd and as I was along a fairway of the golf course, I saw a Wild Turkey hen. At first, I did not even do a double take; my brain just registered that it was a turkey. Then I thought, "A turkey!" It was the first Wild Turkey I had seen in the park for many months. Overall, I have had relatively few sightings of this species in the park but this has made the sightings even more memorable.
This hen continued on its merry way, seemingly unaware or unconcerned about the rush hour traffic.
I stopped at the glade of White Pines at the edge of the prairie-savannah near Kennedy Forest to look for the long unseen Barred Owls. Sure enough they were not were there nor had they for the last several weeks. Last year, they went through a similar pattern; regularly found in the late fall through winter and then as spring unfolded they left their coniferous commune for parts unknown.
Continuing on into Kennedy Forest itself, I paused to look in vain for the two Great Horned Owls that I found for a few weeks during the winter. My owl searching was not all for not as I found a Barred Owlnot far from one of the eastern entrances of Kennedy Forest. I had never seen an owl in this specific part of the forest and I was thrilled to see this splendid owl.
While on my way over to the territory of Charles and Sarah, I could not help but stop and revel in the park in bloom.
I ran into photographer maestro and Forest Park booster extraordinaire Edward Crim who was able to direct me to Mo; about half way up a pine tree on the north bank of the lake. It good to see him alive and well and in a conifer for the first time!
We headed off to The Wooded Area to locate the rest of the family. Like many of my recent posts about this time of year, Charles was again in his Favorite Conifer but in an atypical branch. Sarah perched in a large deciduous tree in The Wooded Area.
Charles flew off to The Bushy Tree so Edward and I rounded the bend to reacquire him. The sun was setting beautifully over the park. Seeing countless sunsets in all their glorious varieties is one of my favorite fringe benefits of my owl observations.
The Bushy Tree was just starting to show the buds that would eventually bloom and demonstrate that my name for this tree was not unfounded! Charles looked particularly magnificent in this tree this night.
As Sarah flew eastward and we finally saw the other owlet, Art, go to The Quintet Conifers.
Still full of concern about Mo, we went back to lake area and found him on the grassy ground of the north bank. He got some grief from American Robins but not enough to prevent him from nuzzling some branches with his head, an all too cute bit of behavior. Moe's cuteness did not convince some nearby Mallards as they flew off after getting rather close to him for their comfort. And yes, Great Horned Owls can and do eat ducks among many other things.
Mo made a few short flights, which made me wonder if he was more comfortable learning to be an adult owl out here in this less thickly wooded area. While The Wooded Area offered the protection of his parents and more hiding places, this more open area might offer a less demanding more gradual environment in which to mature.
Watching Mo, I could not help but think of my own development in regards to a particular natural area setting; the ocean. As a three to five year old, I had not reached a comfort level with the raucous surf of the Atlanic Ocean along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where my family stayed for a week or two most summers. Instead I reveled in the almost wave-less bodies of water in and around the Tidewater region around Norfolk, Newport News and the like, that we encountered on the trip down from the suburbs of Washington, D.C. My family kindly stopped at these mild waters and I splashed around with delight. Over the years, I came to tolerate then love the pounding Atlantic surf and the joys it offered.
Next Mo flew into one of a group of conifers. He moved within the tree, learning which branches could hold him best. Overall, this is a slow learning process for owlets. In my years watching the owls, the poor choice of perching spots is an almost fool-proof way of identifying an owlet from an adult, especially as the owlets' flying skills improve and their physical appearance matures.
Mo then made a nice flight back to the ground. He moved to the base of tree and it seemed to provie a good hiding spot as he began to beg in earnest. The two of us seemed to each be in a curiousity cunundrom, do we venture out and closer to see and learn more or do we play it safe. I wondered if curiousity was the two way street with each participant weighing the pros and cons. I wanted to get closer to Mo but was keenly aware that Sarah might not be happy about that and make said unhappiness clear in a way that could lead to me getting stiches. By the same token, I think Mo wanted to venture out more but had enough sense and instinct to stay relatively obscured. With this pleasant stalemate in full swing, I headed home a little early after the late night the night before.