Monday, December 21, 2009
I arrived at the owls' territory later than I would have liked; about twenty-five minutes after sunset. The clouds that had covered the area had begun to dissipate before sunset, giving me a little extra time but I was still late. To my ears, it sounded as if Charles was hooting near The Bushy Tree and Sarah was responding in kind from The Wooded Area. I went in for a closer look and my eyes confirmed what my ears heard and my brain had analyzed.
Charles was indeed in The Bushy Tree issuing hoots that rang clear in the cold night air. Sarah responded readily making for a delectable duet. Shortly after I found Charles, he flew off south in a dramatic fashion before pulling up to land at the pinnacle of conifer in a mixed glade of conifers and deciduous trees. I could not help but exclaim at the amazing flight that Charles had made.
Just as Charles completed this flight a group of Canada Geese flew by him; a real visual treat. Shortly after Charles had arrived at the pinnacle of this conifer, Sarah stopped hooting. I worried that my exclamation had possibly scared her into flying away. I did not have to worry about Charles, he hooted consistently for a few minutes before going quiet but I could still see him. He flew off west, at first at a healthy altitude before dropping down low and flying close to the east side of The World's Fair Pavilion, possibly for a predatory attempt.
Curious about Sarah's whereabouts, I risked losing Charles and went to look for her in The Right Hand Tree. I did not find her there so I returned to look for Charles. I heard Charles call from The Hilly Wooded Area and I heard a muffled response from Sarah. Charles was in the same tree where they had mated the night before, a tree just in front of The Possible Nest Tree.
I decided to stay with him, wondering if the muffled hoot I heard from Sarah indicated that she was inside the snag/hollow of The Possible Nest Tree. Charles continued to hoot but I did not see or hear Sarah even when Charles increased his hooting rate from every forty-five to sixty seconds to one every thirty seconds. He groomed for a while and turned his attention for a brief while to a noise on the ground below possibly from a prey animal. Not for the first or last time, I wondered if they would nest in The Possible Nest Tree. Charles stopped hooting for a good four to six minutes as I pondered what would happen next.
While the owls can do their disappearing acts and frustrate and confound their faithful observers, wish fulfillment does happen. Seconds after I said aloud that I would love to see Sarah, out she flew north out of the snag/hollow of The Possible Nest Tree! There was a healthy chance that she had been there for a decent amount of time. She landed about forty to sixty yards away from this tree. I urged Charles to hoot but I thought that he may not have observed her leaving The Possible Nest Tree. I have seen at least one interaction between Charles and Sarah that might indicate that even Great Horned Owls cannot hear the silent flight of others of their species but that's another story...
I mentally urged Charles to resume hooting but telepathy was not happening the whole time this evening. I moved a short distance and found Sarah. She was in the same tree or one next to it when she appeared out of nowhere one night earlier. Charles finally resumed hooting and Sarah responded. In an almost exact instant replay of the night before, she flew flew back and joined him in the same tree and moments later they mated!! Listen at the twenty-seven mark for the high pitched sound that Charles makes when they mate.
Charles went blasting off past me going north/northeast doing short, possibly excited hoots as he flew. I went to watch Sarah and in another instant replay of the night before she did disappearing act. I could not complain too much as I had seen both owls and witnessed them mating for the third night in a row and for the fifth time in eleven days! In addition, I had agreed to be home by 6:30 so Wendy and I could decorate our Christmas tree. With the owls mating well after sunset all but once so far this season, I had worried that I would leave the park before they mated. Thankfully on this night they mated just after six and I was home at six twenty-five. The tree was decorated joyously as we enjoyed Christmas music, eggnog and of course, owls featured among the ornaments and decorations.