Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Charles and Sarah Mate Again and Charles Does Some House Hunting!

December 2, 2010

Another amazing night with the owls! I was able to get to the park a little earlier last night, which gave me more time to find the owls; always a nice thing to be able to do. It was a bright, clear and cold day and I debuted my balaclava for the first time this year. My "winter plumage", my beard, is less than a week old and still has some growing to do to help keep me warm!

I was hoping to find Charles in his Favorite Conifer as it is one of his his perennial perches, especially in cold weather. Alas he was not there even though I found some recent whitewash underneath this conifer. I first looked for Sarah in her Autumnal Perch but again was unsuccessful. I kept ears, eyes and mind open and an owl sixth sense moment gave me the nudge I needed to find Sarah perched high in the tallest of The Trio Conifers. I had not seen her in a conifer for many months so it was a pleasant sight.

I looked for Charles in several different areas including on the east side of The Wooded Area but came up empty. I returned to Sarah's perch and I heard her hoot and then Charles replied. From his hoot, I could tell he was on the east side of The Wooded Area. I headed that way and found him in unusual spot; a small deciduous tree at the eastern edge of The Wooded Area. I must have walked right by him earlier but did not spot him. D'oh!

Charles and Sarah continued to duet but only for a short while. Sarah continued hooting but Charles did not reply. Often when one of them stops their part of the duet, it means that they have a pellet coming up and thus cannot vocalize. I thought this would be the case but Charles would prove me wrong. As I watched him, he flew right over me to the second of The Three Trees (these used to be The Four Trees until one was cut down this summer). Check out the video below, at the 12-13 second mark Charles fills up the entire frame. He must have been five-ten feet directly above me!

He landed low in the second of The Three Trees, which gave me a great close up view of him.

Some crows flew by and a few noticed Charles and began to mob him. However the mobbing was done almost casually and rather briefly. I think it was late enough that the crows' focus was more on returning to their rookeries for the evening than on mobbing owls. Charles seemed especially focused on the hollow in the third of The Three Trees and I kept a close eye on him. My vigilance was rewarded when he made a short flight to the hollow and got inside it. Amazing!

He looked around in the hollow for several minutes and I was able to get a some shots of him inside the hollow. There is something comforting about seeing an owl in a hollow or tree snag.

How about a little background on this hollow? Very well. This hollow has been in this tree for as long as I can remember. A few years ago, I did see Charles and Sarah on the edge of this hollow but they did not go in it. In June, I saw Charles again at the edge of the hollow for a brief moment before he flew away. With these sightings, I kept this hollow on a list of possible perch or nest sites. That said, I was a little skeptical that it would be used mostly because it is quite low to the ground and close to human traffic as the tree is by a road and a bike path. Still, I try to remember my "owl observation mantra": open eyes, open ears, open mind.

The hollow underwent some changes this summer as an intense thunderstorm made a second opening to the hollow (you can see it on the exposed wood at the fore of the picture). This same storm also removed some exposed branches high up in this same tree that were some of the owls' favorite perches for singing. In typical Great Horned Owl fashion the owls adapted and began using and continue to use some perches in the second of The Three Trees.

The possible use of this hollow became more likely when in the late summer/early fall, I watched Sarah examine this hollow. She gradually and almost reverentially approached the tree and then flew to the hollow. She checked it out from several angles but did not get inside of it. I was able to watch this unfold from an extremely close distance, which made for a stunningly intimate perspective on this behavior.

I changed my observation position and saw that Charles had emerged from the hollow and was perched just on its edge. He flew a short distance east, over the road and high into a Cottonwood that they often use in this immediate area. I followed him and for a moment it looked like he was eating something in the tree but I could not be certain. He quickly flew off southeast and I went to follow him when I was pleasantly interrupted. My friend Chris Gerli stopped by in his van on his way home from a run and we had a good chat catching up on owl and park matters.

As our conversation drew to a close, I thought I heard Charles hooting near The Three Trees. Chris and I said our goodbyes and I headed to The Three Trees. Sure enough, Charles was hooting from their new singing perches in the second of The Three Trees. After his small amount of hooting earlier, it was good to hear hooting in great voice. He flew off northwest at great speed and I headed off after him. I could hear him hooting ahead of me so I was hopeful that I could reacquire him. As I got closer, I heard Sarah calling and I found her in a large Cottonwood between the waterway and the field. After another hoot, she flew off continuing to head north.

I went a fair distance north, getting close to the northern border of the park but I could not reacquire Sarah. I decided to turn back and try a few other parts of the park that I have seen the owls use on the north side of the lake. I crossed over the water way to the tamer of the two islands found in the lake. I quickly found an owl in one of the spots I have seen them use; one of two Sycamores on the south bank of the island. I thought it was Sarah but once the owl hooted, I realized that it was in fact Charles.

Charles took a short a hop to a branch above him and it struck me as a somewhat unusual perch. More often than not, they tend to hang on to the end of a branch perhaps because it allows them to move without navigating between other branches and sub-branches. The unusual nature of this perch was compounded when he began to hoot at a regular interval. When hooting, they usually are on a exposed perch, which gives their calls greater sonic presence as well as a stronger visual element. They like to be on stage!

As Charles hooted from this more unusual and subtle location, I wondered if his hooting was more of a communicating to Sarah act than a communication to other owls. My wondering bore fruit when Charles began to hoot more frequently and I then began to hear Sarah hooting in response! She was further northwest of Charles but judging by her hooting volume, she was not far. They duetted for a few minutes when her hoots became even louder, meaning that she was even closer to Charles (and me). Moments later, I heard her hoot and saw her fly towards Charles and next to him on the Sycamore. They hooted for another moment or two and then Charles hopped up on to Sarah's back and they mated!! Amazing!

This was what I dubbed last year as "Peaches and Herb Duetting" (aka "Reunited And It Feels So Good."

Charles flew off immediately heading north and a few minutes later, Sarah headed east. As I walked to reacquire her, I realized that I never seen them mate in this part of their territory! The forty-odd matings I have observed have occurred mostly in and around The Wooded Area with a few taking place in The Deer Lake Wet Savannah. I found Sarah again about hundred meters from where they had mated but she flew off again heading east at great speed. I decided to head for home, amazed at all the fascinating behavior I observed. Thanks for reading!


  1. Enjoyed reading all of it, thank YOU for posting so meticulously!

  2. Awesome observations!!! Thanks for your efforts watching and recording the owls AND for sharing the information!

  3. Many thanks, Deponti (Deepa)and Karla! I'm glad you enjoyed and thanks for the encouragment!