January 1, 2013
Last night was one of those evenings with so much happening that if just one of the highlights had occurred, it would have been a great night. Having seen Sarah check out some possible nest spots on December 30, I knew that I had to return the last night to see if she had made her nest selection. I arrived at the park later than I had wanted but I was armed with some vital information. My friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hentee, had been to the park earlier that day. She texted me that she had found Charles in The Fleur-de-lis Tree and despite a thorough search, she could not find Sarah. As we texted back and forth, we agreed that Sarah might be nesting in The 2011 Nest Hollow and thus be out of sight.
When I got to the park Charles was still in The Fleur-de-lis Tree. I began to check a few spots for her not far from Charles in case she had relocated since Brenda's visit. Charles began to blast out booming hoots. To my delight I heard Sarah from respond The 2011 Nest Hollow. This hollow was high on my list of possible nest spots for 2013 as both owls, especially Charles, checked it out more than any other spot this fall and early winter. They began to duet in earnest. Here's Charles in The Fleur-de-lis Tree.
Sarah emerged from the hollow and flew to The Fleur-de-lis Tree. I hoped that they might mate early but instead and true to form as of late, Charles flew into the hollow. Here's Sarah in The Fleur-de-lis Tree.
Thankfully, Charles did not remain long in the hollow, as he had often done so lately. He flew and landed high in The First of The Three Trees, a spot that Sarah has frequented this breeding season. They continued to duet and Sarah flew and joined Charles in the same tree albeit many feet lower. I patiently filmed the duet and waited for it to go up that gear or two that usually occurs before mating. The duet gradually intensified and Charles flew down to Sarah and they mated. After mating, Charles blasted off southeast. Watch the palpable impact that Charles makes when he lands on Sarah before they mate.
They mated at 4:59pm just ten minutes after sunset. I waited eagerly to see what would happen next. Just shy of fifteen minutes later, Sarah made a slow, graceful descent at a sharp angle towards the bank of the river way. Two possibilities leapt to mind: predatory attempt or time for a drink and/or bath. The latter was the winner. Sarah walked into the river way and began to drank. It was too dark for video but bright enough to get a few poor but discernible photos of her drinking and looking vigilantly around between sips.
She drank for five minutes before making a short flight into The Eastern Branch Tree a mere 30-50 feet away from me. Not for the last time, I was grateful that I was well concealed and behaving in an appropriately stealthy manner. It was amazing to see her drink again so close to nesting. She did this last year and you can read about it in this post on my blog. Like last year, the needs of the growing eggs may demand more water/liquid consumption than other times of the year. Owls get most of their liquid needs from the prey they consume. In seven years, I have seen them drink and/or bathe fewer than ten times.
I was keen to see if/when Charles would return and if he would have prey for Sarah. Charles did not disappoint. A mere twenty-five minutes after they had mated I began to hear Charles hoot from the southeast. He moved closer and eventually flew to the 06/09 Nest Hollow. His hoots were slightly muted as he had a small prey item in his bill! Sarah flew to The Middle Tree and he joined her and gave her the prey. I think the prey was a small bird or mammal. From what I could tell, Sarah made quick work of the prey and they hooted gently as they perched next to each other. I thrilled to see Charles return with prey as it demonstrates that he understands that Sarah is nesting and that he is now hunting for the both of them and if all goes well, the owlets too. I have seen this behavior by Charles before on the first night of Sarah nesting and it always amazes. It is as if a hormonal/behavioral switch is thrown and he goes out to grab prey as fast as he can. I remember a similar occasion when he went blasting out to hunt on the first night of Sarah's nesting. I saw him land in the distance and went to follow him. I was less than halfway to where he had landed when the next thing I knew he was flying past me in the opposite direction with prey in bill on his way to give the food to Sarah.
Charles flew off to another Cottonwood and began to hoot loudly and regularly, perhaps proud in the fact that he had done his duty and in fine fashion. Sarah began to reply to him, flew to a neighborhood Cottonwood. I wondered if a second mating might take place. I did not have to wonder long. Sarah flew to Charles' spot, landed right next to them and they mated for the second time in under forty minutes.
Heading northwest, Charles hooted in flight and even hooted for a bit after landing. I hoped to see Sarah fly back to the now renamed 2011/13 Nest Hollow. I watched patiently in the icy temperatures but she did not fly to the hollow or any other spot before departed fifty minutes later. Interestingly she finally began to groom, something she had not done even after leaving the nest hollow. It was tough to go but not-so-toasty toes and New Year's plans both at friends' and at home directed me away from the park. An amazing evening with these amazing owls and a great way to end the year. Thanks for reading!