Tonight we had our first glimpse of one of Charles and Sarah's 2013 owlets! A brief, dark, past-sunset glimpse but a glimpse nonetheless! Winter is still making its presence known but in spite of this life flourishes anew!
Before coming to the park on foot, I drove by the owls' territory. I saw a large group of crows near The Rain Tree and I surmised that they were giving Charles an intense mobbing. Once back in the park, now on foot, I headed to The Rain Tree. No Charles there or in one of the other more usual, recent spots as documented in my previous blog post. Morning snow had cleared up but the afternoon brought the snow back and with intense winds. Sarah has been spending more time out of the nest of late and prior to her departure she has spent more time visible near the edge of the nest. Here she is today with yellow eyes piercing despite the whirlwind of snow. Be sure to double click on the photos to see a larger versions of them.
With Sarah found I continued to look for Charles without success. I head up the steep portion of The North-South Path to look at some previously examined spots from a different angle. As I reached the apex of the hill I began to wonder if he was in a spot I had passed without checking carefully. A cawing crow interrupted yet reaffirmed my train of thought as it passed by one of The Trio Conifers. I remembered that recently (February 19) Charles had been mobbed vehemently by the crows and was flushed to The Trio Conifers. Back to today, I turned a corner and scanned these conifers and found Charles in the smallest of the three. Here he is from a more visible but still well-hidden angle.
I went back to The Nest Tree to see if I could watch Sarah leave the nest and see if I could spot an owlet(s) once she departed. The snow and wind doubled in vigor and she seemed in no hurry to exit her wooden cave. Charles began to hoot regularly after a a late start. I continued my vigil and several minutes later was surprised to see Sarah's tail feathers dangling out of the nest and her broad back filling the hollow.
On a similarly windy and precipitation-filled evening in the 2008 nesting season I saw Sarah taking a similar position, undoubtedly protecting the youngsters with her massive frame. As I watched this tonight in 2013 I was joined by a photographer (Sue?, sorry I cannot remember your name) who sometimes stops by to see and document the owls. My friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente soon joined us at The Eastern Branch Tree; a spot that offers a close view as well as concealment. The photog begged off due to inadequate fowl weather gear. Brenda and I continued to watch and we saw Sarah moving around in a vertical motion and then gradually turning her body. Charles flew down from gorgeously to the edge of The Wooded Area and began to hoot intensely.
Sarah continued to pivot in the nest and finally did a full 180 and flew out of the nest into The Wooded Area. I started to move back to get a better view of the nest. Brenda did not waste time and instead pointed her binos at the nest and told me that she saw an owlet. I followed suit with my binos and confirmed what she saw. One owlet, small, young but near the edge of the hollow about 2-3 weeks old from what I could see. At this point it was quite dark as it was 20 minutes after sunset on a cloudy, snowy night. Here is a cropped and lightened version of the least awful picture I was able to get. Photo phans should know that this was taken at 1/10 of a second, ISO 6400, f 5.6 and brightness cranked to the max.
I should note that on Sunday, March 3, Brenda saw a brief flicker of something greyish-white in the nest hollow. Nothing enough to be definitive sighting of an owlet but a good hint. Either way with Sunday's or tonight's sighting, she has the first sighting of Charles and Sarah's 2013 offspring. Furthermore, the pair of GHOs that Brenda watches, Will and Kate, have two owlets this year in a park in the St. Louis area. Great stuff!
It soon got too dark to see the owlet and/or in descended further back into the hollow. After this, things got a little confusing in terms of where Charles and Sarah were for the most part. One definite and memorable sighting was seeing Charles return from the east with prey, something small, dark and furry, in his bill. He hooted with his mouth full and his hoot was muffled and higher pitched, reminiscent of a trumpet or trombone with a mute in it. I have seen this a number of times and it always has a comic edge to it. Listen carefully at two second mark for this different hoot.
Charles delivered the prey to the nest and I headed for home. There is a great deal more to say about the timing of this first observation of an owlet and how it is similar and different to the first owlet sighting when they nested in this same hollow in 2011. However, bed beckons. Bravo, Charles and Sarah! Welcome to the world, little one and thanks for reading, everyone!
Update! (March 7, 2013)
I returned to the park last night (what a shocker, I know) and was able to get a glimpse of an owlet along with my friend Robin Street-Morris. The owlet came into view well before sunset and I was able to get a better picture of the wee one.
What a beaut! Judging by size and development of the facial disk and comparing them to books such as World of the Great Horned Owl by Austing and Holt and Great Horned Owls by D.G. Smith , I would say the owlet is in the three-week old range. That gives us a hatch time in mid-February. Nesting commenced on December 31, 2012.
If you want to see the owlet, please be sure to dress for the weather for your comfort and in dark, muted colors to minimize the impact of your presence. Move and speak quietly and do not stand directly in front of the nest. Notice how my shot is is not directly lined up with the hollow. I also stood by another tree to not stand out. Female GHOs are notoriously aggressive when defending their nest. For the safety of the owls and your own, please be extra safe and respectful.
We will keep watching to see what we can see and keep everyone posted. Thanks for reading!