I am happy to announce that the third and youngest owlet fledged! Not only that it made into The Wooded Area and it is with the rest of the family. Fledging occurred sometime between Monday, April 8 and Tuesday April 9. I wish I had been able to see the owlet fledge but I was thrilled to find it yesterday and then learn of its progress. The owlet fledged two weeks after the first fledgling we observed. Why? This owlet is the smallest, youngest of the three owlets. The owlets of Great Horned generally fledge between 6-8 weeks of age. The first two went on the early side of this range and the last one on the late side. Perhaps the owlet liked having the shelter and room in the nest and so long as it was getting fed all was good. I was confident that fledging would occur and that it was just a matter of when and not if.
I was unable to stay long in the park last night but I made the most of my time. I arrived and headed straight to the nest but did not see the nestling. I was not overly surprised or concerned. Just the day before I had looked in the nest and not seen anyone. When I returned to the nest a short while later the nestling was clearly visible in the hollow. The nestling did a similar peekaboo routine on Saturday morning.
With the nestling not visible I continued on and found Charles in his favorite conifer. Sarah and the two fledglings were in some of their favored recent perches including one tree that I am beyond overdue in naming. A name, be it practical or poetic, has yet to come to mind. I ran into a couple of photographers, Bill and Rafi, who have become devotees of the owls. We chatted for a while until I headed out to watch Sarah and the owlets for a different perspective before heading back to the nest area.
On my way back I scanned around to see if the owlet had fledged but turned up empty. A second look at the nest revealed no owlet so I decided to look in The Training Area. I walked slowly and carefully forward when I heard a faint clacking sound. I wondered if it my be an owlet bill clacking at me so I pressed on but now with even more care and caution. An owl sixth sense/ESL (Experience, Skill, Luck) moment gave me pause and nudged my head down and to the left and there at the base of the tree was the third owlet! Bloody hell.
I was only five feet from the now fledgling. This the one of the closest I had ever been to an owlet. What a beauty. The owlet was 20-30 feet "behind" The Fleur Des Lis Tree making it about 20-40 yards from the nest and 100 yards from the rest of the family. The owlet looked at me and again I heard what sound like bill clacking but it, happily, was not the owlet never mind one of the adults bill clacking at me. I observed bare but budding tree limbs hitting each other in the breeze and making the clacking sound. Whew!
I backed away from the owlet to give the owlet its due space. Owlets will often spend time on the ground and I was glad that it was so well hidden in vines that covered the ground and the base of this and another tree. Even with this knowledge, I was concerned about the owlet's condition. I hoped that it had not been injured during fledging. The owlet turned its head but otherwise it did not move. I also worried about predators. Over the years I have seen Red Foxes, Minks, Raccoons, Common Snapping Turtles, Red-tailed Hawks and Coyotes in the core of the owls territory.
My phone rang quietly and it was Wendy and she was thrilled to hear about the owlet and she shared my concerns. I delicately checked out the owlet from a couple of different perspectives seeking to gain further insight into its condition.
I went back to where I had originally seen the owl and it gave me a funny look. It took me a moment to realize that it was doing a neat owlish maneuver, namely focusing each eye independently.
Each owl eye can act as its own separate camera lens, which is an amazing adaptation. I have only seen this a few times and rarely have been able to document it. Even knowing this, I hoped that the owlet was in good shape after its big transition from nestling to fledgling. It was not obviously injured so I did not take any action other than hoping it would join the rest of the family soon and/or get fed by Sarah.
As I watched the owlet from afar I saw my friend, Chad Henry, and his now toddler daughter, Camille, heading my way. In 2006 Chad and his wife, Sarah, had twins, Sean and Maddie. That was the same year that I saw the owls nest. The two owlets that year made me think of the humans twins and their parents and inspired me to name the adult female, Sarah, after the twins' mom. Prior to that she was just called "The Female." The whole Henry family are keen supporters of the owls and my work with them. Chad was excited to learn about and see the new fledgling and while Camille may not have been able to see the well-camouflaged owlet, she did delight in the antics of a nearby pair of Eastern Grey Squirrels.
I called my friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente, who I knew was coming to the park that night. Brenda was on her way and was amazed at the news of the fledgling. She arrived and was able to meet Chad and Camille. Chad and Brenda had not met but had heard so much about each other from me so it was good to finally have them meet. Brenda was happy to see the fledgling and she and Chad shared my concerns and assessment of the situation. Brenda and I agreed to keep the fledgling news in limited distribution until we were more confident that all was well with the last and latest fledgling. By now I was overdue leaving the park so we went our separate ways after I told Brenda where to find the rest of the owls. Upon arriving home, I showed Wendy my photos of the new fledgling and she just melted with delight.
As I embarked upon a variety of tasks at home, my phone chimed with a new text message. It was from Rusty Wandall, a new owl friend and a growing owl addict. He stated that he had not seen the owlet in the nest but having found all of the other owls he wondered if I had found the third owlet. Given the agreement about keeping the fledgling news to a few veteran owl addicts I was torn about what to tell him. Rusty is jolly nice chap and his enthusiasm for the owls is palpable. I decided to let him know that I had observed what he had. Ironically, I was so busy at home that I forgot to text said veteran owl addicts-d'oh!!
I continued on with my work and an hour later I received another text from Rusty stating that he was watching all three owlets! I called him immediately and asked him for more details. He had found the third owlet walking one of the dirt paths close to the other owls. As we spoke he said that he could see Sarah and all three owlets. The owlet had moved 80-100 yards in under three hours. It likely waited for it to get darker and to become more awake and active before making its next big move. Part of me was slightly skeptical that the owlet had gone so far so fast and I wondered if there were in fact four owlets! I explained to Rusty about the fledgling and my reasons for my incomplete disclosure. He graciously understood my reasoning and was glad that I had seen the third owlet earlier.
Brenda and I contacted each other and she was awestruck at the fledgling's progress. It turned out that she was able to return to the park. I asked her to go back to where I had found the owlet to see if the owlet was still there and if indeed there were four and not three owlets. Through a series of texts and phone calls with Brenda and Rusty over the next while it became clear that the owlet had indeed moved from where I had found it and that four owlets was not the case. More importantly the third owlet was active and evidently in good shape! Throughout this and the earlier text and phone call exchange, I kept Wendy up to date with all the latest news and developments. Brenda and Rusty concluded their observations and I thanked and praised them repeatedly for their great work and help. The whole night was truly a team effort and a great one. I finished my work at home, sat down in my favorite chair and had a well-deserved Martini while thinking fondly of the owls and how much of an impact they have on the lives of so many people. Thanks for reading!