This is always I day I look forward to and about which I have some dread. Today makes it eight years that I have been consistently observing Charles and Sarah, the amazing Great Horned Owls of Forest Park! To learn more about the night that began this owliversary process, please read this blog post from 2009.
I always look forward to the day and marking another milestone but I always have concern about not seeing the owls and just making sure all is well with them.
Thankfully, it was another fascinating and fun evening with them. I stopped by to see if I could see if Sarah was where I left her last night (see previous post). She was not there and nowhere to be seen to boot. I headed out to other areas of the park and despite the radical temperature drop from low 50s yesterday to low 20s today, I had a great time. I saw many Mallard Ducks, a Mourning Dove, two Belted Kingfishers, a few European Starlings, several Canada Geese, five Northern Shovelers and a female Pie-billed Grebe all before seeing the owls. I returned to the owls' territory, did a quick hollow recce and then headed to The Trio Conifers to look for Charles. He was not there nor in The Quartet Conifers or some of the miscellaneous cypresseseses [:)]. Puzzlement and concern grew. I wondered if he was in The Fleur de lis Tree and as I headed that way, I saw him in the 11/13 Nest Hollow, where I had just looked and seen nothing no more than fifteen minutes earlier!
Charles has used this hollow several times in recent weeks, most often in inclement weather but other times on perfectly lovely days. He took a while to wake up but eventually did so even flying right towards me and landing directly above me in The Eastern Branch Tree.
Charles began to hoot more and Sarah eventually responded from one of the hollows in The 06/09/11/13 Nest Tree. But I do not know which one. Despite Charles hooting for the better part of a half hour she did not show her face. Charles flew off to hunt and I waited 45 minutes for him to return and or for her to come out of whichever hollow she was in this night. Neither occurred in this time. And why yes, it was cold. On the plus side I saw two Raccoons and a Mink while I waited, watched and worked to maintain body heat. I returned home and gave Wendy a condensed version of the night's events. Later, we clinked glasses to commemorate eight years of consistent owl observations. Wendy continues to be my biggest and most important supporter of my work with the owls, Huge thanks and hugs, my lady!
As in previous years on this occasion, some number crunching is in order. Between December 29, 2012 and tonight, December 29, 2013. I went to the park to observe, document, and do outreach with the owls 302 nights. That is 82.7% of the days up from 71.5% last year. January 2013 was my biggest month with 30 visits while out of town trips in June and July dipped me down to 22 and 19 visits, respectively.
My success rate took a small but simultaneously noticeable hit this year from 100% to 99%. I did not see the owls on November 18, 2013. Happily I saw them the following morning. This lack of sighting ended a streak of consecutive sightings that began in June 2010. For the better part of three-and-half years, I had in the neighborhood of one thousand consecutive sightings of at least one of the owls. I am quite chuffed at this streak.
By any yardstick, 2013 was a banner year for owl outreach. 2012 had me leading 49 owl prowls which I eclipsed this year with 57. The 7 talks I gave in 2012 was quadrupled by the 28 I gave this year. I already have 10 scheduled in 2014 with more in the works. 2013 featured my first out of town talks with talks in Farmington, Rolla and Columbia as well as my first talks for the St. Louis County Library System and three talks alone for Maplewood Public Library. Other venues for talks included my workplace, Fontbonne University, Missouri Nature and Environmental Photgraphers (MONEP) and Captain Elementary School in Clayton, MO.
2013 was also a big year for taking additional steps as a naturalist. I completed the 12 week basic training course this summer and fall to become a Missouri Master Naturalist intern. I am well on the way to become a certified MMN with additional advanced training and my many hours of volunteer work. I had the distinction and immense honor to present the advanced training at the first meeting I attended as new member of my MMN chapter, the Great Rivers chapter. My talk on the owls was well-received and I have also led owl prowls and will give talks for other neighboring chapters.
In October I began to co-lead the monthly Beginner Birder Walk in Forest Park. This is a joint venture of Forest Park Forever and St. Louis Audubon Society. I have been going on the walks for a few years now and helping out where and when I could. In the summer I was approached by the walk's co-leaders, Jim Wilson and Amy Witt, to see if I would take Jim's place as he winds down toward retirement. I was and continued to be honored that asked me and amazed that I was the first person they asked and not the twenty-first. There is no way I can fill Jim's immense shoes but hopefully I can lend my own perspective and energy to these walks. This is a new role for me as I begin my fourth year as a volunteer for Forest Park Forever. My owl prowls continued to generate donations to Forest Park Forever as well as being featured as silent-auction items for organizations including Gateway Greening, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and Wild Bird Rehabilitation.
I know I am forgetting a few other highlights but the most important highlight was observing and documenting the owls and sharing them in a number of different ways with so many different people. Tomorrow's appearance at noon on "St. Louis on the Air" on KWMU, 90.7 will be a great way to commemorate my eighth owlivesary.
Thank you for reading and thank you to everyone that came on a prowl, went to a talk, or just asked me about the owls. Your time and spirit are most appreciated!