Friday, September 27, 2013

New Owl Talk and Owlet Update

Friday, September 27, 2013


I'm excited to be giving a new talk on the owls tomorrow, Saturday, September 28 at the Maplewood Public Library in Maplewood, MO.  The talk is titled, Forest Park Owls: Hunting and Feeding and focuses on the owls' hunting and feeding behavior.  The talk is at 1:00pm and I am thrilled that this is the third talk I have been lucky to present this year at the Maplewood Public Library.  Huge thank yous to Dawn Yourtee, the library's program director, and the entire staff of the library for their support and help.   Here are links to the library's FAQ with directions to the library (it is both easy and tricky to get there!) and a brochure for the talk itself.  I would be honored to see you all there!

This talk will be the twelfth talk of the year.  I have another eleven scheduled before year's end. That's a lot of talking! I now have a place for upcoming talks on this blog.  On the right column you will see the next four talks listed.  

Last night made it two weeks since I last saw one of this year's owlets.  A week before that I "made the call" that the owlets had all dispersed.  This year's dispersal was interesting as the owlets dispersed gradually and in age order from oldest to youngest.  I had not seen such a gradual and age ordered dispersal before this year.  At one point the youngest owlet, Stuart, was not seen for several days but then returned for a few more weeks.  Dispersal is always a bittersweet time.  I miss the owlets and wish them well on their next big step in life.  At the same time I am excited for them and happy to see Charles and Sarah have some time to themselves before, hopefully, beginning the whole process over again.  Dispersal is also vital to the owls overall well-being.  If the owlets did not disperse, the pressure on the populations of the owls' prey would be damaging.  Secondly, dispersal helps to ensure that the owls' gene population stays nice and healthy by spreading related owls out into the world.

Here is an earlier video of Stuart doing some begging cheeps that are more visible than audible.  Usually it is the opposite.

I sent the below out a couple of weeks ago to my e-mail list and to the MO-Birds listserv so it is old news for some of you. It documents what turned out to be the last day I saw one of Charles and Sarah's owlets this year, Thursday, September 12.   Thanks for reading!

After too many days, albeit days well spent, not having enough time in Forest Park, I was able to spend a few hours there last night checking out the Great Horned Owls and other cool critters.  

My first sighting was of a immature Cooper's Hawk flying right above me with prey in its talons.  I saw where it landed and watched it adjust its position while begging to pluck the unidentified bird it had caught.  I took my eyes off for a moment and it was gone in a flash.  

After a Muskrat sighting I was continued looking for the owls when I heard a loud bird call.  It sounded, as I said at the time, "perhaps like a Pileated Woodpecker or a Northern Flicker on steroids."  I was wrong it was the immature Cooper's Hawk and he was calling at an immature Great Horned Owl.  It was Stuart, the last of the 2013 owlets to disperse (also the last to fledge). The owl and the hawk took turns facing each other and then flying at/attacking each other. It was interesting to see these two immature birds exhibiting this behavior.  What the owl lacked in agility in speed it made up for in size and power. Over the years I have seen numerous interactions of these two species including vigorous mobbing of the owls by the hawks and predatory attempts on the hawks by the owls.  These interactions are always intense and fascinating. 

I lost sight of the mutually inhospitable immature individuals but I soon found Charles, the adult male GHO.  He engaged in intensive grooming and stretching while bathed in the setting sun before beginning to hoot in earnest. The adult female,  Sarah,  soon made her presence known and joined him for a duet, which they then took on the road for a while.  They each made a unsuccessful predatory attempt on bats in midair. Despite the lack of success, these attempts were thrilling as always to see.  I have observed the owls catching 5+ bats in the time I have been watching them.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Names For And Brief Update On The Owlets

Monday, September 2, 2013

Again my blog has suffered a spring/summer drop off in updates.  I hope this does not give the impression that I have not been observing, documenting and doing outreach with the owls.  I am as busy as ever. Making and finding the time to blog is the tough part.  This year's owlets are a great group and I have been lucky to share them with many people via numerous owl prowls.  We just started the thirty-sixth week of the year and so far I have led 36 owl prowls in 2013.  2013 is shaping up to be a banner year for outreach both with owl prowls and owl talks. I gave seven talks in 2012 and this year I have done ten so far with many more to come. I am starting to do talks outside of the St. Louis area too, which is exciting.  Please look on the right side of my blog to see my next four upcoming talks.  I hope to see you at one-or more!

Back to the owlets.  When Charles and Sarah have had three owlets in years past, 2008 and 2010 specifically, I have named the owls after fictional siblings to give the owlets an age/hatching order.  2008 was Bart, Lisa and Maggie from The Simpsons and 2010 was Reese, Malcolm and Dewey from Malcolm in The Middle.  In years with two owlets, I have named the owlets after recently deceased individuals, all human with one exceptional feline exception. Some were family of mine, others kin to friends of mine and even a much respected and greatly missed author.  With three owlets here in 2013 I decided to forgo the fictional sibling naming convention and instead use another group of in memoriam names.  Unfortunately, I had a number of deserving individuals who died recently and I thought naming owlets after them was a fitting way to remember and honor these individuals.  I named the owlets Lawrence, Edward and Stuart.    As the owlets have dispersed, leaving their parents' territory, or are in the process of dispersing I think it is fitting to learn the owlets names and the origins thereof.

Lawrence is named for Lawrence Colavita, the father of my girlfriend, Wendy Schlegel.  Lawrence died on December 2, 2012.  Although everyone called him Larry, Wendy and I decided that Lawrence was a more fitting tribute to her a father and a better name for an owlet.  I first met Larry in the fall of 1999 when he traveled from his beloved hometown of Schenectady, New York to rendezvous with Wendy and me in New York City.  Wendy and I had been together for about a year and I think he was a tad puzzled about me.
Wendy had sung my praises to him but now was a chance to cast his gaze on the person now romantically involved and living with his only child.   I was not overly worried about meeting him but I knew him to be of a sharp, discerning mind.  Thankfully one of Larry's many qualities was his not only his sharp mind but his equally open mind.  It did not take him too long to see that Wendy was not off her rocker but was very happy and that I was a decent chap with a few bits of grey matter in my noggin. Larry and I shared a common passion for and knowledge of great film, music and television. I think he thought that, "Well, Mark will be easy to talk with when I call and see Wendy."  Larry and I also were both former New Yorkers and we had each come to St. Louis to go to WashU.  Larry was always keen to hear about the owls and their doings, for which I am grateful.  As an Air Force veteran Larry was buried with full military honors in one of the best burial ceremonies one could have. Dignified, respectful and gracious.  He is missed. Here is Larry's obituary and a photo of Wendy receiving his flag.

Edward is named for our friend and former colleague Edward Cook.  Mr. Cook died on April 23, 2012.  I worked with Mr. Cook at the Central Library of the St. Louis Public Library system from 1998-2003.  Mr. Cook worked in the QUIC Reference/Information Center, which is the ready reference department of the library.  After working as a shelver and shelver supervisor for under a year, I had the honor of transferring into this department in January 1999.  The honor was largely a result of the brilliant and interesting individuals, like Mr. Cook, who worked in this department.  Mr. Cook was one of three retired teachers in the department who had all taught together and become friends at Saint Louis Priory School, one of the best prep schools in the area.  As individuals they are all superbly educated and knowledgeable in a variety of areas and as a troika they were awe-inspiring.  Thankfully, Mr. Cook, Berkley Jones and Dennis Roach are all kind of heart as well as brilliant of brain.  They gladly helped me and other younger members of the department such as Andrzej Niekrasz, Melissa Vetter, Quinton Byrd and Jim Bone and we in turn helped them bringing our areas of knowledge and expertise to bear.

As the eldest of the the three great teachers, Mr. Cook held us all to a high standard. A language teacher, he was fully versed and fluent in Latin, Greek, French and German.  A passionate and deeply read devotee of classical music and film, he mentored to me and many others.  We returned the favor as best we could.  One of my prouder exchanges with him was when I turned him into a passionate fan of The Simpsons.   He often remarked, "Mark, my boy,  if you do nothing else in life you can at least tell people how you got me into The Simpsons."  I met Wendy as we too worked at the library, albeit in different departments.  Wendy and Mr. Cook became fast friends and he saw how much we mean to each other.

A well-traveled man he was passionately devoted to the City of St. Louis and lived there all of his eighty-four years extolling its virtues and worrying over its challenges.   Mr. Cook was encouraging but I think ever so slightly perplexed by my interest in and passion for the owls.  Still he saw how much it means to me and how I have been able to share this passion with others.  I can recall countless exchanges between us of books, cds and articles but I always regret that I never got him out for an owl prowl.  We ended up moving only a few blocks away from Mr. Cook so we lived all near the park and the owls but a prowl just never happened.  A prowl was always one of those things that we would do but never made firm plans to do so.  I think he would have liked to have seen the owls and would have gained an appreciation for them.  Wendy and I had brunch today with Berkley Jones and as is typical, no small part of our conversation was about our much missed, voluble and venerable colleague, Mr. Cook.  Here is his obituary.

The third and youngest owlet is named for Stuart Freeborn.  He died on February 6, 2013.  I never met Mr. Freeborn but I love his work.  One of the greatest film make-up artists of all time his work included such great films (and great makeup therein) as the David Lean films Oliver Twist and The Bridge on The River Kwai, the Stanley Kubrick films Dr. Strangelove.... and 2001: A Space Odyssey all before designing Yoda for George Lucas' Star Wars films.  A man of immense talent, knowledge and character he imbued his work with his essence.  I think he would have liked to have a gorgeous and fascinating Great Horned Owl named after him.  Here is his obituary from The New York Times and one from the film website, Ain't It Cool, which has some great footage of him and his work.

There is much to tell about the owlets but I think I will conclude with one of the better shots I got of all three of them next to each other. From May 19, from left to right it is: Edward, Stuart and Lawrence.

You can really see the differences in size and feather development due to the asynchronous laying and hatching of the eggs, which is normal for Great Horned Owls.  Thanks for reading!