Thursday, October 10, 2013

Upcoming Talk, Owl Update and A Scary Squawk!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The fall continues to be happily busy with many owl talks and prowls.  My next talk is this Saturday, October 12 at 11:00am at the Thornhill Branch of the St. Louis County Library system.  This branch is between Creve Couer and Maryland Heights in the western portion of St. Louis County.  I hope to see you there! I am quite chuffed that this is the fourth of six talks that I am giving this year at different St. Louis County Library locations.  This will be the eighteenth talk I have given in 2013.     My next four talks are listed on the left side of this blog. 

I did four talks in a row this past Sunday, October 6 for the Forest Park Forever Fall Family Funfest. As a volunteer for Forest Park Forever and ever-so-slightly passionate park goer, I am honored to have given talks for this great event for the last few years.   Usually when I give a talk, I wear a sports coat, wool trousers and shiny shoes.  However for this and other talks, I dress as I do when I go out to the park to give a clearer picture of what I do. Here's a picture of me in mid-talk from last Sunday.  

The photo is courtesy of Stephen Schenkenberg, the new Strategic Communications Director of Forest Park Forever.  Many thanks and welcome to Forest Park Forever, Stephen!

It has been almost a month since I last saw one of the owlets, Stuart the youngest, to be precise.  With the owlets well and gone, Charles and Sarah are settling into their early autumn routine of roosting relatively near each other and engaging in duets.  There was and continues to be variations in their perch spots.  Recently, Sarah has returned to her Late Summer/Early Fall perch but even there, variations occur.  Most of the time she is on west side of the tree but recently she has been on the east side of this large tree. Before that she was using a new spot just next to her more habitual roost tree.  Sarah has been consistent with using The Cottonwood/Catalpa as her fly-to perch sometimes with a pause in The Big Dead Tree.  I have even found her perched in the latter on a few nights.  One night, September 29,  was particularly remarkable as she was in this tree well before sunset and I was able to carefully approach and get some memorable shots of her in the setting sun. These shots include some of the best shots I have had the luck to get of her yawning and doing a Double Wing Stretch. Be sure to double click on the pictures to a see a bigger version of them. 

Here she is on the same night in The Cottonwood-Catalpa.  Not only has she been consistent in her use of this tree but so she has been with this particular branch of the tree.

Charles has perched primarily in The Sandwich Tree but he has mixed it up on other nights.  Recently his perches have included Sarah's new spot and a low perch that Stuart used towards the end of the summer. Here he is in mid-hoot in yet another different roosting spot on September 13.

This week there have been some fascinating interactions between Charles and Sarah and Barred Owls and Great Blue Herons. On October 7, I was watching a sleeping Sarah when I heard one or two Barred Owls calling from the other section of woods. These calls woke Sarah and a likewise previously somnolent Charles. The Barred Owl calls lasted a few minutes and then ceased.  I had not heard the Barred Owls call for many weeks, which is not unusual.  I could write a whole chapter about the interactions of these Barred Owls with the Great Horned Owls especially as they live so close to each other and Great Horned Owls are known to kill and eat Barred Owls (among many other owl species).  I preface the following with a big asterisk but for the most part the Charles and Sarah do not spend more than a brief moment in the woods of the Barred Owls.  Only twice have I seen a Barred Owl in The Wooded Area where Charles and Sarah reside.  

Last night, a new development...developed.  I got to The Wooded Area in time to see either Charles or Sarah, I could not tell who, fly from the vicinity of Sarah's Late Summer/Early Fall perch to land in one of The Quartet Conifers.  I then heard a Barred Owl call from the vicinity of The Permanent Puddle, which is right inside of The Wooded Area!  I have no doubt that whichever of the Great Horned Owls it was, that they were reacting vehemently to this intruder in their territory.  I have never heard a Barred Owl call from inside Charles and Sarah's territory.  I think such an intrusion by a Barred Owl is a pernicious move that Charles and Sarah will not tolerate.  While trying to get a better angle on the Great Horned, I lost sight of them.  Neither owl hooted and I looked for both of them without success in a variety of different places.  I went back to look for the other Great Horned Owl but could not find them either.  

I then ran into a runner I had met before named Lloyd. He asked about the owls as he had not seen them since the spring and was keen to hear about them.  As we chatted I kept an eye on The Wooded Area.  My vigilance was rewarded when I saw Charles or Sarah fly a short distance east from the vicinity of The Quartet Conifers. We followed and found the owl in The Jungle Gym Tree Near The Overlook Hotel Tree. It was Sarah and although she used this tree quite a bit in the late summer I had not seen her there for a few weeks. She was not hooting nor had heard any Great Horned Owl calling despite it being right at sunset. Lloyd continued to ask great questions about the owls but then had to depart to finish his run.  Sarah remained in the tree without hooting.  Two Great Blue Herons flew close to her that she did pivoted 180 degrees in the tree. I gave it even money that she would go after one of them but she did not at that point. 

Several minutes later I could tell that Sarah might be ready to fly to her next spot.  I got my camera ready and as she flew and was out of view I heard a blood curdling call that I have never heard before last night
Listen for it at the 17 second mark.  This call literally sent chills down my back it was so intense and palpable. 

I quickly followed her and moments later I saw a Great Blue Heron fly out of The Overlook Hotel Tree.  It was followed by Sarah who was nearby flying  from the vicinity of two jungle gym trees; the one by The Archy Tree and the one by The North-South Path. They both flew towards The Arena.  Was the call I heard Sarah or the Great Blue Heron? Was Sarah attacking the heron physically or was this a vocal warning? Was this the heron reacting towards Sarah?  I do not know.  I knew of the following video of a Great Horned Owl attacking a Great Blue Heron from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for some time. Watching it again makes me think more that the call I heard last night was the heron and not Sarah. 

That said, from my work and research I know that Great Horned Owls have a wide variety of calls.  I have read about calls that I have not heard and there may be some calls I have heard but not read about so far.  I have not had a chance to do a literature review since I heard this call.  The superb owl expert and advocate, Karla (Kinstler) Bloem is doing amazing work in study Great Horned Owl behavior and she has published a paper on their vocalizations. This will be one of the first sources I will consult. I am honored to have corresponded with Karla and I hope she can read this post and give her expert input.  

 As Sarah and the Great Blue Heron flew away I did not hear any additional calls of any type.  I headed down to The Arena and did not hear or see any owl or heron until I saw a Great Horned Owl flying west.  It had been in a tree that Charles had used the previous two nights.  Was this Charles or was it Sarah?  I stopped to talk to a photographer and his son who had seen the owl flying over them.  I headed home simultaneously puzzled, concerned and amazed by what I had seen, heard and not seen.