Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I will cut to the chase and happily broadcast that last night I saw the first glimpse of Charles and Sarah's 2014 owlets!! I saw one owlet and estimate it to be two-three weeks of age. Here's the original shot followed by a cropped in version of the same picture (Be sure to double-click on each photo to see a larger version). What a gorgeous owlet!
Like every year the first sighting of an owlet was a moment of pure joy. I could not stop grinning as I saw this grey/white youngster, first with my naked eye and then followed by binoculars and camera. I said, as I often say about so many different aspects of Charles, Sarah and Great Horned Owls as a whole, "It never get old." I quickly texted the news to my girlfriend, Wendy, and other friends and owl addicts. I do not know how many owlets they have had this year (2-3 is average for the species and for Charles and Sarah) but as of now, I have seen them have nineteen since 2006. I am beyond being quite chuffed!
It was an amazing night out in Forest Park. I was leading an owl prowl for David Brunworth. David is a good friend of Danny Brown. Danny is a fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation and a superb wildlife photographer, both as a freelancer and as a frequent contributor the department's magazine, Missouri Conservationist. I first met Danny in 2010 and was immediately impressed with his knowledge of and dedication to Missouri's wildlife. I recently had the pleasure of attending a workshop he gave on wildlife photography in Missouri and it was simultaneously humbling and inspiring.Suffice to say that a friend of Danny's is a person worth knowing and David more than proved this maxim. I told Danny about Sarah nesting and that, if all went well, hatching had occurred in mid-February and that I hoped to see my first glimpse of an owlet this week.
We saw that Sarah, as she has been doing for the past couple of weeks (thank you, friends and owl mentees, Brenda Hente and Rusty Wandell, for keeping an eye on the owls last week while I was out of town), left the nest in and around 4:40pm. We looked in the nest hoping to seen an owlet but no such luck. As we watched Sarah we heard Charles hoot, not from The Trio Conifers-his recent preferred perch place-but from The 06/09/11/13 Nest Tree. A couple of weeks ago, I saw Charles fly from this tree but not from the 11/13/14 Nest Hollow but from one of the other hollows in this immense, much-favored Cottonwood. I did not know which hollow but hoped to see this again. Now tonight I had my chance.
David and I changed vantage points hoping to see Charles. ESL (Experience, Skill, Luck) paid off and I saw Charles hooting from a hollow in this tree. This particular hollow had existed for some years but due to damage incurred in a storm this past summer, it gained both size and a second point of entry/exit. In August 2013, I saw Charles attack two "teenage" Raccoons in this hollow. Here's Charles in the hollow last night.
Around this time, Sarah began to attract more attention from a group of American Crows returning from their days foraging to their rookeries. The attention turned into a fully-fledged mobbing of Sarah. David, who was amazed to see Charles in this hollow, was now completely intrigued to see and learn about mobbing. The mobbing continued at a high intensity and I saw Sarah possibly prepare to fly. Fly she did back to the nest with all the crows in pursuit. Check it out!
While it was interesting to see this mobbing and chase, it is worrying that the crows may have learned of the owls' nest spot as the crows can be a threat to the owlets. That said, I have great trust in Sarah's ability as a protective mother.
With Sarah back in the nest, David and I took another look at the nest. Sarah was squeezed into the nest.
She eventually began to move down further into the nest and that's when we saw the owlet! David was utterly thrilled to glimpse the youngster and kindly profuse in his gratitude for this owl prowl. Not to belabor the point but I let David know that seeing the first glimpse of an owlet, Charles in new hollow/perch spot and Sarah chased back to the nest by crows made for a very good night of owl observation. He heartily agreed. The owlet moved out of sight just as my friend Amy Wilhelm came into sight. I showed Amy my picture of the owlet and she broke into a happy burble of baby talk. Amy took the words out of my mouth when she reflected on the owlet and simply said, "Life."
David had to depart due to a prior commitment but was more than clear about his desire to return to see the owls soon and with his wife Diane, who was unable to attend this prowl. We continued to watch Sarah and then we ran into Brenda Hente. She had received my text and was excited to learn the news. Brenda has been watching Charles and Sarah with me for just over three years and her own pair of Great Horned Owls, Will and Kate, for well over three years. As in 2013, Will and Kate began to mate and nest a little earlier than Charles and Sarah. Accordingly, Brenda saw her first glimpse of their owlets this year a little earlier than my first glimpse of Charles and Sarah's owlets. With the difference in nesting and hatching times, Brenda has been able to determine that for the second year in a row, Will and Kate, have three owlets. Brenda paid me the great honor of naming the oldest of the owlets after me, using one of my middle names, Xavier. This is the second owl that has been named for/after me and it is truly an immense honor. Brenda had just come from seeing her owls and their trio of owlets and she filled us in on the family's doings of the day.
Brenda, Amy and I all got another quick look at the owlet before it, as Wendy says, got a case of the shys and headed back in the nest. Amy departed and Brenda and I watched Charles and Sarah for a while longer before leaving the park. I returned home and regaled Wendy with all the news and her face just lit up when she saw my pictures of the owlets. I always love sharing the first owlet glimpse with Wendy!
Thanks for reading!