Sunday, March 9, 2014

Upcoming Owl Talks, Intense Predatory Attempts, and An Overdue Quote

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I am especially excited about three upcoming owl talks this month. I hope to see as many of you as possible at one of these talks.

The first one is the second talk in 2014, so far, that had to be rescheduled due to the winter weather.  This talk is at the University City Public Library next Tuesday, March 11 at 7:00pm.  The talk is a special Friends of the Library event and I am thrilled that we rescheduled it.  Weather not only canceled the original talk on February 4 but forced the library to close early that afternoon.  A map of the library's location in the heart of the UCity Loop can be found here.

The second talk is for Gateway Greening, a local gardening and urban agriculture advocacy group, and is part of their Pints 'n' Plants lecture series.  It is on Wednesday, March 19 at 5:30pm at the restaurant Mangia Italiano on South Grand in St. Louis.  Full details are here.

The third public talk in March is on Thursday, March 27 at 7:00pm in St. Ann for the Rock Road branch of the St. Louis County Library system.  I did talks at six different county library branches in 2013 and each one was a distinct pleasure. Rock Road was one of the first of these talks and they are the first of three, so far, to have me back.  This talk will focus on the owls mating, nesting and owlets. Lots of cute pictures and videos!  Full details here.

This is shaping to be another great year for owl talks.  Other upcoming highlights include a talk at a local school, more library talks, talks for chapters of the Missouri Master Naturalist program (of which I am now a certified member), a guest lecture at an animal behavior class at Webster University, my second talk in Illinois and a talk in Kansas City!  

I saw the owlet three-four times this week (one of them was a possible sighting-no binos at the time).  Sarah continues to spend much time out of the nest.  The warming, for now, weather is likely partly responsible but I wonder if the nest is especially crowded with owlets.  The last two nights I have led owl prowls and on each night intense predatory attempts occurred.

On Friday I arrived with my group to see a large Red-tailed Hawk fly from the eastern edge of The Wooded Area to The Jungle Gym Tree Near The Overlook Hotel Tree.  The hawk's flight led our eyes to find both owls in different spots of The Overlook Hotel Tree.  We watched the owls as I detailed the owls' natural and personal histories.  A little while I saw a Red-tailed Hawk, quite likely the same one, come out of the east side of The Wooded Area heading in the general direction of the owls' nest.  The next thing we knew Sarah was after it with immense intensity.  I was too slow to get it all of it on my camera but I got the tail end of the attempt, in which the Red-tailed Hawk turned tail and veered away, landed in The First of Three Trees before bolting away further.  Check it out!

I think this attack had a dual purpose; defend the owlets from a pernicious predator and to try and catch a big meal.

Last night it was Charles' turn.  He had just joined Sarah in The Eastern Tree when a Great Blue Heron came flying through The Arena.  I saw a smaller bird coming fast behind the heron and I thought it was a goose or duck.  I finally realized it was Charles going like a bullet for the heron! Charles eventually veered off because I think he decided that he did not have the speed and power to catch up with and kill the heron. The heron veered off to live another day.  Thankfully, I was able to capture most of the encounter with my camera.

To see two such predatory attempts two days in a row was too cool!  Both attempts kicked my adrenal glands and heart rate into high gear.  Each of the prowl groups were amazed to see these intense predatory attempts.  It did not take me much to communicate to my groups how special it was to see these attempts! Owl prowl groups are amazed to hear of the predatory prowess of Great Horned Owls but these two groups saw it firsthand.

For the past few years I have been meaning to quote on this blog a great description/reflection on the nature of the nesting behavior of Great Horned Owls.  The quote comes from the book Views From The Back Forty by James P. Jackson, an avid naturalist, teacher, writer and photographer.  This excellent book is about how Mr. Jackson and his family bought a back forty of an old farm near Columbia, Missouri and the joys and challenges they faced revitalizing it and studying its ecology.  He describes a back forty as the area of a family farm not accessible by road and usually least productive and suitable for cultivation.  In chapter nineteen, Woodland Nocturnes, Jackson writes, "On dark nights during the depths of winter the woods are apt to be deathly silent.  But when a moon appears in late January, be it only a crescent, the neighborhood pair of great horned owls will report with muffled hoots that it is nesting season.  Then, even with sub-zero temperature or enveloping snow, the female is certain to incubating tow or three eggs; the very thought of such dedication chills me to the core."  The quote is evocative and I like how he notices the owls' dedication. However, I would argue that said dedication is more warming than chilling.

Thanks for reading!

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