Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sarah Takes Another Drink!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A pleasant result of my appearance on KWMU's "St. Louis on the Air" was a considerable spike in traffic to this blog and numerous e-mails asking about owl prowls.  One of the first of these e-mails was from William Krekeler who wanted to go on an owl prowl with his wife in the next few days.  We agreed on Thursday, January 2.  I met William and Renee and was glad to see them properly dressed and otherwise following my owl prowl preparation points as it was bitterly cold that night.  We headed out on the prowl and soon ran into my friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente.

Sarah flew out of the nest hollow and she and Charles began to duet.  Mating did not occur that night but we were treated to another amazing sight.  For the second time that week, Sarah flew down to the water way and drank!  Mallard Ducks and Canada Geese were mere feet from her.  One duck seemed to vocalize a warning call but for the most part the ducks were not overly wary of this more than potential predator in their midst.  The first partially intact skull I ever found in an owl pellet was in April 2008 and it was the skull of a Wood Duck.  I have seen Charles and Sarah go for Mallards on a handful of occasions. On this night, Sarah was too far away to reach out and grab the ducks and too close to fly and catch them.  The Canada Geese took greater alarm and soon flew away.

Typically I go months and even years between seeing the owls drink so it was especially amazing to see Sarah drink for the second time in a week.  The close proximity of the ducks and geese added an extra-amazing dimension to this evening.  Check her out!

It is always fascinating to see how carefully she looks around between in each drink.  Charles hooted as she drank.  Once finished she flew into The Wooded Area.  Charles soon bombed out in an eastward direction and Sarah return to the nest not long after that.  Brenda headed home and William, Renee and I headed back to our respective vehicles, chatting as we walked.  I was heartened to hear that this owl prowl was one of the ways in which they were celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary!  I wished them a hearty congratulations, thanked them on their choice of anniversary observation and bid them good night!

Thank you for reading!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sarah's Is Nesting! The 2014 Nest Spot Is Known!

Friday, January 3, 2014

After several days since I first saw Sarah exhibiting nesting behavior on Thursday, December 26 as well as several days of variable or uncertain or undetermined locations, I am making the call. I finally saw Sarah emerge from and return to the same hollow for two consecutive nights; Tuesday and Wednesday. (As well as Thursday) She is nesting in the 11/13 Nesting Hollow, which is now named the 11/13/14 Nesting Hollow. The other night my friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente, mentioned that the name of this tree keeps getting longer.  It is now the 06/09/11/13/14 Nest Tree.  I replied to Brenda that it might be easier to refer to this tree as The Tree In Which They Usually Nest or some other less specific name.  Five of the so far nine nesting locations have been in this immense, multi-hollowed Cottonwood.

Here is a rather crap but still discernible picture of Sarah flying out the hollow on Wednesday.

The biggest difference this year is that this is first time, so far, that I have seen Sarah nest in the same hollow in consecutive years. At a minimum they have taken one year away from using the same hollow and at other times three to four years before returning to a previously used hollow. Given the number and suitability of the hollows in the core of their territory as well as their predilection for using hollows this lack of consecutive repeats has not been a surprise.

This year's back-to-back usage is curious and fascinating all at once.  As noted in Dwight G. Smith's superb book, Great Horned Owl, Stackpole Books, 2002,  Great Horned Owls are documented using the same nest sites, provided they are sufficiently sturdy and not a stick nest, in consecutive years as well as with the aforementioned gaps.  In Wayne Lynch's broader but no less excellent survey of owls, Owls Of The United States and Canada, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007, the author has a sidebar on nest parasites in the chapter titled Family Life.  This sidebar discusses how reusing nest sites carries the risk of nest parasites.  The parasites can be attracted to anything from decomposing prey to pellets to old feathers.  Lynch concludes the sidebar by saying how there is to learn about if nest parasites can harm parent owls or owlets in a major way.  I hope that this year's nest selection is another great one and that all the eggs hatch and all the owlets fledge and disperse.

It was interesting to see Sarah emerge from the 06/09 Nest Hollow on Saturday, December 28.  This hollow branch is still large and big enough that an adult owl can disappear within it but it is still much smaller than its former self.  This hollow was used by Sarah for nesting in 2006 and 2009 but the branch received substantial damage in an intense storm that swept through in the first week of June 2009.  I would have been interested to see them nest in this damaged hollow branch.  But as I said to a few folks in recent days, "Why pick the Motel 6 when you can have the Ritz-Carlton?"

I drove through the park in the late morning on Wednesday and found Charles perched at the edge of the hollow.  During several nesting seasons I have seen Charles perched at the edge of that year's nest hollow or in another nearby hollow.  A beautiful sight to see and process to contemplate.  By the time I arrived back in the park for the night's observation and documentation (and no shortage of owl ambassadorship), Charles was perched in The Fleur de lis Tree.  Here he is Wednesday afternoon grooming his legs or as my girlfriend, Wendy Schlegel, calls them, "Pants!"

With Charles and Sarah not in The Trio Conifers, in which they spent much of the follow and early winter, I took the opportunity to look for owl pellets and whitewash under these trees.  I had decent success as you can see below. 

When Sarah emerged from the nest hollow, it took longer than Wednesday night for them to mate but not all that long.  They got a good duet going, changed hooting spots a few times and then mated as you can see/hear in the below video at the 17 second mark.

We watched Sarah return to the nest and headed back to our respective homes. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Great End To The Old Year, Welcome The New Year!

Wednesday, January 1, 2013

2013 came to a great conclusion especially with the events of Monday, January 30.  I was quite excited and only a little nervous about my appearance that afternoon on the local NPR affiliate KWMU's show "St. Louis on the Air" hosted by Don Marsh.  I felt confident that it would go well but you never know how such things will go until they happen.  I arrived at the station and luckily ran into the show's web producer, Camille Phillips ,who kindly helped me get into the building and steer me to the green room.  I was warmly welcomed by her, Don and the show's producers, Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer.  As we got closer to air time, Don and Alex got me settled in with headphones, we did a voice check and next thing I knew we were off to the races!  Don's questions were curious, insightful and genial and the show was nicely mixed with a great variety of phone calls and e-mail questions.  I thoroughly enjoyed the wide range of questions and callers and e-mailers.

Two of the phone calls were ever-so-slightly expected calls from my old friend from high school George "Chip" Villareal calling from Oklahoma and my friend and owl mentee, Chris Gerli of City Cycling Tours, who was calling from Rhode Island where he was visiting with his partner and fellow owl mentee, Barb Brownell, and Barb's family.  I say these calls were slightly expected as Chip had mentioned on Facebook that he would try to listen in and Chris had texted me wishing me well on my appearance. It was a pleasure to hear their voices and respond to their warm questions and comments.

Other than a few minor verbal stumbles I felt I did a solid job giving fluid, informative, engaging and concise answers and comments during the program.  My friend, Robin Street-Morris, noted via e-mail that my numerous talks and owl prowls were good practice for the radio appearance.  I could not agree more! You can listen to the show here:

Before I knew it the hour on the air drew to a close.  Before I could say it, Don remarked that the hour had gone by quickly.  Mary, Alex and Camille joined us in the studio voicing their kudos and remarking at the prodigious amount of phone calls and e-mails generated by this show.  I hope this is indicative of the interest in the owls and my work with them as well as how I attempt to make the topic educational, engaging and entertaining.  I thanked everyone for the opportunity and for all their work and I headed for home.  Before driving back I turned on my phone to happily find a number of congratulatory texts and voice mails from my girlfriend Wendy, our friend Julie Portman, Chris Gerli and me mum.

After some decompression and lunch at home, I headed out early to the park.  I was surprised to find Charles perched in plain sight on top of the 06/09 Nest Hollow.  He was so easy to see that the crows were mobbing him like it was going out of style.  I ran into a nature lover and photographer Luann Holst whom I had taken, along with her husband, Dwayne, on an owl prowl earlier in the year.  We were joined a little while later to my friend and owl mentee Rusty Wandell.  We all watched the very long mobbing that Charles endured while puzzling why he was in such an exposed spot at such an early hour.  I was able to snag a few lucky shots of crows swooping close to Charles using a fast shutter speed. Be sure to double click on the photos to see larger versions of them.

I had hoped to see Sarah before she flew out of whatever hollow in which she is nesting.  She used one hollow on Friday, a different one on Saturday and checked out a third that night and on Sunday she did not come out all during the two hours I was there.  Unfortunately, I saw her on Monday in mid-flight but I did not know her point of origin.  Sarah flew to the Fleur de lise Tree and then the First of  The Three Trees.  I was trying to watch her and Charles when Rusty pointed out that Sarah was flying.  She flew low down to the edge of river way.  I was confident she was heading down for a drink, something I rarely see but something I had seen before early in the nesting period, which you can read about in this blog post from two years ago.

The last few days had been quite cold and much of this portion of the river way was covered with a thin layer of ice.  Sarah walked from the bank of the river way and on to the ice.  I had never seen her or Charles or any owlets on ice-covered water!  Sarah spent many minutes looking for unfrozen water and finally flew to a different spot on the bank that was unfrozen and took a long careful drink.  She has good balance on the ice for the most part but slips and slides ever so perceptively from time to time. Sarah went ice skating!  The following videos are in chronological order so you can see the full process.  It was amazing to watch and I hope you enjoy it too!

Here is a photo of Sarah on the ice as well.

Owls get most of their liquid needs from the prey they eat but given that Sarah has embryos forming within her she may well need a little extra H2O.  She eventually continued her duet with Charles, they mated and Charles afterward flew within mere feet of Rusty and me. Unfortunately we missed Sarah returning to her nest spot.

I returned home and Wendy and I headed out to a new restaurant in the Central West End called Cucina Pazzo by Justin for a great meal to celebrate the radio appearance and the owls in general. In the hours and days since my appearance on "St. Louis on the Air" I have had a most welcome host of great e-mails from listeners, a big spike in traffic on my blog, requests for owl prowls, many kind Facebook comments and likes, running into people in the park who heard and enjoyed the show and more new Twitter followers. Great stuff all around.

Yesterday had me back in the park.  Charles was in a much more discreet spot and received significantly less mobbing.  I saw Sarah exit and return to the 11/13 Nesting Hollow but as I told a few people, I am not ready to make the call on the nesting spot until I see an exit and return from the same spot in two consecutive days.  Fingers crossed for today!  Wendy and I rang in the new year with movies, reading and bubbly.

Thank you for reading the blog post and listening to the radio show.  May you all have a great, fun, stimulating and healthy new year!