Friday, April 25, 2014

Owlets For A Friday Revisited

Friday, April 25, 2014

Another week is coming to a close and it was a good and busy one. This is the seventeenth week of the year and on Monday I gave my eleventh owl talk of the year. Tonight I lead my thirtieth owl prowl of 2014.  I had a brief time yesterday to find and observe the owls before the rain hit and before I headed home to make dinner.  All three owlets were together in The Window on the West Tree, each of them doing their own thing. Enjoy the owlets and The Fluff!

I still have some amazing nights of Sarah feeding the owlets to share so hopefully soon, Adventures In Owl Dining will resume.  Thank you for reading!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Adventures In Owl Dining, Part I

Thursday, April 17, 2014

In less than a week it has been my luck to have two amazing nights of Sarah feeding herself and the owlets. The first night was Saturday, April 12.  I met my friends and owl mentees Brenda Hente, Barb Brownell and Chris Gerli and we headed over to see the owls. We found Sarah high up in The Overlook Hotel Tree. From about forty yards away I spied with my little eye all three owlets in a row in The Jungle Gym Tree Near The Archy Tree; a favorite haunt of theirs in this post-fledging stage this year.  (Be sure to double click on the photos to see a larger version of them)

After a quick stop to find Charles in the tallest of The Trio Conifers we headed back to watch the owlets from a closer angle.  Chris saw that Sarah had joined the owlets in their tree.  We saw her move into a crotch in this multi-faceted tree and we wondered if she was removing prey from a cache site.  Indeed she was. She made a short hop over to The Jungle Gym Tree Near The North-South Path landing on a bare branch with the remains of large greyish/darkish bird in her massive talons.  She wasted no time in feeding. We wondered what it was and American Crow, Little Blue Heron, and Cooper's Hawk promptly came to my mind as likely candidates.  It was amazing to see her take large bites of this bird with feathers of her prey sticking out of her bill as the setting sun bathed her in light.

I only took one video of her and the focus was a tad off so my apologies for that.  Still it gives some insight into her feeding.

She paused in feeding and I was able to get a clearer glimpse of the prey.  These photos are cropped in order to see the prey more closely.

When our night ended, I looked closely at these photos and showed them to everyone on my camera. I was pretty certain it was a Little Blue Heron given the size of the bird and its blue-grey feathers and long green-brown legs.  My friends and mentees were not as convinced just yet. Chris and Brenda thought that they saw some barring or striping that would have ruled out a Little Blue Heron.  A few days later I sent Brenda the above cropped photos and she concurred that it was a Little Blue Heron.  She showed it to her one of her students, Jacob Meyr, a superb birder, and he too agreed with my identification.

The day before this, Friday, April 11, I saw a Little Blue Heron flying through the owls' territory.  Of the various herons and egrets that are seen in Forest Park, it is one of the most uncommon species.  The last one I had seen was at least two years ago.  I do not know if the one that Sarah was eating was the one I had just seen the day before but I wished I had seen the actual predatory attempt and learned which owl had caught it.  A Little Blue Heron, at 24 inches tall, is in the same size class as a Great Horned Owl.  Just one of many examples of the predatory prowess of these owls.

Now that Sarah was fortified she hopped back over to the owlets and began to feed them.

The owlets moved around a fair amount and at one point instead of flying to Sarah's right, one of the owlets flew to her left and got fed.

Sarah fed the owlets on either side of her and then left much of the prey for the owlets to eat on their own.

She flew off and the owlets remained. While this was all going on, Charles flew to the northern edge of The Wooded Area.  Eager to get a closer, longer look at Charles, Chris went around and watched him fly further north.  Chris followed Charles and we kept in touch, relaying our observations and updates via our phones.

Brenda, Barb and I delighted in watching the owlets move around and it was great to see them end up all together again in the same branch before we left for the night.

Thank you for reading and look for Part II soon!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Owlets For A Friday

Friday, April 11, 2014

I hope those reading this have had a good week. If you have or have not, the following video will make you feel better.  The owlets are often perched in Charles' Favorite Conifer.  Yesterday was the first day I found all of three of them in this tree.  Watch and enjoy the owlets in the breeze, especially their fluffy feathers that my girlfriend, Wendy Schlegel, so accurately calls The Fluff!

Happy Friday!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Second and Third Owlets Have Fledged!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

This is post has overdue and fresh news about the owlets so I will catch up with this post. The second and third owlets have both fledged!  I am confident that there are three owlets this year and no more.  The nest is completely empty but I will keep an eye on it on the remote chance that a fourth is there.

The second owlet was found fledged on Friday, March 28.  For over a week I have wanted to post on this but just was not able to find/make the time.  My apologies for the delay. On Friday, March 28 I arrived at the park and found an owlet in the nest hollow.  I headed into The Wooded Area and as I was walking by The Permanent Puddle, I heard quiet begging cheeps from the vicinity of The Big Dead Tree.  I looked in the area hoping to find a second fledgling but could not see any owlet there. I made a mental memo to head back to that area later when the owlets would be more active, both vocally and physically.  I found Charles, Sarah and the first fledgling.  The first fledging had moved more than the previous nights showing again the slow but gradual progression the owlets make.

I headed back to the nest area and ran into Nate and Jane Green, a married couple of WashU PhD. students, that I met for an owl prowl via my friend and owl mentee Brenda Hente.  They had kindly read about the first fledgling on this blog and they, especially Jane, were eager to see the fledgling.  I took them up to see Charles, Sarah and the first fledgling, explaining about the earlier begging cheeps I had heard near The Overlook Hotel Tree.  They delighted in seeing the parents and the fledgling.  We returned to the nest area to see what was going on in the nest.  We saw one owlet as before but I began to hear more begging cheeps coming again from near The Overlook Hotel Tree.  We looked at this area and while my ears guided us there, Jane was the first to see that yes, a second owlet had fledged and was perched in low a small tree just near The Overlook Hotel Tree! Bravo owlet and bravo Jane for the first glimpse of the second fledgling!

Here are some pics of this well hidden beauty.  Be sure to double click on the photos to see a larger version of the photos.

We thrilled at seeing this second owlet out of the nest safe and sound and not far from Sarah and Charles. Jane and Nate took their leave and I headed back to watch the owls become active.  I was treated to seeing Sarah feed the first fledgling.

I wanted to blog about this news but demands on time including taxes, owl prowls and an owl talk did not make this occur.  

Thankfully the news of the third owlet fledging is much more current.  This owlet fledged sometime between the evening of Friday, April 4 and the morning of Saturday, April 5.  In the week after the second owlet fledged, the third owlet remained in the nest and was found both low in the nest barely visible but more often high up in the nest as you can see on Friday, April 4. 

On most nights before I would leave for home, the owlet would be perched on the edge of the nest.  I saw him "hitting the gym"; standing still but flapping its wings to build up its strength prior to fledging.  Each night I wondered if this would be the night the owlet fledged. 

Unlike the last nestling last year, I never heard this owlet make begging cheeps or see Sarah visit the nest to feed or urge the nestling to fledge.  I surmise that there was sufficient food cached in the nest for the owlet to feed.  Perhaps it also just enjoyed having more room in the nest after its older siblings had fledged.  As I have five siblings I can testify to the joys that brings as well as how imperative it is to have some time and space of your own. :) 

As yesterday, Saturday, April 5, was the first Saturday of the month it was the day of the Beginner Birder Walk in Forest Park, a joint venture of Forest Park Forever and St. Louis Audubon Society.  After too many years of letting my pillow win the decision of whether or not to wake up early-ish on a Saturday morning to go birding, I began to go on these great birding walks and have done so for the past several years.  I have learned a great deal about birds and just nature in general by doing so. I highly recommend these birder walks to birders and naturalists of all levels. Please visit to the birding section of the Forest Park Forever website for more information on these walks and other birding activities in Forest Park.  

It was to my pleasant surprise and immense honor that I was asked in June 2013 by the co-leaders of the walks, Jim Wilson and Amy Witt, to become the new co-leader of the walk.  Jim is moving towards retirement and as he is doing so he is gradually cutting back on his projects and the like. I am not filling Jim's immense shoes, merely making a gesture at attempting to do so while giving the walks my own flavors and insights. 

Once I began going on the Beginner Birder Walks I established a pattern of looking for the owls before the walk and then taking any interested folks to see the owls after the walks.  A few times each year the walk incorporates the core of the owls' territory and the whole group gets to see the owls.  Yesterday's walk began in a different area of the park than usual as much of the park, including near the owls' territorial core was being used for a big event.  I knew that it would be near impossible to get to the owls after the walk but I knew I had enough time before the event and the birder walk to find the owls.  

After a very rainy week, it was great to be out on a sunny morning. I quickly found Sarah and one of the fledglings.  I went down to the nest area in The Arena and the nest seemed especially empty.  From the edge of The Wooded Area I found the second fledgling not far from Sarah and its fellow fledgling.  Just then an owl sixth sense moment gave me a nudge to turn my head and there in a low group of branches, only twenty-thirty feet from me, was the third owlet. It had fledged!

I backed off both in distance and angle to give the owlet some space. Excited as I was I could not help but be concerned.  The owlet was not only in a low branch at eye level at but it was right next to a bike path and not far from the nest.  I hoped the superb camouflage and statue imitating skills of owls would keep this owlet safe from predators and would be pet owl seekers.  I moved around to see this big, brave fledgling from the front.  The rising sun was directly behind him making a shot challenging.

I headed to the Beginner Birder Walk eager to share the news with everyone.  They loved seeing the shots of the new fledgling and they shared my concerns about its position.  The walk went well and we saw many great birds including some of my first Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers; a cool species of woodpecker.  Amy and I had great help on the walk from Bob Bailey from St. Louis Audubon Society, a superb birder with a great ear.  

After the walk and a needed shower, I met my girlfriend, Wendy Schlegel, for an equally needed breakfast at the great diner at The Majestic on the second-to-last-day this St. Louis institution would be open for business.  It is bittersweet that the owners have sold the place after being in business since 1961.  I ran some errands and decided to return to swing by the park and check on the fledgling.  I could not find it and my level of concern grew.  I hoped that I had just not seen it on my brief visit and that all was well with the third fledgling.  

After finishing errands and some work around the house, I returned to the park to look for the owlet.  I soon found Charles, who I had not seen in the morning, and the two fledglings but no luck on the third.  I ran into Perry Elder, a genial photographer from Illinois. Perry takes great photos with his 600mm lens but I appreciate even more his careful approach that puts the owls' well being before getting the shot and that he asks me for and listens to my insights about the owls.  Perry showed me Sarah not far from the first two fledglings.  I discussed the third owlet and we agreed to keep our eyes out for it as we went about our work in separate headings. 

I scoured The Wooded Area with eyes and ears but without success.  I was soon joined by my friend and owl mentee Rusty Wandell and his wife, Marian, and then Brenda Hente.  We carefully checked different areas together and on our own.  We ran into Perry followed by Richard and Jane Winter and then Lloyd Robinson and we all watched Sarah feed the first two fledglings in the setting sun. I pointed out to Richard and Jane how Sarah closes her eyes when an owlet takes food from her to keep her safe from the eager bill of her progeny.  

We continued on our quest for the third fledgling and Lloyd found it just next to The Eastern Tree, not far where I had found it in the morning. Well done, Lloyd! The owlet fluttered down to the ground and I got a shot of it as we moved back to try not to flush it.  I corrected this shot a touch because I was grossly over-exposed.  

Perry accurately remarked that I would sleep better that night.  Despite our best efforts, the owlet flushed. However, in this instance we were glad of it because the owlet flew low but fast further into The Wooded Area demonstrating that it was healthy and putting itself closer to parental protection and feeding. Everyone was excited to see the owlet healthy and safer! We tried to find it from a safe distance but were unable to see although we heard a few begging cheeps from the owlet.  The group began to go their own ways.  Lloyd, Brenda and I watched Sarah return to the nest and then fly back to The Wooded Area.  Was she looking for the third fledgling or cached food?  We watched Charles fly off north to hunt as Lloyd's girlfriend, Ginny Spernoga, joined us.  We called it a night happy to have all three fledglings and both parents seen in a good state.

If you come to the park to see the owls please be extra cautious and careful.  Do not get close to the fledged owlets and be mindful of Sarah's whereabouts at all times.  Do not risk incurring her protective wrath. Remember that Sarah went for a Red-tailed Hawk that got close to the nest recently.  You would not mess with a hawk, do not mess with an animal that does mess with a hawk.  Wear dark, muted clothes and cover your head if you have blond or white hair and make as little sound as possible. Fledging is one of the most dangerous times for a young Great Horned Owl.  They are not strong fliers yet and dangers abound. As I said last year when the first owlet fledged, fledging is comparable to a human parent watching its child take its first Times Square.  

Unfortunately, we recently have direct evidence of these dangers. Brenda watches and documents a pair of Great Horned Owls that she found in her backyard in 2010. The owls have lived in a nearby park for the last few years and have been nesting each year.  For the second year in a row, these owls, Will and Kate, had three owlets. Brenda paid me the immense honor of naming the one of the owlets Xavier after me using one of my middle names.  All was going well but Brenda did not see the owlet after Monday, March 24.  She combed the owls' territory for many nights and days but without success all the while noticing how unprecedentedly close the parent owls perched with their other fledglings.  I gave Brenda a hand in searching last Saturday, March 29 but we came up empty.  Every day that Xavier was not found made a bad ending all that more likely.  On April 1, Brenda found feathers and much of a wing of a young Great Horned Owl.  A sad discovery to be certain. She does not know what got Xavier but at the same time it is a relief to know the outcome of this owlet.  

Thank you for reading!