Sometime between the night of Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28, one of the owlets fledged!
When I arrived in the park on Saturday around sunset, the nest looked a little roomier with just one owlet visible. And very fluffy. [Be sure to double click on the pictures to see a larger version] Seeing only one owlet is a regular occurrence so that did not lead me to the fledging square on My Jump To Conclusions Mat.
Charles was at the edge of The Wooded Area and Sarah was in The Overlook Hotel Tree. This was not unusual but with the owlets being 6-7 weeks old and in the fledging range of 6-8 or 6-10 weeks of age I wondered if Sarah's presence deeper in the woods indicated that fledging had begun. I took a rather brief look for a fledgling but did not find one.
I returned to The Arena and continued to watch the owls. I still did not see a second owlet in the nest as it grew later, which by then I would have seen two owlets most of the time. My friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente, arrived and I discussed the fledging possibility and we agreed to go look for a fledgling again. Our search soon bore fruit as sharp-eyed Brenda found a now fledged owlet-a fledgling!
What a beauty! It was low off the ground, barely two feet. It is always amazing to see an owlet out of the nest for the first time! Like so much of the owls' behavior this first sighting of a fledgling never gets old. Amazingly, this is now the fifth consecutive year that this same small section of The Wooded Area region is where the first fledgling is found.
At this point I am 99% certain that there are two owlets and not three or more. I want to give it another day or two before I make the call.
If you come to the park to see the owls please be extra cautious and careful. Do not get close to the fledged owlet and be mindful of Sarah's whereabouts at all times. Do not risk incurring her protective wrath. Remember that Sarah has attacked Red-tailed Hawks that got close to the owlets. You would not mess with a hawk, do not mess with an animal that does mess with a hawk. Be sure to 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 say each year, fledging is comparable to a human child taking its first steps...in Times Square.
Charles and Sarah began to duet, which is something they do not regularly during this time of year. That said, they had a duet of long duration and long distance traveled duet a week earlier. After heading back to The Arena, we decided to take a last look at the fledgling after sunset. Brenda's streak continued as she found the owlet at eye level and close to us clinging to the trunk of a young tree. We were surprised to see how much it had moved in a short while and given our proximity, we moved away immediately. The owlet showed its climbing prowess by moving further up the tree with its talons and using its wings for balance and perhaps a bit of oomph.
The owlet reached a branch and perched there. We left there circling around the far side of The Wooded Area. Brenda concluded her streak by seeing the owlet from the opposite side of the woods while your friendly neighborhood Owl Man was looking in the wrong area. I am always glad when my friends and mentees show me the fruits of their learning and skills. I returned home and showed pictures of the fledging to my girlfriend, Wendy Schlegel, who, as a connoisseur of the cute, cooed with delight, especially at The Fluff.
I returned yesterday morning to see if the second owlet had fledged as it did quite a bit of "hitting the gym" i.e., exercising its wings, the previous night. It had not fledged but I found its sibling in the same spot as we had left him. The morning sun was hitting him beautifully.
Later that morning I had the pleasure of meeting Aaron Hampton a biologist/ecologist/nature photographer living in Farmington, MO with whom I corresponded two years prior. I enjoyed showing him the owls and registering his delight in seeing the owls.
I led an owl prowl for travel/nature blogger Jeannie Adams last night. Brenda joined us and we found all of the owls pretty quickly including the fledgling, who was now deeper in the woods but lower than he had been in the morning. The setting sun framed his fluffy feathers with golden light such that I could not help but reference the quest of Jason and the Arognauts and the play Medea, by Euripides, by saying, "Talk about the Golden Fleece. Don't tell Medea."
We ran into another friend and owl mentee, Rusty Wandell, who, due to his busy schedule, was making his first visit to see the owlets. The four of us watched the fledging some more before returning to The Arena. We finished by following Sarah out to hunt by a lake, where we saw her make predatory attempts on bats. Jeannie enjoyed the owl prowl and I am confident that she will return soon.
Thank you for reading!