Monday, March 30, 2015

One Owlet Fledged!

Monday, March 30, 2015

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 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!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Illuminating Afternoon With The Owls

Monday, March 23, 2015

It is always great to observe the owls but on some days the purely visual part of observation stands out more than others.  Sunday, March 22 was such a day.  When I arrived at the park, there was a thin layer of cloud over the otherwise sunny sky.  I had a great time checking out the wildlife in and around the Steinberg Prairie area and the Fish Hatchery ponds.  Highlights including my second and third sightings of frogs (American Bullfrogs) in 2015, many Red-eared Sliders (the most common turtle species in Forest Park) and Hooded Mergansers.

Early in my walk I ran into my friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente, who was walking her dog, the ever-happy Pumpkin.  Brenda called me later to tell me that she had found Charles and that I would greatly enjoy where he was perched.  I thanked her for the heads up and headed over to the owls' territory.  I soon found Charles perched in a nook of The First of Three Trees completely unobstructed.  By now the clouds had dissipated and the afternoon sun bathed him in amazing light.  [Be sure to double click on the photos to see a larger version]

One of the owlets was quite visible in the nest but the other was not in view.

I looked for a while for Sarah before finding her in the same tree as Charles.  I saw her initially from a spot further away from where I had found Charles.  She was about fifteen-twenty feet above him and in her own nook and also with an unobstructed view.

I went over for a closer look at her in the amazing light. 

I followed this with a closer look at the two of them in their respective nooks.  I do not regularly see Charles and Sarah perched in the same tree, be they right next to each other or some distance apart, so it was great to see them and in this splendid light.

The Three Trees are Cottonwoods, which develop and subsequently drop their leaves earlier than many deciduous tree species.  In the last few days these Cottonwoods have begun to bud out rapidly as you can see.

Charles hopped down to a lower branch and began to groom.

Laurie and Dave, who have been on a few Forest Park Beginner Birder Walks, were out for a bike ride and they swung by to see the owls.  They were later joined by Richard and Jane, owl devotees of several years running, and then by very recent owl prowlers, Sharon McClinton and her friend Brek who brought Sharon's husband.  It was great to see both new and seasoned owl observers return to the park to feed their love for and interest in the owls. Everyone delighted in seeing Charles and Sarah in their well-illuminated perches.

Both owlets soon came into view, The nest is so deep and dark that you have to overexpose just to get a decent look at them.  Not the easiet spot for observation photos but a great spot for nesting.  I think that the latter is much more important than the former.

Sarah remained in her perch for a while later and began to groom and even yawn.

As Charles and Sarah continued to wake up, they moved from their perch spots and they really began to move by making predatory attempts on Eastern Gray Squirrels in The Nest Tree.  The Nest Tree is not only a nesting location for the owls but a year-round residence for these squirrels.  I mentioned how I was asked once why the squirrels moved into where the owls nested and I explained that the owls began to nest where the squirrels were already living.

True to form, the squirrels proved to be tough to catch and not shy about charging Sarah after a Mexican stand-off with her. Here is a photo of such a stand-off; the squirrel to the left of Sarah.  It was an action-filled ten minutes or so.

 I enjoyed interpreting the owl-squirrel interactions for everyone and how I had seen such behavior many times over the years.  Sarah ended up on the large branch that contains the nest hollow and gave us a great look with the now setting sun upon her.

Charles flew to another tree opposite The Nest Tree. I told everyone that he might be waiting for the squirrels to be so focused on Sarah so that he could make a predatory attempt on the now distracted squirrels. Charles did just that but was unable to capture the ever elusive squirrels.  He landed at the edge of The Wooded Area with the sun giving him a gloriously gilded look.

Sarah changed her stance on the tree and now faced the sun directly.  To say that everyone was awestruck by the beauty of Charles and Sarah is putting it mildly.  

The now more awake and active owlets moved closer to the edge of the nest.  As always they are disgustingly cute.  In the best sense of the phrase.

Charles and Sarah ended up close together again but now in two different Cottonwoods before they each flew out to one of the park's lakes.  Sarah is on the left and Charles is just flying off on the right.

Pleasantly exhausted I headed for home but not before stopping a restaurant where my girlfriend, Wendy Schlegel, was hosting our friend Jo Viggers Davis visiting from Florida.  I shared many of these pictures with them and they loved seeing them.

Thank you for reading!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Two Owlets!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Two owlets are in the nest!  Incredible!

This happy fact was brought to my attention by a gentleman named, Michael Paul.  He and his family kindly attended a talk I gave last year at the Rock Road Branch of St. Louis County Library in March. They joined me the following month for an owl prowl and had a great time seeing the owls.  I was away from the park for a few nights so I was thrilled to get Michael's e-mail on Saturday saying that he saw two owlets in the nest.  I thanked him for the e-mail and asked him if he saw two in the nest at the same time. He said that he had and sent a few pictures including a shot with two owlets plainly visible at once.  I sent this news and the photos to some of my owl friends and mentees. One of them, Brenda Hente, went out on Sunday morning and saw two owlets at the same time and kindly texted this information.  Thank you, Michael and Brenda!

I was able to get to the park last night and while I did not see two owlets at once, I clearly saw two different owlets, one older than the other.  I first saw the younger of the two down low in the nest. [Be sure to double-click on the photos to see a larger version]

A few minutes later I had my best view of an owlet so far this year.  Judging by size, facial disk and ability to remain visible i.e., strength and endurance this is the older of the two.

It is beyond exciting to see owlets again!  A little later I was lucky to see an owlet, presumably the older, move in the nest and stretch its wing.

The owlet continued to move in the nest and had its back facing out.  I wondered if it was trying to defecate outside of the nest.  I did not see that happen but judging by some flecks of whitewash along the lower edged of the hollow, this may be happening.

Such "toilet-training" is a big developmental step for the owlets but it is not without its dangers. One step too far could be bad news. Before the owlets can go over the side, the female parent is known to eat the owlets' pellets and whitewash. Aspects of motherhood can be hard to swallow.

I do not know if there are two or three or more owlets, I just have to keep watching patiently and see what happens.  In my time with the owls, Charles and Sarah have had three owlets four times, two owlets four times and one owlet once. Two-three owlets is the average for Charles and Sarah and for Great Horned Owls overall.   In the, so far, two years that they have had three owlets in this hollow, I have never seen all three owlets at once in the hollow.

That said, one of the many compelling aspects of watching the owls and their young is to see patterns develop and these same patterns change in ways great and small.  Charles and Sarah provided telling examples of this last night.

I found Charles in one of his typical spots of the last several months; The Tallest of The Trio Conifers.  Of late when he perches there he usually flies to The Arena or the very edge of it.  Last night, however, he moved to a much closer spot in The Overlook Hotel Tree. Here he is in mid-escalator stretch.

I had not found Sarah and I came to the conclusion that she was still in the nest.  With the return of warmer weather she has been out of the nest more often than not.  Brenda arrived and we continued to look for Sarah.  We returned to The Arena and I spied Sarah high in The Second of The Three Trees. I had looked in this tree several times earlier and had not found her.  We agreed that she had likely been in the nest.

We changed our angle on her and noticed that she was in a spot in which we had rarely if ever seen her in this frequently used tree.  It was great to see her there as the setting sun bathed her in light.

Sarah returned to the nest and Charles did come out to The Arena, landing in a less than regularly used spot in The Second of The Trees.  He hooted there for several minutes before flying out east to hunt, which he has done quite regularly of late.

The sunset provided gorgeous colors and skies.

Another amazing night in this fantastic park with these incredible owls.

Thank you for reading!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

First Owlet Sighting Of 2015!

March 7, 2015

This morning I had my first sighting of one of Charles and Sarah's owlets in 2015!  Woo-hoo! Fantastic!  Awesome!

It was two brief glimpses of a wing and body.  The wing flapped aka "hitting the gym" twice and I was able to get a portion of it in my camera.  All of the owlet photos have been cropped for greater detail.  As always, be sure to double click on each photo to see a larger version of it.

When I lead an owl prowl or give a talk, I try to emphasize how there are so many aspects of the owls behavior and lives that one simple never tires of observing.  The first glimpse of an owlet each nesting season certainly fits this criteria.  I wish I had seen the owlets face but just seeing the owlet was more than enough!  Last year's first owlet sighting was on March 3.  The 2014 and 2015 breeding cycles were quite chronologically similar and I hoped to see an owlet this week.  Each day without seeing an owlet raised hopes higher for the following day.  The bitterly cold weather earlier in the week made a first sighting less likely. As the week went on and the temperatures rose, my hopes for a first sighting followed suit. 

So why was I out in Forest Park on a Saturday morning?  Well it was a special Saturday even before I saw the owlet.  The first Saturday of every month, unless the rain or snow are pouring or it is a holiday weekend, is the Forest Park Beginner Birder Walk.  A joint venture of Forest Park Forever and St. Louis Audubon Society; these walks have been going for a good chunk of years.  After letting my pillow win the argument about whether to wake up and bird or not, I began going on these walks several years ago. I have enjoyed this walk ever since and regretted that I did not go earlier!  It is my immense honor, since October 2013, to be the co-leader of this walk along with Forest Park Forever Nature Reserve Steward, Amy Witt. As the co-leader I am not filling the Grand Canyon-sized shoes of my predecessor, Dr. James H. Wilson , who, along with Amy, asked me to be the new co-leader. Rather I am making a gesture of a hint of a notion of a scheme of a theory of an attempt at filling his shoes.  

I always go out before the walk begins, we meet at 8;15 and head out for two hours at 8:30, to look for and see the owls.  The vast majority of the time I talk some of the walk goers to see the owls after the walk concludes. I did so today and these folks were thrilled to see Charles and Sarah.  I hope you can come out on one of these walks soon-we have a blast and see great birds and other wildlife!  For more details and other Forest Park birding information, please visit this portion of Forest Park Forever's website

As sunset drew near, I returned to the park eager to see more of the owlet and any others that might be in the nest. I found Sarah and then with the help of J.R. Ball, an owl fan of several years, I saw Charles.  I told J.R. about seeing the owlet and we started watching the nest.  A new owl addict Praveen, and his lovely family, joined us and like J.R. they were excited to hear about the owlet.  We did not see the owlet and as they headed home, my girlfriend, Wendy Schlegel, joined me.  Wendy, a connoisseur of the cute, was keen as ever for a first owlet sighting and she proved to be the magic ingredient.  Soon after she arrived I looked again in the nest and saw the owlet's face and body!  We exclaimed with delight as we honed binoculars and cameras for a better look in the fading light. What a beauty!  [Both Wendy and the owlet]

A great way to end the birding day and the week!  The week was full of interesting behaviors by the owls some explicable and clear and others puzzling, confusing but no less fascinating.

Thank you for reading!