Saturday, February 25, 2023

A Chapter Ends Too Soon And A New Chapter Already In Progress

February 25, 2023

When I posted on December 24, 2022 about Virginia, Charles's new mate, and how she was nesting, I had no idea that this would be the last day I would see Virginia.  The complete lack of observations of Virginia for over two months now and the progression of Charles's behavior in this time makes it all to clear that Virginia has died.  We do not know if she became ill or was injured and we are so far unable to check the nest for any possible insights into her demise.  Adding sadness to sadness, without being incubated and rotated by Virginia, the eggs she began to lay in mid-December did not make it either.  After the excitement of a new mate and the start of nesting with the hope of owlets, the loss of Virginia and her eggs is a very sad development.  As always though, life continues on.  Charles has been courting with a new female for well over a month now.  The window for mating and nesting has closed for this year but I hope that this courtship is the draft phrase of a new chapter with a new mate for Charles.

On December 24, I went to the owls' territory and quickly found Virginia in the nest. 

Virginia nested in a frequently used nest site.  Sarah first nested in this site in 2008 having three owlets-Bart, Lisa and Maggie- and then again in 2012 with two owlets-Christopher and Velvet.  Samantha nested there valiantly but unsuccessfully in 2020.  Sophie nested in this hollow successfully in 2021 with two owlets-Neil and Lyle and again in 2022 with two more owlets-Betty and Sidney.  

I was happy to see Virginia, both in general and because I had not seen her come out of the nest the night before, December 23, for one of the few brief breaks that a nesting female Great Horned Owl takes.  She and Charles had a good duet that night-hooting together for quite a while but not seeing her go out of the nest for a break was unusual and unsettling.  Virginia had been regular in taking breaks after sunset and frequently heading to The Three Trees, where a growing spread of her whitewash (droppings) was taking shape.  On both December 23 and 24 I waited well past sunset for a sight of her taking a break but it was not to be.  My fears and concerns were somewhat allayed by the fact that it was bitterly cold and that she may have been especially conservative with her breaks.  Simultaneously, my concern grew because on December 24, Virginia did not hoot back to Charles, who was his usual nesting season self and was quite vocal even hooting, as he often does, directly across from the nest.  As my time in their territory came to a close on December 24, I wished them both well and hoped the next day would bring more answers and positive ones at that.  

I returned on December 25 and I did not see the female in the nest but she had shown that she was very good at  staying low in the nest, demonstrating her PhD in hunkering down.  I could not find Charles but some helpful folks had found him and pointed him out to me.  Once I saw him, I was not surprised that I had not found him on my own!  Charles was in an especially unprecedented and very weird spot immediately north of the nest.  I have seen him perch in low spots many times but I had never seen him in this tree, which is in quite an exposed spot.  Here he is this spot in mid-hoot.

I did not like seeing him in this tree as it is very close to a busy intersection of the park's roads and being so low in this tree made this location even more dangerous.  Charles eventually transitioned out of this spot safely but it was still scary to watch.  So far and thankfully, Charles has not reused this tree.  That night Charles was vocal but again I did not hear her and after a long wait in the freezing cold, I did not see her leave the nest either.  I was concerned but again the bitter cold was my explanation for not observing Virginia at all.  

Over the next few nights my owl friends/mentees and I continued not to see or hear Virginia.  Charles varied his perch and roost sites sometimes perching in a low spot in The Middle Tree directly across from the nest, which is something he had already done in the last several weeks prior to this.  Charles was vocal to very vocal during these nights and I waited well past sunset in the biting cold but still no sight of or sound from Virginia.  My concerns grew with each night but hope remained.

Greater clarity and less hope about Virginia were to be found on December 30 and an unexpected development blew my mind!  I was leading an owl prowl that night and I found Charles in The Middle Tree.  We were soon joined by my friend and owl mentee Brenda Hente.  Charles demonstrated the incredible opportunism of Great Horned Owls when hunting when he blasted off flying low and to the north some twenty minutes before sunset.  Brenda and I turned to each other and said, "Predatory attempt."  We all followed him and I soon found him on the ground about 100-150 yards north of The Middle Tree and the nest.  No sooner had I found him when he came flying towards and past us with prey in his talons.  Brenda saw that it was a songbird but it was too obscured to identify further than that.  Charles landed about 20-30 yards away from the nest and hooted proudly declaring his predatory prowess. 

Charles did not take the prey immediately to the nest but when he did so he hooted intensely at the edge of the nest and then he went into the nest with his hooting continuing at an intense rate.  But we did not hear Virginia return any of his hoots.  When a male Great Horned Owl delivers prey to the nest and hoots the female hoots back in return often for many minutes.  To not hear Virginia hoot back to her dedicated mate bringing prey to the nest and so early too was very disconcerting.  

Charles dropped off the prey and flew out of the nest landing in The Northwest Span Tree when an unexpected development occurred and the start of the next possible chapter began.  Charles was hooting when a female came flying in from the north and landed in the branch above him.  They began to hoot together and I was not sure if it was Virginia or not.  While the hoot of each owl is unique some hoots are more distinct than others and in the heat of the moment it was hard to tell from the hoots if this was Virginia or not.  The female's behavior soon made it clear that she was not Virginia.  She and Charles spent the next hour or so flying around his territory and duetting.  The duets were intense and confusing.  Several times it seemed like they might mate but then Charles would fly off in his playing hard to get manner but it became clearer that he was not interested in this female.  In a latter stage of this whole process, he landed in a new spot and she landed right next to him and he took off immediately.  I have seen Charles do this with all of his mates and potential mates but there was something about his behavior that made me think that he really was not interested in her and still holding out hope for and about Virginia.  All of this action made for one of the most intense nights of owl activity I have ever seen since I began to study the owls in December 2005. It was a mix of excitement and sadness though as it was clear that this female was not Virginia but a new and different female.  

I was more than confident that this was not Virginia because we had not seen her leave the nest or return to the nest.  Furthermore, a nesting female would not be out of the nest and flirting with her mate for well over an hour for on a bitterly cold night putting the eggs at risk to predators and/or the cold.  While watching Charles and this female I also noticed that this female was especially large.  Virginia was bigger than Charles but not a huge female like Sarah and Danielle and this new female was a huge one.  Subsequent analysis of the hoots of Virginia and this female demonstrated that this female was not Virginia.  The new female ends her hoots with 1-2 especially long notes which Virginia did not.  

Over the next few nights, we continued to not see or hear Virginia.  We saw the new female on December 31 and right in the core of the territory on January 1.  On January 3 we saw a behavior from Charles that sadly underlined the passing of Virginia.  That night, Charles went to the nest and took prey out of the nest.   A male Great Horned Owl would not do this if all was well with his nesting mate.  

My owl friends/mentees and I have wanted to work with one or more agencies/organizations like the World Bird Sanctuary, Forest Park Forever and the Missouri Department of Conservation to take a close look into the nest for possible signs of Virginia and insight into her demise.  We have been unable to do so because Charles often perches close to the nest and we do not want to disturb him.  By now, if Virginia had died in the nest there would be very little in the way of remains left to examine but some information would be better than the little we have. 

Virginia was only in the area for less than three months and she and Charles were a mated pair for just six weeks.  This is the shortest length of a time I have seen with one of his mates.  Despite this short time, Virginia made a big impact on Charles and all those who watch and love the owls of Forest Park. We love and miss you, Virginia and thank you for letting us observe and document you and you and Charles together!!

Charles and this new female continue courting but we have not seen them mate.  Furthermore, while Charles has showed her the nest several times, she has not inspected it. We have only seen her perch twice in the core of the territory: on January 1 and January 13.  We will have days in a row of not seeing the female and then days in a row of seeing the female.  We see the female in two ways: Charles runs into her when he flies out west-northwest or north OR she comes from the north into The Arena-one of the core spots of Charles's territory.  We have not found her perch/roost sites but this is an area needing more time and work.   We have also had two nights of the female and a second female, January 13 and just last night February 24.  Never a dull moment studying owls! 

Since Great Horned Owls nest so early as their young take an incredibly long time to mature and we are almost in March, the window for Charles and this new female to pair up, mate and nest has closed for this year.  It is too bad that there will not be owlets but we have had years without owlets before this. Charles and company are more than fascinating and beautiful to observe and document without owlets even though we delight in those fluffy, fuzzy, and  silly youngsters.  I have seen Charles pair up with new females in the spring well after that year's nesting window and well before the next year's nesting window.  He did this with Samantha in April 2016 and Danielle in April 2019.  If it becomes clear that Charles and the new female are a pair, I will name her then but not before that.  As always, I will keep observing and documenting and working with my owl friends/mentees to try and understand as much as we can.  

Thank you for reading and for your interest and support! 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

A New Female and A Name For Her!

 December 24, 2022

There are many new developments with the owls as the last six months have been a non-stop roller-coaster.  The biggest news is that that there is a new female! She and Charles are a mated pair and she is nesting!  Not only that, after many weeks of searching and considering, I finally have a name for her!  Please join me in welcoming Virginia! 

The inspiration for her name is multi-fold.  I grew up from ages 2-15 in northern Virginia and that is where I began to study wildlife.  I have always liked the name and have always kept it in my collection of names for a female, human, owl or otherwise.  The genus and species for Great Horned Owls is Bubo virginanusVirginianus refers to the state of Virginia and this name was employed when the species was first described by Western science by J.F Gmelin in 1788.  As such, all Great Horned Owls are a Virginia whether they live in Maine, Missouri, Manitoba, Mexico or Alaska, Alberta, Argentina, or Alabama.  

Let’s continue with Charles’s previous mate Sophie.  As you may know, Charles and Sophie nested successfully in 2021 and 2022, having two owlets both years, Neil and Lyle and then Betty and Sidney, respectively.  These were the first successful nestings since Sarah’s last nesting in 2015.  Sophie did a disappearing act from mid-July 2021 to October 2021 and this summer we lost sight of her on June 8.  We wondered if this was a version of her disappearing act of the year prior but we have not observed her at all since then.  We do not know if she left, became injured or ill or died.  Sophie now joins Olivia and Danielle in a group of Charles's mates who have disappeared and whose status is unknown.  We hope she is well and thriving. 

Sophie’s absence was still early in the maturation of the owlets; Betty and Sidney.  Thankfully, with much help from Charles and themselves, the owlets flourished through the summer and into the fall.  Betty dispersed in September and Sidney in October and we hope they are making it in the big, wide world.

On September 28, we saw a female and immediately, by her markings and behavior, we felt confident that it was not Sophie but a new female.  She and Charles had an incredibly intense courtship duet that night and it went on and on as they moved from tree to tree.  It was like they closed down one restaurant on their first date and then went to a bar with a 3:00am license and began working on closing down that place!  Many of my friends and owl mentees were out that night and eventually we had to call it a night as Charles and this new lady showed no signs of flying out to hunt.  Here's Virginia where we first saw her that night! 

Their courtship continued through the fall and had some challenges with an intruding male in the area, the same from last year-now dubbed with the less than flattering name of Numbnuts, but it was clear that she and Charles were on the road to becoming a mated pair.  Mate they did on November 10 and we have seen 13 matings so far. She began to nest on December 4 and December 15 was the first sign of egg laying.  Like last year, this is especially early mating and nesting!  Here they are mating on December 10!

If you know where the nest is, please be sure to stay 30-40+ yards away from the nest so as to not to disturb the nest and to not put yourself at risk of being attacked by a large, aggressive nesting female Great Horned Owl. 

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you out in Forest Park! Happy Holidays! J 

P.S. Here's Charles last night! 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

A Very Brief Update-Charles Has A New Mate And They Have Owlets!

March 13, 2022

 After being single for over nine month since Danielle disappeared in mid-March 2020, Charles courted and became a pair with a new female named Sophie in January 2021.  She nested in the same nest that Danielle used in 2020 and Sarah used in 2008 and 2012.  They had two owlets named Neil and Lyle. It was so exciting to see owlets for the first time since Charles and Sarah's last pair, Grace and Harold, in 2015!  

Sadly, Lyle died on June 29 from a double-whammy of a bacterial and viral infection. This was the first time I have seen an owlet die and it was very sad and tough.  I am most grateful to the World Bird Sanctuary for the necropsy they performed and the St. Louis Zoo for the tissue analysis they did.  If so moved, please donate to the World Bird Sanctuary here: and/or to the St. Louis Zoo here

Thankfully, Neil soldiered on and finally dispersed on November 2011.  In the meantime, we saw very little of Sophie for most of the summer and the first half of the fall Sophie was not found on June 26-30.  Lyle died on June 29.  Sophie not found July 1-3 but found to our great relief on July 4.  Sophie was only found on 5 nights in July, 1 night only in August, just 2 nights in September and not seen October 1-20!!

After Sophie was not seen for most of the summer and the first part of the fall, my records indicate that on September 24 Charles was in the nest hollow of the now 08-11-20-21-22 Nest Tree and that Sophie was in The Middle Tree.  They had a long duet until Neil gave a vivid display of duettus interruptus.  After almost of no sign of Sophie for the next few weeks, my records show that on October 21, Charles had a long duet with a female-most likely Sophie.  On October 29 a female was found in The Middle Tree. On October 30 when Charles had moved to The Double Aught Tree a female was heard once to the south.  

November 3 was that amazing and crazy night of finding a female in The Wooded Area and she and Charles duetted and the intruding male was nearby and their was much interaction with him.  If that was not enough, 2 Barred Owls began to duet in the other portion of The Successional Woods aka North Korea.  To cap it all off Charles and the female mated on this night-the earliest mating I have ever observed.  In early November we had a pretty even mix of observing the female and not finding her. On November 9 we started to observe her every night and she began her residency in The Overlook Hotel on November 15.  

With Sophie's long absence (and other factors) we were not sure if this female was Sophie or a new mate.   I have never had this much difficulty identifying one owl and especially for so long!  I have also never had a mate all but disappear for over three-and-a-half months!!  Just yesterday, I made the call (and leaving the window open that I am wrong) that the female IS indeed Sophie! I want to thank all of you for your patience, analysis, discussion, observation and documentation during this challenging, confusing but stimulating time.  

Last but not least Charles and Sophie have two owlets! They are seven weeks old and cute as the Dickens!  Please say hello to Betty and Sidney!  They are named after Betty White & Sidney Poitier!  If you come to Forest Park to see them, please keep a far, healthy and respectful distance from them & Sophie. And Charles!  Here are some recent photos of Charles, Sophie, Betty and Sidney! Enjoy and thank you! :)  

Friday, July 17, 2020

Charles Is Back!

Charles is alive and well!  I have seen him back in his territory on two of the last four nights; first on Monday, 7/13  and then again on Thursday, 7/16.  I am beyond certain and convinced that it is him.  His hoots, markings, posture, vibe and behaviors separately and cumulatively are unmistakably Charles's.  I am completely thrilled to see him and share in his magic again! It is also a super cocktail of emotions and thoughts to have him back! I cannot stop shaking my head about this overwhelmingly welcome development.  The biggest question of course is: where has he been for the last two months?!?   My friends and I scoured many different areas of Forest Park for six weeks but never found him. 

In my last post I wrote, "I am leaving the window of possibility slightly cracked and that Charles has moved to an as yet un-found area but only as a remote possibility." His reappearance underlines the importance,in any and all fields of endeavor, of always being open to the prospect of being wrong and/or not knowing what is going on even after years and years of diligent work.  I have never been so happy to be wrong!

Here's a shot of him from Thursday, 7/16. He looked at me with this quizzical tilt of the head for several minutes. Perhaps he was wondering if I was the weird two-legged critter he knew but had not seen in the last two months! 😊 (Be sure to double click on the photos to see a larger version of them)

Here are two montages of photos and videos from these two nights. Please take a look:

July 13:

July 16:

Compare the hoots from Monday night and Thursday night to any and all of these videos of Charles hooting:

It's the same hoot in every manner, shape and form.  I have shared this week's footage with several of my closest friends who know Charles and they agree that it is Charles without question. 

Before going into greater detail about finding him, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who expressed their condolences about Charles and their gratitude for his life and my work studying him. I have received e-mails, Facebook comments, Twitter replies and more from hundreds of people from all over the St. Louis area, the country and the world.  I cannot emphasize enough how much your kindness means to me and how much of a help it was especially at the most trying times.  I am humbled and honored at the impact that Charles and my work with him has had on so many people and in so many ways.  

In the weeks since June 25, when I stopped searching for Charles after not finding him for six weeks, I began a new process of owl observation and study.  As before I would arrive in the park about an hour before sunset.  I would first search The Wooded Area, the core of Charles's territory, to see if any owls had taken up residence there even temporarily.  I did not see any owls there in the last few weeks and as in the six week search for Charles the absence of bird warning calls continued. From The Wooded Area I would walk over and look for the new male Great Horned Owl I found on June 10 aka The New Guy.  In the first few weeks after I found him, I would see him 2 thirds of the time. However, in the last few weeks I have barely seen him at all with only three sightings so far in July.  Finding The New Guy is an especially all or nothing prospect.  Either you found him in 30 seconds or you spent 45 minutes looking all over for him without success.  With one exception, when I found him he was always in the same tree using two different branches 99% of the time that he was in this tree.  With only three sightings in July studying The New Guy has been especially challenging.  However, as I learned quickly with Charles and Sarah, the first few months are often the hardest.  It took me a couple of months to find them more than 1 out 10 attempts.  

On July 13 I was just about to finish my search of The Wooded Area and  go look for The New Guy when I heard a hoot.  At that moment I was concentrating on not getting too close to a family that was walking on a nearby path so when I heard the hoot my focus on it was less than complete.  I was pretty sure it was a male Great Horned Owl that was nearby in The Arena; a key component of Charles's territory.  I started to search The Arena but was not finding any owl. Ten minutes later I heard another hoot I honed in on the location within The Arena. I was reasonably sure that the owl was in The Middle Tree or The 08-12-20 Nest Tree.  I scoured these trees from multiple angles but could not find anyone.  These trees have been used by Charles as summer perch/roost sites sometimes using a couple specific spots with healthy consistency and other times perching in a terribly obscured spot.  The owl remained quiet for a while but I continued intensely searching for the him.  Such was my concentration that I did not even that my buddy Jeremy Knollhof and his dog, Shadow, were coming over to say hello. I just noticed some guy and his dog nearby.  Jeremy is one of many folks I met by pointing out the owls to them one night and then, happily, they returned to see and learn more and more of the owls. I finally recognized Jeremy and updated him about the hoots I heard and the thus far invisible owl. As we talked I realized how long I took to recognize Jeremy and apologized.  True to his good nature, Jeremy told me not to worry about it as he could tell that I was concentrating deeply.

We heard another hoot and I was able to hone in on further on the owl's location as being in The Middle Tree-but where? What made finding him even harder was that there were no warning calls from any birds.  The owl was hard for me to find but why had not any birds found him?  I kept working the angles and finally found the owl in a high and most likely unprecedented spot in The Middle Tree.  The angle was from the owl's right side.  In recent years I have noted a row of white dots on both sides of Charles's body running down from shoulders.  Either from the angle or how his wings were positioned I could not see these white dots. 

As the owl began to hoot more I said to Jeremy that it might be Charles!  The owl looked at me and I felt more confident that it was him. 

I wanted to find a more straight on angle and a few minutes later I found one.  With each hoot and this new angle I became more certain that it was Charles!

As I became progressively more confident that it was Charles I said to Jeremy, "I don't know how I feel."  Of course I was elated about this development but to find Charles with a modest amount of effort after weeks of intensive searching and the grief about his loss mixed a potent cocktail of conflicting emotions.  

A different human reaction to the louder and more frequent hoots of the owl indicated further that it was almost certainly Charles.  Two groups of people came over to see what was making this hooting sound and at what we were looking at in the tree. From a safe social distance I was able to point out Charles to them. One group was new to Charles but another had seen him before as I pointed out Charles to them months earlier.  There are so many aspects of Charles that so many people cannot help but be drawn to and captivated by him.  

Jeremy had to take his leave and I asked him to keep this sighting quiet until I had more information to share and he kindly agreed to this. The owl took his leave flying in a direction and to a destination that Charles used frequently this winter and spring.  Seeing this made me even more convinced that it was Charles.  With movement the birds finally became aware of his presence and he was mobbed by American Robins.  I had just reacquired him when he flew to another frequently used spot.  

He continued to hoot frequently and with each hoot and moment of seeing this owl's posture, markings and behavior I became ever more certain that it was Charles. Even this photo, taken almost 30 minutes after sunset, screams that it is Charles. 

While watching him I made two key phone calls. First was to my girlfriend, Wendy, who was thrilled and happily perplexed by this welcome development. The second call was to my good friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente.  I often say that if I fall under a bus that she will be the most knowledgeable person about Charles and co.  Brenda too was stunned and thrilled to hear about this likely reappearance of Charles.  When I got home I texted my new friend and owl mentee, Alexis Miano, about the exciting news.  She called me later and like Wendy and Brenda was simultaneously astounded and flummoxed by this news.  I felt that a huge weight had lifted off from me and I was so excited that it was hard to get to sleep that night.

The next day on July 14 my excitement led me to go to the park that morning. I had to see if I could find him again.  Before doing so I emailed Wendy, Brenda and Alexis the montage of footage from the previous night and they all concurred that it was Charles.  I drove to the park feeling a sense of elation and optimism, which I had not felt for far too long.  Unfortunately, the morning search was unsuccessful so I returned that night; something I would have done even if I had found him in the morning.  The night search was a bust as well but I still felt confident.  The amount and intensity of Charles's hooting made me convinced that he was re-establishing and re-proclaming his territory.

The weather forecast for July 15 predicted thunderstorms as an all but certainty for the time around sunset.  I go out to study the owls in almost every type of weather but I do not play around with thunderstorms; they are far too dangerous and in so many ways.  With this forecast in mind, I went out again in the morning and again did not find Charles or any other owl.  Sure enough right around sunset an overture of lightning and thunder commenced before the skies opened with a drenching rain that after a pause resumed for another soaking round of thunderstorms.  

With clearer skies and cooler air I headed to Forest Park a little more than an hour before sunset on July 16.  I began my search as I had the previous few nights by searching The Middle Tree.  Charles was not there or elsewhere as I searched The Arena before moving into The Wooded Area, where he was not to be found either. My next and last area to search was the area around The Double-Barreled Tree and The 2019 Nest Tree.  Charles had used this area in an especially unpredictable manner this spring but it was where I had found on the two of the last three times I had seen him in mid-May.  I had just taken my first steps to this area when I heard the unmistakable and often incredibly helpful warning calls of American Robins. My heart rate and foot pace quickened.  I checked a few spots as I honed in on the robin calls and worked the angles.  There in the tree immediately south of The Double-Barreled Tree was Charles. I could not see his face but unlike July 13 I could clearly see the white dots running down the side of his body. 

I was confident I could move around and see him from the front. I was happily correct in that assessment but Charles was still well hidden by the thickly leafed branches.  

It took a while for him to hot but when he did it was even more certain that this was the one and only Charles. I texted Wendy, Brenda and Alexis and they quickly responded expressing their excitement and happiness at this most welcome news.  

Charles began to hoot more and I reveled in every moment with him.  He flew high and to my right and landed in a very obscured spot.  It was glorious to have him fly past me again! 

This was one of my such occasions in which the objective is to not find the best angle but the least worst angle!  He continued to hoot but out of nowhere blasted off in flight before circling back quickly to land in a neighboring tree.  The speed of the flight and the semi-circle pattern of it along with the quick return to a perch made it a strong likelihood that he just made a mid-air predatory attempt on a bat.  I have seen hundreds of such attempts, successful and not, and I have noted these aspects to them. 

Charles hooted from his new perch for a good while before flying off more than a half hour past sunset to hunt.  

I needed to hunt for my dinner and I headed  home absolutely thrilled that I had seen Charles twice in the last four days and that there was no doubt in my mind that it was him.  

When I got home, I texted my good friend Chris Gerli, who was celebrating his birthday,  with this good news.  Chris and his girlfriend, Barb Brownell,, were my first two owl mentees and have been good friends since we first met back in 2006.  Chris texted back that this welcome news had made his good birthday event better. Barb sent me her own super kind note expressing her excitement about this incredible news! 

Thank you for your reading this and for all your care and support for Charles and my work with him!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Charles Is Gone

July 3, 2020

I have not seen Charles since Thursday, May 14.  This is the longest I have gone without seeing him by a huge margin.  With the great help of friends I have searched wide and far for him   I decided to search for a six week period through Thursday, June 25 and I have done so and without even a a hint of his presence. With a heavy heart I have concluded that Charles is dead.  I am leaving the window of possibility slightly cracked and that Charles has moved to an as yet un-found area but only as a remote possibility.  It is awful to write these words and beyond sad to know that he is gone. I cannot fully express how much I miss him and will continue to do so.  Nor can I completely express the impact he made on my life and the lives of many others. I can only try to do so.

This is one of my favorite photos of him. He was in a low branch of The Third Of The Three Trees on August 7, 2016. (Be sure to double click on the photos to see larger versions of them)

But to continue I want to first describe what I saw of him on May 14 and what I saw in the subsequent six weeks.  In no way did Charles appear to be ill and/or injured.  He seemed perfectly healthy and behaved in his normal and always fascinating and beautiful manner.  On May 14 he woke up, he stretched and groomed, ejected a pellet and then flew off to hunt after sunset. A perfectly normal and average night but as any one who has seen Charles an average night of his defies the meaning of the word as it utterly compelling and beautiful.

I found him in a Sweetgum tree immediately next to the western edge of The Wooded Area.  It was interesting to find him in this tree for several reasons. Over the last few years I have seen him perch in this and other nearby Sweetgums in the late spring-early summer but not at all this year.  For a number of summers several years ago, he used this tree in predictably unpredictable manner as a summer perch spot. It is a large tree and you have to especially work the angles to find him.  This night was no different.  The warning calls of American Robins alerted me to the possibility of his presence but it took a while to find him by working the angles.  Even when I had located him and fine tuned the angle my view of him was still obscured by the many leaves on the tightly spaced branches.

As he woke up, stretched and groomed the previously cloudy conditions cleared and a stunning sunset emerged in its latter stages.

A little while later Charles pivoted his position in the tree and the fading rays of sun illuminated him for a brief but always memorable manner.

A chap passing by wondered what I was looking at and at a safe social distance I pointed out Charles to him.  He was completely captivated by Charles; an effect that he consistently has on people and one I am always thrilled to witness. The chap, who's name I learned was Mike, asked me many questions and as we chatted I learned that he is very passionate forager for morel mushrooms.  I do not like mushrooms even though I am a fun guy 😁 but I have always been curious about the folks who forage so diligently for them. As such I had many questions for Mike and we got quite a good conversation going as we shared about our respective passions and areas of expertise.

I noticed throughout the night that Charles was not hooting but the reason for this became clear when he ejected a good-sized pellet ten minutes after sunset. This was on the later side of the pellet ejection timeline spectrum.  He still did not hoot but I think since it was so late that he had to progress both behaviorally and alphabetically and skip hooting for hunting. As it got even darker, Charles flew south into The Wooded Area.  Mike and I were enjoying our conversation and given the dark conditions I knew it would be hard to find Charles. The robin warning calls had never stopped throughout the night and as Mike and I chatted I heard the robin calls surge northward most likely following Charles as he went off to hunt.  My own hunger was mounting and I needed to start my own hunting in my kitchen. Mike and I said our goodbyes and I left the park over an hour after sunset after a little more than two hours in the park. A perfectly normal, groovy night with Charles.

On Friday, May 15, I went out at the normal time, about an hour before sunset, and spent 90 minutes searching with no success. I was not worried that I had not found him. Over the years I have learned that such nights will happen. Most recently I had two nights this April and one earlier in May in which I had not found him.  I could only get to the park in the afternoon for a short visit and search on Saturday, May 16. My success rate in finding Charles on such short and early visits is quite high given the two time related limitations. This night was an unwelcome exception to this pattern. Again, though I was not concerned. Just as I have a night here and there when I don't find Charles and his current mate, over the years I have had periods of 2-4 nights of no success. I really do not like such periods as they do get me worried but having had several of them I know that they do occur.

The following night, Sunday, May 17, was frustrating and it was when I began to become more puzzled and concerned about not finding him.  The first frustration was not finding him especially when we had some strong robin calling in an area where he had been doing a fair amount of hunting of late. We could not find him or figure out what the robins were calling about and their calling eventually faded away.  The second frustration involved the we in the previous sentence. Almost after I started looking for Charles that night I ran into a recent owl prowlee, Han Li, and her boyfriend (David, I think-sorry! I am so bad with names as I happily meet so many people via the owls but sadly do a bloody awful job of remembering names!) who were looking for Charles too.  Han had joined me earlier that week on Tuesday, May 12 for an owl prowl. Thanks to a faint, short bit of Northern Cardinal warning calls I found Charles thirty seconds later in an obscured spot in The Double-barreled Tree. Han was duly impressed by this and as the night went on, she had an especially cool prowl as we saw many amazing behaviors of Charles's.  The highlights included a close, fast fly-by and watching him hunt past sunset from some low, man-made structures and on the ground.  I had never watched Charles hunt from these particular spots before this. Here are two of my favorite shots of his hunting exploits that night.

I could tell that Han was hooked on the owls and now seeing her with boyfriend visiting from out of town cemented this impression.  Unfortunately we had a very different experience on this night. Instead of finding Charles in thirty seconds, they patiently and kindly accompanied me for ninety fruitless minutes as we covered a wide search area only to find no one.  I frequently repeated my puzzlement and then my apologies for the no-show owl but my inner monologue was one of growing concern and confusion about his absence.

May 19 was another unsuccessful night but it did get me thinking about the last time I could not find Charles for a long time.  It was almost a year ago to the date. In May 2019 I did not see Charles from May 16-30.  I finally found him on May 31 in part of his hunting range.  As some of you know, he ended up spending the entire summer in this area of his hunting range a half mile east/northeast of The Wooded Area, the core of his territory.  Thankfully he moved back to The Wooded Area five months later in mid-October 2019. I remain bewildered about this move in territory but it now in May 2020, I thought I should expand my search area. I started to do so on May 20, 2020 by searching The Wooded Area and the Summer 2019 Territory.

May 20 was another bust but on May 21 while I did not find Charles, I had a fortuitous meeting with a fellow park goer and nature lover. I had just started searching the Summer 2019 Territory when I ran into a lady who asked me how the owls were. I asked her how she knew about the owl and she replied that she had been on a few of my owl prowls over the years.  As happens too often, I could not think of her name so I asked for it as I apologized for lack of name memory. She replied kindly that we were friends on Facebook and the her name was Alexis Miano. That sufficiently jogged my memory. Alexis told me afterwards that she was on the phone with a friend and recognized me and told her friend that she had seen The Owl Man and had to ask about the owls. I explained about Charles being MIA and that I was expanding my search area.  She joined me for the rest of my search of the Summer 2019 Territory and she even got a photo of me as we searched Raccoonville.

I briefed her more fully about the last few days and last summer.  With no luck finding Charles in this area, I needed to head to The Wooded Area and she was heading home so we said our goodbyes.  Alexis messaged me the next day asking if I had found Charles. I let her know that I had not. Very generously, she  let me know that she is a regular cyclist in the park and would keep her eyes open for Charles. Even more kindly, she asked if there were areas that I would like her to search. I eagerly replied in the affirmative and we made a plan of attack.  The additional help and time/places searched was a major and most welcome development!

On May 25, Alexis messaged me saying that she was quite certain she had heard two hoots of a male Great Horned Owl (GHOW) from an area adjacent to the The Wooded Area; another stretch of woods that is home to Barred Owls. I searched that area for the next two nights but while I did not see Charles or another GHOW I did see and hear Barred Owls and Red-tailed Hawks. On May 25, the Barred Owls were in the very heart of The Wooded Area; something I had seen in May 2019 when Charles was not in this part of the core of his territory. Both in 2019 and 2020 the Barred Owl hooted together in a duet, which is not something they would do if Charles was there.  In the six weeks I searched for Charles without success, I saw one or two Barred Owls on four different nights in The Wooded Area. All of these sightings underscored that Charles was simply not there.

I continued searching as did Alexis and we kept in touch about what we saw.  In late May I sent out an e-mail out to my core group of owl friends updating them on the Charles's situation and asking for folks to help out so we could search even more areas.  Over the next month, several folks were able to join me or lend moral support from both near and far and for that, I am hugely grateful. Alexis quickly became the Rookie of the Year as her regularly cycling trips and her multiple evenings of owl searching per week allowed us to greatly expand the search area.  I took time and care to show her the spots in The Wooded Area that Charles had used recently while showing her search methods and techniques while pointing out other bird and mammal calls and sharing more about Charles and his history. In short she became my newest owl mentee and even more importantly a new friend.

The next several weeks were incredibly tough as we continued to not find Charles. Each night became a slog of not just not finding him but the added toll of yet another night with no Charles. With each night that we did we did not find him, the potential to find him felt less and less on subsequent nights. With other life/work stresses and the pandemic, not being able to find Charles was a most unwelcome and crushing addition to these worries. When the pandemic began and continued on and on, going to the park and seeing Charles and reveling in his beauty and fascinating behavior became even more precious. But to not find Charles night after night made these other challenges even more intense.  Here's a shot of me by Alexis taking during the stressful weeks of not finding Charles. We were searching in the immediate vicinity of The AYU Tree and The Archy Tree. Looking at this photo I can practically see and feel the mental and emotional burden of not finding him while dealing with everything else that life has thrown at us in 2020.

It goes without saying but I must say it anyway that the most helpful and important person during these weeks was my girlfriend Wendy Schlegel. Wendy listened carefully and sympathetically to my daily report of the previous night's efforts to find Charles. She knows how much Charles means to me and she has her own deep love for him as she has known of him as long as I have. I felt awful one morning when I called earlier than usual her to discuss some matter that I cannot even remember now. Given the early timing of my call she thought I was calling with good news about Charles and she answered the phone by saying excitedly, "Did you find Charles?!?"   As I do in more normal happy times, on some days I would look for Charles during the day so that I could spend the evening with Wendy. These nights were even more important and welcome than ever.

Summer is the hardest time to find owls with them being even harder to spot with the trees all leafed out and the adults are not as vocal, overall. One huge help in finding owls year round but especially in the summer is the warning calls of a variety of birds and mammals. GHOWs are powerful and dominant predators and are feared by the vast majority of animals in their range.  The summer is the best time to use these warning calls and other mobbing behaviors because the other birds have young that they need to protect and educate about the threat posed by GHOWs and other predators. In earlier paragraphs, I mentioned the warning calls of American Robins.  The calls of these ubiquitous birds in Forest Park have been the most helpful for me for finding Charles and co. during the summers.  Like the second half of May 2019, the six weeks I searched for Charles recently were eerily quiet with little to no robin calling every night.

In one of the bitter ironies of this summer, in the last few weeks a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks have made their presence known right in the immediate vicinity of my home in St. Louis. I have seen and heard more of Red-Shouldered Hawks in the last few weeks than I have in my life cumulatively before now. The hawks draw plenty of attention and warning calls from the local robins and on most days I will have 4-6 hours total of robin calls with the calls often being non-stop for hours at a time.  It has been great to see and hear the hawks but bloody awful to head to Forest Park and not only not find Charles but to hear little or no robin calling.

Another challenge of the past six weeks is that I have been the bearer of bad news to fellow park goers and nature lovers asking me "How are the owls?" and I have had to reply about not finding Charles and the serious concerns stemming from this. They kindly ask the question with a smile and I quickly turn that smile into a frown that does not depart for some time.  I had a period of a few weeks of an influx of e-mails from folks asking to schedule owl prowls. The e-mails came a welcome mix of prior prowlees like the lovely McCauley family, for whom I have led owl prowls several times for three generations of this great family, as well as new folks interested in the owls after seeing my videos on YouTube.  I had to let all these kind folks know that I was not leading owl prowls now as I was worried about Charles and had to concentrate my efforts on not finding him.  To a person they all replied that they understood and they too were worried about Charles.  I feel bad that I spread concern and worry to so many folks but I am grateful for their sympathy and concern.

Thursday, June 25 became my last night searching for Charles.  My search that night began with noticing some consistent robin calling, which raised my hopes but instead led me to a Great Blue Heron up high in a Cottonwood. Knowing that this night was the last night I would be searching for Charles, as I looked for him in the different trees and regions in the woods, each of these places became not just a place to search but a place to recall and reflect.  Without success and with a heavy heart I returned home. The following morning I e-mailed my core group of owl friends and told them that my search had ended and that while leaving the possibility that we had not found Charles, he was dead.  I want to take a moment here and thank all of my friends for the support over these hard weeks and for their lovely e-mails of support and sympathy.  These e-mails kept me going on especially in the most difficult periods.

As to the cause of death, I will likely never know. Again, Charles displayed no sign of illness or injury in the last days on which I saw him.  Adult Great Horned Owls essentially do not have any natural enemies unless they are ill, injured or caught with their pants down.  Over the years my biggest concern about the owls' well-being and safety is cars. Whether it is a field, a lake or a road I have seen the owls regularly fly 50-70 feet high and just as regularly seen them fly 6-12 inches low.  I have seen too many close calls with all of the owls and cars.  Several months ago in the late winter I saw Charles fly 1-2 feet over one of the park's roads a mere second or two ahead of an oncoming car's headlights.  When I began to drive to the park I also began driving home by taking a route that took me away from where I last saw the owls so I would be one less car near the owls.

One silver lining in this sad time is a simultaneously similar but slightly different silver lining that occurred with Sarah's death in 2015.  That year Charles and Sarah had two owlets: Grace and Harold. Sarah was last seen and likely died on July 20.  At this point, she and Charles had already stopped feeding the owlets; an important stage in the owlets' road to dispersal from the parents' territory and the owlets' eventual independence. If Sarah had died in June or earlier the owlets would likely have died from lack of food. Once the owlets fledge (leave the nest) the female GHOW will begin to hunt t as the male continues to hunt in their herculean efforts to feed their ravenous young. With GHOWs, there are a few documented cases of one of the parents dying but the surviving parent still able to provide for the family.  These cases are very much the exception to the rule that the owlets would likely die from starvation with only parent to hunt for them despite the best efforts of the surviving parent.  This year Charles and Danielle nested unsuccessfully. However, if they had done so successfully and  the owlets had fledged successfully too only to have Charles die in May-June, the owlets most likely would have died too.  I think it is important to keep this mind.

How old was Charles? The longer I studied Charles, the more this question understandably came up as I lead owl prowls and gave owl talks. If I could have asked him one question it would have been: How old are you?  I do have a minimum age, which is no small thing.  Charles was at least 16-17 years old and I have that figure from two good points of data.  Great Horned Owls generally do not have young until they are 2-3 years old as it takes a while to find a territory and a mate.  Charles and Sarah had young in the first year I studied them in 2005-2006.  I studied Charles for over 14 years.  Taken these two data points together, I arrive at his minimum age of 16-17 years old.  Where things get tricky is that despite being the most widespread, commonly found owl in North America, there is still a great deal that we do not know about GHOWs including average lifespan.  We know records for longevity in the wild and the records show GHOWs living into their 20s with the highest record being around 30 years old. Records are helpful up to a point as they show what is possible but by definition they are not the average.  Given all of this Charles may have been 19, he may have been 25.  I wish I knew.

With this in mind, Charles was at least past middle age.  In the last few years this knowledge of his advancing age had a profound impact on me.  I knew that each night, week, month and year represented, to borrow a phrase from the late, great Anglo-American writer Christopher Hitchens,  more and more from less and less. I became painfully aware that there was less sand in the hourglass in my time with Charles. Each night became more and more precious.  I frequently voiced this understanding whether to myself when studying him on a regular night with him or when leading an prowl or giving an owl talk and questions about his age arose.  When on my own, I would often reflect on how lucky I was to know him and to have been able to get know him over so many years and I would thank him for the glimpse I had into his life and for all the joy, fascination and wonderment he brought to me and many others. Now at the end with Charles I am glad that I reflected in this way and expressed my gratitude.  It is a slight but comforting cushion in the grief from his death.

While I knew Charles was at least past middle aged, he never showed any signs of slowing down.  I say this with as much objectivity as I can muster but in his behavior and appearance he looked no different this year than he did three years ago, six years ago, nine years ago and beyond.  He flew just as fast, was just as keen to mate and nest, and hunted as masterfully as he always did.  While it was sad and tough to see Sarah and Samantha's decline at least we knew that they were ill or injured-we knew something was wrong-we had some data.  With Charles it was here one day and gone the next.  I prefer to have some data and not knowing what happened makes it all the harder.

As to Charles's most recent mate, the huge and beautiful Danielle, I wish I had more information to share with you. Ever since she arrived in April 2019, she has been a very different female GHOW than what I have experienced and read about.  She has regularly spent long periods of time unseen and unheard and not in the vicinity, to the best of my knowledge, of Charles. In the fall of 2019 I expected her and Charles to duet intensely and regularly as they courted and bonded more on the path to mating and nesting.  Much to my surprise, I had two periods that fall of over 10 consecutive days when I did not see or hear her at all. One period was for 12 days and the other for 16 days. It was only when the mating period approached even closer that I began to see her with more consistency.  The most consistent period I  have ever seen her was the six weeks she spent in the nest!  Of late, she has not been observed for a long time, even by her standards.  I have not seen definitively seen her since March 13.  I had a possible sighting on April 16 but nothing since then.  I hope she is well and I keep my ears, eyes and mind open for her.

It has been just over a week since I stopped searching for Charles and it has been a sad, weird and tough time.  Initially, I took some time off from going to Forest Park, which is tough in its own right but after six arduous weeks it was important to take a bit of breather.  My first night going back to the park was odd in that I was not looking for Charles. While I do go to the park and do other things besides studying Charles, it was odd to go to the park at my usual owling time and to not have looking for him on the evening's menu.  While I think it was important to set a date to stop searching for Charles and while the search over the six weeks was incredibly challenging there was still an element of possibility and hope.  As I said at the beginning of this post, I am leaving the window of possibility cracked that Charles has moved to an as yet un-found area but only as a remote possibility.

Several people have asked me what is next for me with studying Great Horned Owls. As I responded to them, my work will continue in ways both similar and different. I am going to keep an eye on The Wooded Area and see what happens there. I am curious to see if the Barred Owls expand their territory into this area or if a new GHOW moves into this highly desirable GHOW habitat.  There are other GHOWs in the park and I may well start to study them.  I will also keep a look out for Danielle.  Before I stopped searching for Charles and not far from The Wooded Area, I found a new male GHOW on June 10 and I have been studying him with modest frequency since then.  It is too early to say if he will be the focus of this new chapter in my work of studying GHOWs in Forest Park. but a new chapter has certainly begun.  There is more to stay about this new chapter but I want to, I have to conclude by reflecting on Charles and his multi-faceted and far-reaching impact on my life and lives of many others.

When Sarah died in 2015 I wrote and often said subsequently, that I may never see another female Great Horned Owl as amazing as her. I feel the same way about Charles. I have been very lucky to have seen many male Great Horned Owls but I have never seen one that I felt was his equal and I do not think I ever will.  From his immense physical beauty to the power and grace of his movements and flight to his prowess as a predator to his dedication and care as a mate and parent, he was a male Great Horned Owl beyond compare.  Every time I saw him was a joy and to have studied him for so long and with such intensity was a labor of love. The more I saw of him the more I learned but the more I was fascinated, challenged and sometimes confused and bewildered.  The most average night with him and his mate at the time was spectacular, which is a contradiction but one that fits in this case.  The amazing nights were out of this world and the truly exceptional nights are beyond all superlatives.

Charles taught me so much about studying owls in particular and wildlife as a whole by taking things I knew or thought I knew and revealing greater depths and breadths to them. Things like patience, perseverance, camouflage, quiet, open-mindedness, documentation, care and respect, and of course research.  In turn, I do my utmost to pass on these things to the people I have mentored as well as folks who go on an owl prowl or attend one of my owl talks.

Through sharing these things with other people Charles and co. generated friendships with people that may otherwise may not have ever met.  A whole community of people has grown around Charles and co. and the impact they have had is multi-faceted and simultaneously easy and hard to measure.  One of my favorite illustrations of the owls' impact on my life and the lives of others comes from a moment I had at a party a few years ago. The hosts were my good friends Danny and Joyce Brown. I met Danny in the spring of 2010 when he was looking for Sarah's nest.  He wanted to photograph her and Charles and the three owlets they had that year: Reese, Malcolm and Dewey. as part of his work as a truly incredible wildlife photographer and nature writer.  As I looked at the other guests at the party I realized that most of us had met via Charles and co.  We are folks from different parts of the St. Louis region, different ages and stages, professions, and more but we all became connected via Charles and co. and I am beyond grateful for that.

In addition to this core group of friends of Charles and co., a wider community has grown around the owls via not only owl prowls and owl talks but by what I call owl ambassadorship.  This is my name for the process of pointing out the owls to passersby or answering questions like "What are you looking for/at?" Some of these folks regularly return to look for the owls or they start to look for owls closer to their own homes.  One of my favorite things to see occur with my fellow humans is to point out Charles to someone out for a run or a walk or a bike ride in the park and to see that person come back on their own and/or alternate their usual route so that they can see more of Charles and co. In small and big ways, Charles and co. changed people's lives.

The sheer aesthetic appeal of Charles is intense and a huge part of his magnetism for both for myself and for many others. Look at how absolutely beautiful Charles is whether caught in the setting sun or as the sun is below the horizon.

Even sleeping his beauty is unmistakable!

Charles's beauty cannot be overstated. It was not just in his markings and intense eyes but in his posture and bearing. All of these things added up to a striking effect that did not diminish with time but rather grew and grew.  I often found myself shaking my head at how gorgeous he was and how lucky I was to study him.  When leading owl prowls I enjoyed seeing how women often reacted to seeing Charles whether for the first time or the seventh time. I heard more than a few gasps and "Wows" and I could practically see and hear women say things like "Well, I do declare..." or "Call me." I saw more than a few of the sig others of these ladies grip their lady's hand a little tighter when they saw how their lady reacted to the utterly sublime Charles.  I was never surprised by this and it was always amazing to see such reactions.

Over the years, I have been lucky and privileged to share Charles and co. with fellow naturalists as well as professional biologists and zoologists ranging from such esteemed institutions as The St. Louis Zoo, Missouri Department of Conservation, The World Bird Sanctuary, Forest Park Forever and more.  These experts, many of them with years of experience with many Great Horned Owls, were often happily dumbstruck at the beauty of Charles.  When they regained their voices, they quickly expressed how beautiful he was.  All of this reinforced to me, time and time again, that Charles was an especially gorgeous Great Horned Owl.

His beauty was not just in his physical appearance but in his hooting as well. His hoot was without  peer either as it combined his stunning tone and volume with his physical beauty.

In the late winter and early spring of this year, there was an intruding male Great Horned Owl showing up in Charles's territory; often quite close to the edge of The Wooded Area.  His hoot was quite similar to Charles's. In fact, on one night when I had as yet not observed The Intruder I mistook him for Charles just by the hoot. It was only when I heard Charles hooting in reply that I realized that I was hearing two male GHOWs and one of them was not Charles!  The Intruder was definitely making his presence known and Charles was not happy about this and the similarity of their hoots made things challenging too. Finally on one night I was able to get closer to The Intruder and listen closely to his hoots.  I was able to hear some objective differences: The Intruder's notes were not as long and had a less rounded, more pinched quality to them.  Naturally, I observed some subjective differences too; The Intruder's hoot was simply not as beautiful as Charles's. [P.S. I am quite certain that new male GHOW I found on June 10 is not The Intruder as the new male GHOWs hoot is clearly that of male GHOW but it would not be mistaken for Charles's hoot]

Even when you could barely see him, Charles's hoot was a joy to witness

Watching Charles stretch and groom as he began to wake up was one of my favorite things to observe and document.  Here is doing The Escalator Stretch on each wing.

In-depth talon cleaning was not an every day occurrence so it was always a treat to see.

One of my very favorite to see owls and Charles in particular do is to fly. The speed, power, silence, grace and ethereal nature of it make it unforgettable and simultaneously ephemeral.  Having seen Charles, his mates and many other owls fly literally thousands of times there is still something about it that you do not quite believe your own eyes.

To see Charles hunt even unsuccessfully was to watch a master perform his art and craft.  I have seen Charles hunt Click Beetles on the ground, Great Blue Herons on the ground and on the wing, Raccoons in trees and on the ground, bats in midair and squirrels everywhere.  One of my favorite examples of his predatory prowess that I was lucky to observe and to document reasonably well occurred last April.  I had watched him wake up, stretch and groom, and hoot and fly to his next spot.  Something caught his attention and he flew down to the ground...

He caught this Eastern Cottontail Rabbit at the very beginning of his night; an incredible example of the opportunism and predatory power of a hunting GHOW.  Notice how you hear absolutely no sound from the rabbit.  I have never heard an injured rabbit but I have heard from many people that it is a horrible and all too memorable sound. This rabbit most likely died in a near instantaneous fashion from a combination of penetrating wounds and the intense trauma from the impact of Charles's massive and powerful talons. 

Charles was also an exceptional mate and father owl.  He and Sarah had 23 owlets in 10 consecutive nesting seasons, which was simply amazing on so many levels. While Charles and Olivia, Samantha and Danielle did not nest successfully, it was not for lack of trying or effort.  I never thought I would see the owls mate especially as GHOW mating was not documented until the 1990s!  I have been very lucky to have seen Charles mate with all four of the mates I saw him with and to have seen and filmed mating hundreds of times.  One of my favorite mating episodes that I was able to film was on New Year's Day 2019 with him and Samantha, which you can see below. 

Charles's care and devotion to his nesting mate and their young was a wonder to behold.  When a female GHOW is nesting she will only hunt if an opportunity presents itself-I saw this three times over the years with three of the females- or if the male is not bringing home the bacon.  The responsibility for the male GHOW to feed his mate and then her and the young is a huge responsibility and was one to which Charles was more than equal. My three favorite examples of this come from the first night of the nesting seasons in 2009, 2010 and 2018.  On each of these nights seeing that his mate, Sarah in the first two examples and Samantha in the third, was nesting he went out hunting and quickly caught some prey and returned immediately to the nest to deliver it to his mate. Of these three nights the most intense and striking was at the start of the 2010 nesting season.  Charles flew off to hunt traveling a good 300-400 yards. Thanks to a happy accident of topography I was able to follow his flight and see him pull up and land. I did not know exactly what tree he had landed in but from what I saw I knew the micro-region in which to search.  I strode off walking as fast and quietly as I could to catch up with him.  I had gone about 40-50 yards and I looked up to see him with prey in tow flying past me now on his way back to the deliver the food to Sarah in the nest.  He had caught and returned with prey mere minutes after leaving the vicinity of the nest. I will never forget that. 

While I was incredibly lucky to study Sarah for just over nine-and-a-half years to have studied Charles for just under fourteen-and-a-half years was not just lucky in the general sense.  Doing so allowed me to see even more incredible GHOW behaviors.  One of my favorite aspects of studying these owls is that every night is different, every night is unique. Sometimes in very small, subtle ways and at other times in wholly unexpected ways.  There are some behaviors I have seen thousands of times and other that I have seen once or twice.  One of my favorite examples of the latter was seeing Charles in the rain and not just enduring and dealing with the rain but taking it advantage of it by spreading his wings and tail feathers to take a shower.  I saw this behavior once but I did not film it but luckily I got another chance on September 25, 2015. It had not rained for two weeks and the park was bone dry.  It began to rain as it became closer to sunset. Charles moved to the top of a dead pine tree and he spread out his wings and tail feathers. As you will see and hear below this was no slight early fall sprinkle but rather capital R Rain.  I got completely soaked but it was more than worth it!

A more recent example of especially unique behavior is something I have never seen any bird do ever.  On April 3 of this year, I found Charles in The Great Northern Tree and I was able to get a good level angle on him and I watched him wake up.  He stretched and groomed as I filmed him and took photos.  At one point I turned my head away from him and when I turned back to him I saw that he had a large feather of his, most likely a flight or tail feather, in his talons and that he was grooming his bill with the feather! He mostly used the calamus or hollow shaft of the feather but also the feather's vane. This went on for a few minutes and I was able to film much of it.  

Simply amazing to see this! I reached out to several local, regional, national and international owl experts who I have been very lucky to get to know over the years and I asked them about this behavior. Everyone of them kindly wrote back and said that they had seen captive owls do this behavior and for me to see a wild owl do it was no small thing.  

As you can tell, I can go on and on and on about Charles. He was such a beautiful, fascinating and compelling Great Horned Owl. I am confident that I will never see a male Great Horned Owl as incredible as him.  There is no shortage of amazing aspects and behaviors to share but I must complete this post; one I knew I would have to write someday and have dreaded for years.  Thank you for reading this and please share it with others that would find it of interest.  The support of everyone who has seen and come to love Charles has made this tough time easier to bear.  Thank you! 

Thank you, Charles for letting me spend so much time learning about you and sharing your life with others whose lives you also touched in innumerable ways and times. Thank you for your patience and tolerance.  Thank you for being such an amazing owl and an ambassador of your kind in this world we share.  I love you and miss you.  - Mark.