Thursday, September 17, 2009

A new owl friend!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Enjoying the quiet this past Sunday morning, I checked my e-mail. I found a very nice e-mail complimenting me on my blog and expressing interest seeing more of the in the wildlife in Forest Park with like-minded folks. I immediately replied back and let the sender, Deepa, know that I would be happy to meet her that very day and show her the owls and as much other wildlife as possible. Through a series of e-mails and phone calls, we arranged to meet at the park's visitor center.

After a brief troll through the wetlands and surrounding areas in which I saw my first American Kestrel in many months along with a Great Egret, a juvenile Night Heron (most likely a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron) and a few Bullfrogs, I headed to the visitor center. I stopped on the way to talk to Chris Gerli and then I met Deepa, her daughter Anjana and son-in-law with their lovely infant daughter Kavya. We had a nice chat and then Deepa and I headed out from there. I'll let Deepa tell the rest of the story via her cool blog. Enjoy!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A big day for Mo and lots of other cool owl happenings!

April 15, 2009

Even though it was tax day, it was a gorgeous one; bright, sunny and windy. I saw a nice indicator of spring as I saw three herons and egret species close together in the riffles by the Suspension Bridge; a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret and a Green Heron. Gorgeous.

I did not find Mo on my initial search of the north side of the lake. Little did know what excitement would happen with Mo later this evening.

While I was looking from the north side of The Wooded Area, I found Charles in Charles' Favorite Conifer -a real needle in a haystack moment. If I moved just inches from my vantage point, I would have lost sight of Charles. This was not the first time I had done found him from this perspective but it was the first time this year.

I came back around The Wooded Area and reacquired Charles in this tree from a more typical perspective. He did some early evening grooming. In order to maintain basic health and hygiene as well as maintain their silent flight capability, owls groom themselves thoroughly.

Just outside of The Cut-In, I found Sarah along the northwest section of the area and then I found the owlet Art, quite close to her. Art was doing some early begging cheeps and he made a short hop or two from branch to branch.

Sarah made a short flight into The Bushy Tree. I came around and found Sarah in The Bushy Tree. She was big, gorgeous and bathed in the late afternoon sunlight.

I could see Art not to far from Sarah in The Bushy Tree. A couple of large dogs began moving around the edge of The Wooded Area and then inside of it. I could not see an owner and I noticed that Sarah was keeping a close eye on the dogs, especially with the owlet so near to her. I think if the dogs got too close for comfort that Sarah would have done something about it, just like this Great Horned Owl did to this dog:

I went back to the other side of The Wooded Area and heard the dogs barking but what was happening was still unclear. I reacquired Charles at the northern edge of The Wooded Area, just like the day before.

By this point Art had moved and was now in and around The Quinetet Conifers. I came around to other side of hill and saw Sarah still in The Bushy Tree. She did a Double Wing Stretch, which, along with defecation, is often a prelude to flight. A couple of bats flew around and I could see a few Mallard Ducks on the ground. Sarah seemed to be checking both of them out at various times. She then executed an Escalator Stretch with a quick return of wing and leg to perching position. Charles began to hoot as I watched Sarah's stretching. Sarah took off and flew north to the roadside in a powerful and gorgeous flight.

Charles continued to hoot and I reacquired Sarah in a Cottonwood along the road. She flew off a short distance across the road and landed in a tree. Soon after she returned back to The Wooded Area with something in her talons-she caught something! I couldn't tell what it was but she dropped it off in The Wooded Area, possibly in the The Great Northern before returning to the roadside. Charles flew off across the lake, a gorgeous flight that he interrupted to go after but ultimately miss a bird in flight.

I happily ran into Chris Gerli and Barb Brownell and we sprang into action! We heard a great deal of robin calling but no owlet begging. Chris found Art in The Great Northern and the owlet was feeding on its own; an impressive at this young age. The Great Northern was the sight of several feedings of last year's owlets by Sarah.

This tree gets its name from its massive size and northerly position as well as referencing the hotel on the great TV series, Twin Peaks. In the second of its two series, Great Horned Owls were used in the show in a powerful manner that greatly impressed me, then in my late teens. Although a decade-and-a-half passed between this series of the show and my first encounters with Charles and Sarah, the show was undoubtedly a step on the path to where I am now with owls being an important part of my life, particularly this pair and their progeny.

Sarah went blazing over us while vocalizing in a screech/cheeping manner after doing a pause/practice attack at the top of a tree and landing in the Eastern Tree.

With the light fading fast, we agreed to go looking for Mo along the north bank of Post-Dispatch Lake. As we got closer we began to hear Mo making begging cheeps. We moved in closer and saw him make a nice flight to a low branch of a deciduous tree. He continued to beg and then he blasted off low to the ground, possibly going for a bird on the ground as we heard some bird calls and Mo bill clacking. We reacquired Mo in another low branch but now in a conifer. We didn't see any further evidence that he caught something.

Things then got really exciting. We saw Sarah fly over to this side of the lake with some food in her talons. Mo then made a loud squawk and flew over to the small tree in which Sarah had landed. We could see some food exchange/feeding taking place for a few moments until Sarah flew down to the ground. Mo began to emit begging cheeps at a rate and with a fevered intensity I had never observed. He was so excited at the prospect of food that he even bill-clacked.

He pursued Sarah with the food but she headed back across the lake with the prey item.Working with the last remnants of daylight, we struggled to see what was happening but the next thing we knew, we heard and then saw Mo on the other side of the lake! He had followed Sarah over to get some food. His flight across the lake likely took him across the water at one of its thinner points but at a distance of about 70-80 yards, it was quite significant achievement for a recently-fledged owlet. We all agreed pretty quickly that Sarah was likely luring Mo back to the parents' territory using food as bait. As a support to this theory, I mentioned an episode described in The World of the Great Horned Owl by G. Ronald Austing John B. Holt, Jr., one of the seminal works on the species, in which a mother owl encouraged at least one of her youngsters to fledge by luring them out of the nest with food.

We had a good view of him on the south bank of the lake. Shortly after he made a short flight to another portion of lake bank, we decided to head home. We were optimistic that Mo would join up with the family group in The Wooded Area and we looked forward to seeing the family back together again.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The owlets have left the building!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kindly allow (owlow) me to skip ahead to the present day. I plan to continue my gradual process of blog updates about the doings of Charles, Sarah and this year's owlets, Art and Mo, but I need to jump ahead briefly.

Tonight I went to the park for the seventh consecutive night and I did not observe the owlets at all. I have been keeping a keen eye and ear out for them as it has been some time since I have observed these fascinating owlets. To recap:

Last definite sighting of both owlets, Thursday, August 20, 2009

Last possible sighting of an owlet, Tuesday, August 25, 2009.

Since this date, I have not observed the owlets at all. A few days after August 25, when I still had not seen the owlets, I told myself that I would give two weeks from August 25 and if I had not seen the owlets within that two week period then I would make the call that they had headed out on their own.

Over the last two weeks I have not seen or heard the owlets but I have found some possible evidence of them. Evidence that might point to natural processes taking place or a premature end to their young lives. Along the north bank of Post-Dispatch Lake, I have found two stretches of the bank with numerous feathers (mostly body or contour feathers) on the ground. I'm not a feather expert but I'm pretty certain that some of the feathers are owl feathers. I think the other feathers are duck feathers as a few Mallard Duck families hung out on these stretches of lake shore.

My hope is that the owl feathers are a result of the owlets undergoing their first molt, completing the transition from juvenile to adult plumage. My fear is that the feathers are evidence that the owlets were attacked, injured and possibly killed by another animal. This concern is assuaged by the lack of other evidence such as blood trails and corpses. On the other hand, the large volume of feathers, particularly on one of the stretches gives me cause for concern.

While adult Great Horned Owls have very few natural predators, the owlets they are vulnerable to animals that would otherwise not pose a threat to them as adults unless they were were injured or ill. Of the animals that live in the park, the ones that could pose a hazard to even six month plus old owlets like Mo and Art are: Red Foxes, Red-Tailed Hawks, Coyotes, Raccoons, and Minks. In addition, many medium to large domestic dogs would be a formidable threat to an owlet.

The previous four groups of owlets born to Charles and Sarah have all left their parents territory well into September, usually between the second and third week of the month. I hope the owlets early absence is the result of their independent streak (particularly in Mo's case) and not the result of a predatory encounter with the owlets in the role of prey.

After making the call on Tuesday, September 8, that the owlets were no longer around, I have not gone looking for them. I have gone directly to Charles and Sarah's perch sites and watched them. As always, this is a bittersweet transistion. I am glad I can focus my time and energies more closely but I miss seeing the owlets and their continued growth and development.

I wish Mo and Art well and I look forward to continuing to tell their story retroactively! Thanks for reading!