Thursday, December 29, 2011

6th Owliversary!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I reached a new milestone tonight. Tonight marks the sixth year since I started to observe and document the owls with great consistency. After first observing the owls one evening in late August-early September (I wish I had written down the exact date), I had a few months of inconsistent sightings. Thanks to networking, research and dogged persistence, I began to see the owls consistently on December 29, 2005. I did write this date down and since then it has been my anniversary or owliversary. I remember hitting the one year mark and then the two year and so on. Reaching the five year mark last year was a big deal. With another year on and the six year mark reached, I am not shy to say that is a big deal again. Observing and documenting Charles and Sarah and their progeny is a great joy as well as a great deal of work and dedication.

Due to my inability with all but the most basic mathematics and my early exposure to Monty Python, accountancy has never been my strong suit. That said, after reaching another year of observing, documenting and sharing these amazing owls, a little number crunching is worthwhile. From December 29, 2010 through December 29, 2011, the following occurred:

I went to the park to watch the owls on 279 nights aka 76% of the nights in the year. Travels in February, April, and June were welcome journeys that renewed mind and body but also cut down on the overall attendance. April and July 2011 had the fewest visits with 19 apiece. December 2011 has the highest number of visits with 29 so far and more to come. The longest consecutive stretch of visits started on November 12, 2011 and has not met its end so far. In the interest of full disclosure, some of these visits have been brief, to say the least. On several occasions time has been short and I stopped by with enough time to find the owls, count heads, and wish them well. Conversely, several visits have lasted over two hours and one went about four hours in length. My success rate in finding the owls in this twelve month period has been one hundred percent. The previous high was nintey-seven percent.

In the last twelve months I have seen the owls hoot, hunt, duet, fly, hop on the ground, mate, nest, raise two owlets, get mobbed and chased by other birds and animals, amaze onlookers, baffle, confuse, bewilder and stupefy me, buzz me at low altitudes, eject pellets, defecate, perch in places new and old, and much more. I gave well received talks on the owls to the St. Louis Audubon Society, middle school students of Emmanuel Lutheran School, The Men's Club and Ladies' Guild of Emmanuel Lutheran Church and Forest Park Forever's Fall Family Funfest. I have led owl prowls for many individuals and groups including Washington University in St. Louis and Alberici Construction. Articles on the owls and my work with them were printed this year in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Show-me Missouri (a quarterly travel magazine) and The University News (the student newspaper of St. Louis University). I continue to teach to and learn from dedicated friends and owl mentees. Their great work, superb questions and quick learning keeps me on my toes and I am proud of them all. Thanks to them, I have also seen other pairs of Great Horned Owls, which is a great aid to my understanding of the species. The number of books I have on owls now exceeds thirty volumes after starting with just one book a few months prior to my first spotting of the owls. The number of views of the videos of the owls and other Forest Park wildlife on my YouTube page is now over fourteen thousand. I received countless kind words, kudos and compliments. Some of my favorites were from folks who thought that seeing the owls or hearing a talk on them would be dull as dishwater but then found themselves wanting to see and learn more about these amazing animals. It has been a great year.

To mark the occasion of my sixth owlivesary, I tried to see as many owls as I could today in Forest Park. I hoped to find seven owls, four Great Horned Owls and three Barred Owls. I found five in all, four Great Horned Owls and one Barred Owl. My girlfriend, Wendy, joined me on this quest and her presence and help was especially appropriate. Of all the many supportive owl friends, mentees and fans, Wendy's support of my work with the owls has been the deepest, the most rewarding and the longest lasting. She has and continues to be the biggest booster of my work and on so many different fronts. From finding new books and articles on owls, to reviewing my stills and video from each night's visit, and generously providing me with new optical and photographic devices, she is truly amazing. I often make good-natured fun of Wendy's fair weather preferences when I lead owl prowls or give talks on the owls. Thankfully, it was an unseasonably warm December day and we reveled in feeling the warm air on our exposed ears and hands. Wendy delighted in seeing all five owls and her enthusiasm was infectious.

I returned to watch Charles and Sarah and they amazed as always. After several nights of not seeing them mate, they mated no more than fifty feet from me. I also had several excellent exchanges of owl and park ambassadorship. Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you in the park and sharing the owls with you in the coming year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sarah Takes A Drink!

Saturday, December 23, 2011

Well, last night along with my friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente, I saw Sarah take a drink in the waterway. This was only the fourth time I have seen her drink in the almost six years that I have been observing and documenting her and Charles. Unlike the previous times there was still a fair amount of daylight left so I could film it. She flew out of the hollow in The 08/12 Nest Tree, where she is currently nesting, to The Middle Tree and after a few minutes she flew down to the waterway. My initial thought was that she was making a predatory attempt along the banks of the waterway but no, she began to drink. My still photos were poor but I got some solid video of the whole process. Watch and enjoy!

Notice how cautious she was while drinking: short sips of water and in between sips she is looking around constantly on the alert. Charles continued to hoot as they had been duetting prior to her drinking in the waterway.

Great Horned Owls and other birds of prey get most of their liquid needs from the prey they eat but if need be they will drink water. I wondered why she was drinking water now and Brenda made a great point that since Sarah is nesting and getting ready to lay eggs, her need for liquid is probably heightened.

The night continued in superb fashion. The owls resumed their duet and mated. It was the twenty-third time (in twenty-seven nights) I have seen them mate this breeding season. We followed Charles when he went off to hunt and were able to reacquire him a few times thanks to ESL (Experience, Skill, Luck). We were getting ready to leave the park, when Charles returned to The Middle Tree and made a food exchange with Sarah. It looked like a small rodent or bird. They duetted some more before Charles headed out to resume hunting. A great night with the owls. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sarah Is Nesting!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Three weeks after the first time the owls mated this breeding season, Sarah has chosen this year's nest location! She is in the 2008 Nest Tree. Now that she has chosen this tree it is now The 08/12 Nest Tree. The nest tree is again a Cottonwood tree and again it is a hollow. It is a beautiful spot, easy to see into and one of my favorite spots in which they have nested.

As you may have guessed they nested in this same spot in 2008, the first year I saw them have three owlets: Bart, Lisa and Maggie. They also had three owlets in 2010: Reese, Malcolm and Dewey. When they nested in this spot in 2008, I was able to see owlets at an earlier age than I have ever done before or since then. We were able to see them fledge over a magical multi-night period.

If you know where this tree is keep a good, safe and respectable distance away from it. At least 50-100 feet. Female Great Horned Owls are notoriously aggressive when nesting and you do not want to be attacked by an owl that can kill and eat Raccoons, Canada Geese and other large and powerful animals.

During the fall I saw Sarah visit this location a few times and Charles several times. They both visited this nest location more than any other and I was leaning heavily to this spot. For variety's sake, I may have preferred a new yet unused spot but I am very happy she has chosen this spot. As in many things in a mated pair's life (be it owls or humans), the male participates in the process but the female makes the decision. Male Great Horned Owls play real estate agent by showing different nesting spots to the females but the females sign the big, stinking check.

This is the second time I have seen them re-use the exact same nesting spot. In 2009, they nested exactly where they had in 2006. Last year, they nested in a different spot in this same tree and it is now known as The 06/09/11 Nest Tree. In each of these years, they had two owlets.

It all started yesterday with a call from my friend and owl-mentee, Brenda Hente. She had stopped by the park for a quick look after running some errands. She found Charles in his favorite conifer but had not found Sarah. We agreed to meet up in the afternoon after I finished my own errands. I got to the park and met Brenda and sure enough was in his favorite conifer and he had begun to stretch and hoot. Here's him in mid-escalator stretch (stretching one of his legs and wings). Be sure to double click on the photos to see larger versions of each shot.

Brenda said she needed my eagle eyes to find Sarah who again had remained undetected. Thankfully my eagle (or owl) eyes have been working especially well lately. I've had some great long-distance naked eye spottings of the owls in recent weeks. I asked Brenda where she had looked and we went from there. We checked out a potential nest spot that both owls had checked out on a memorable night in September. I had never seen them visit this hollow and it was among the contenders for this year's nest spot. We didn't see anyone there so we headed to The 2008 Nest Tree. From about 60 yards away I saw with my naked eye what looked like something in the hollow. We raised our binoculars and sure enough it was Sarah!

We were thrilled especially as we had been thinking that they would start nesting soon! We got closer and closer and got some great views of her in this amazing spot. What a beauty!

As you can see it's a big hollow and you can see well into it. Another fascinating aspect of it is that it faces west and gets big doses of afternoon sun as you see below.

We took a closer look and got the unconcerned but undivided attention of Sarah.

The whole time we were watching her in the nest we kept uttering superlatives and our faces were fixed with goofy grins. It is a thrill, privilege and honor to witness such a big development in these amazing animals' lives.

She eventually climbed out of the hollow and flew to The Fleur de lis Tree, much as she had when she nested in this general area in 2008, 2009 and 2011. After a slowly developing duet, she and Charles mated. They have been very busy mating owls this year. I have seen them mate 18 times in 22 days including two nights when they mated twice in the same night. Much more to write about and share about the mating including some good videos. Thanks for reading and if you want to go on an owl prowl (tour), just give contact me at !

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Charles and Sarah sitting in a tree, m-a-t-i-n-g.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Amazing. Charles and Sarah mated last night. In the rain and four days earlier than I have ever seen them mate. Incredible.

I got to the park just around sunset and it was already quite dark due to the rainy skies. The rain was steady but it was warm out with temperatures in the high50s to low 60s. Thankfully, I had received a helpful text from my friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente. Brenda had gone to the park in the morning before the rain hit. She let me know that Charles was in his favorite conifer and Sarah was in her autumnal perch. Thank you, Brenda!

Sure enough, as I approached their territory I could hear Charles hooting and he was still in his favorite conifer. Due to the rain, I just had my point-and-shoot camera and my binos on me (under my umbrella) so my picture/video quality is decent but not as good as it would be on a non-rainy day. Here's Charles captured in mid-hoot:

I went looking for Sarah and she soon hooted in reply. Judging from her call, I was confident that she was no longer in her autumnal perch and may have sought a tree offering greater protection from the rain. I heard her again and determined that she was in The Overlook Hotel Tree. Just as I was approaching this tree, she flew out and landed, as she had for the previous three nights, in The Jungle Gym Tree near The Archy Tree. Here she is, also in mid-hoot:

She was completely exposed to the rain and I made a prescient but inadvertent and innocently innuendo-filled pun by saying, "Sarah's gonna get pretty wet." Ah, thankyouverymuch.

The duet increased in tempo, frequency and yes, intimacy. Charles began his intimate hoots that have a purring quality and also sound like he's practicing rolling his Spanish by rolling his Rs. More "hurr hurr" then "hoo hoo." That said, they had done exactly this type of duetting over the last three nights in the same spots and each night the duet was cut short. Charles would leave to go to nest hollow of The 2008 Nest Tree. Sarah would remain in this jungle tree and hoot a few times before flying east. I would reacquire Charles and he would begin to hoot again but the duet was over.

This was not to be the case on this night. Charles flew out a short distance and landed in a deciduous tree near The Cut-In. Upon landing he hooted loudly and also hooted some one syllable hoots in short succession. I've heard him make such calls after mating and after hearing them tonight I dubbed them "Choo-Choo Hoots" as they are reminiscent of a steam train. Sarah flew and landed close to Charles. The duet continued intensely. Sarah flew past Charles a little waya but the duet continued and he flew to her and they mated. Check it out and crank your volume:

Just incredible. Last year, I first saw them mate on November 30. Prior to that the earliest I saw them mate was in 2009 on December 6. And now in 2011, mating on November 26. I saw them mate on Xmas Eve last year as it snowed but never before in the rain. I called Wendy, my girlfriend, to tell her the news and she was thrilled.

The night continued to amaze. Charles had flown towards The Middle Conifers and after a brief pause, Sarah followed in that direction. I didn't find either of them in this glade but I found Sarah nearby in The Mixed Glade just before she flew north. I reacquired her in a glade of conifers on the south bank of the lake before she continued north. ESL (Experience, Skill, Luck) was flowing last night and I found her just north of The Right Hand Tree. She stayed there for a while and then I heard Charles hoot, first from the east and then from the north.

In a flash, Sarah flew off and I lost her in the horizon line but she not gone far but had gone to a fascinating spot. She had landed on the cable of the bridge just north of The Right Hand Tree. I had never seen one of the owls on this bridge before and it was wild that she was not on the bridge structure but on the cable. Also unlike her previous perches which were sheltered, she was wide open to the rain, which increased in tempo and volume.

Charles' hooting ceased. Sarah remained on the bridge for many minutes. I saw her look east, bob her head from side-to-side for greater depth perception and then fly east along the waterway. I found her just as she flew further east and I'm reasonably certain that I flushed her. I pride myself on a stealthy, cautious approach but there are times when one approaches too close too fast and they fly away. As always when this happened, I apologized and cursed my lapse in stealth. I found her roughly parallel west of The 2008 Nest Tree.

As Wendy and I had dinner reservations I took my leave but my night with the owls was still not done. I heard Charles hoot twice more from the south bank of the lake. I smiled and bade the owls good night and good luck. Wendy and I had a great meal at the superb restaurant Harvest in Richmond Heights. We've dined there several times before and it is always tremendous. I commented to Wendy that it was an especially appropriate choice of restaurant on this night. I saw the owls sowing seeds and we went to Harvest. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Will That Be Cache Or...?

Monday, August 15, 2011

One of the many fascinating things about owls is that they will store or cache prey to eat at a later time. When nesting, male owls are the only ones to do the hunting and they will often catch and cache loads of prey so that their mates and then the owlets have plenty to eat. Owls that live in cold, northerly climates (including Great Horned Owls) are known in winter to even sit on frozen prey that have they uncached (removed from their cache sites) so that the prey is again edible. They act as their own microwave ovens!

Caching is an instinctual behavior and not a learned one. In his great book, Messages From An Owl, biologist Dr. Max R. Terman describes how his Great Horned Owl, Stripey, began caching prey in the first summer of his life. Stripey did not have a chance to learn this behavior from his parents as he was only four weeks old when taken under the care of Dr. Terman. I've seen very little caching behavior by Charles and Sarah. However, I am confident that it is one of those behaviors that they do and I just haven't been lucky enough to witness it frequently.

The first time I saw caching was in the spring of 2008. That year Charles and Sarah had three owlets; Bart, Lisa and Maggie (after The Simpsons). On this particular afternoon/early evening, I saw Sarah fly to The 07 Nest Tree and disappear into the hollow of this Cottonwood in which she had nested in 2007. Out she came with something brown and mammalian in shape in her talons. She landed in The Great Northern Tree and began to feed on what she had carried. The owlets soon joined her in the tree and she began to feed them. From what I saw, I thought Sarah had caught an Eastern Grey Squirrel when she went to The 07 Nest Tree. I carefully made my way towards them for a closer look. I finally got close enough and saw long rabbit legs and a furry rabbit tail. I realized that unless rabbits were now arboreal (tree dwelling), Sarah had uncached an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit! It was great to finally see this behavior.

In my previous post I wrote about Sarah feeding the owlets (of 2011, Dalton and Monica) an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit on March 31. After feeding much of the rabbit to the owlets, Sarah flew off with the last leg and part of the hindquarters. The next night Sarah flew over to The Middle Conifers. In less than two minutes she was back with prey. Again, my initial thought was that Sarah had caught something. I looked closely at the prey and realized it was the remaining rabbit rations. She had cached it in The Middle Conifers the night before and then uncached it!

While this was great to see the events of April 11 were even more fascinating. It was a blustery day and I only had a relatively brief time to spend with the owls that evening. This became one of those nights when a brief allotment of time with the owls became stretched out further since so much fascinating behavior occurred.

I quickly found Sarah and the owlets. Crows began to mob and Sarah and her youngsters and Charles began to hoot and I found him in his favorite conifer. The mobbing crows eventually departed and the owlets began to beg for food with their raspy begging cheeps. Sarah took flight and landed in The Great Northern Tree. I followed her and began to watch her. I saw her perched on what appeared to be a prey item but I was wrong. Soon after Sarah began looking to the left, to the right, above and below as if she was trying to find something she misplaced. It dawned on me that she was looking for prey that she had cached so that she could feed her hungry youngsters. Sarah even changed positions within the tree to continue looking from new vantage points. I had a front row view of this fascinating behavior. Eventually she flew off right past me. Watch the videos below to see Sarah looking for the cached prey and then flying off again.

Sarah continued on flying towards The Bushy Tree. I came around to the other side of The Wooded Area to find her and like in an earlier post, she had quickly caught another prey item and my initial position was better than my current one. She had flown to The Big Dead Tree with the prey and one of the owlets flew to her side. I headed back around for a better view. I got there to find both owlets but no Sarah. Thinking that she may have gone back to The Great Northern to cache the new prey, I headed that way. I took a few steps and found Sarah roughly between The Big Dead Tree and The Great Northern. She was munching away on the prey she had caught. Even though I had a pretty good view, I couldn't tell what it was exactly but it was a gray, fuzzy bird or mammal. I wondered if she was going to eat a bit of it and then feed the owlets.

Charles began to hoot and his hoots had a real purring trill to them. Sarah responded with a constricted/raspy call I first heard in 2010 nesting season. After hearing this call several times during that nesting season, I was worried that the call was an extreme hunger stress call or that she might have a pellet stuck. Thanks to some great, helpful insight from renown owl experts Jim Duncan and Karla Kinstler, I learned that it is a normal Great Horned Owl call and may well be a nesting female's way of telling her mate that food is needed. Now in 2011, it was interesting to hear Sarah make this call with prey in her talons.

Sarah flew off towards The Middle Conifers and I thought she might be heading there to cache the prey. I reacquired her in a Sweet Gum not far from The Middle Conifers. Both owlets had come over to a tree at the edge of The Wooded Area close to Sarah. They knew she had food. With the prey in her talons Sarah flew over to The Middle Conifers.

Sarah then cached the prey and flew back to the edge of The Wooded Area not far from the owlets. With Sarah in plain sight and only a short distance away, I moved cautiously to get a closer look at the now cached prey. From my research, I know that owls will often aggressively defend cache sites. Biologist Dr. Bernd Heinrich describes cache defense well in his excellent book, One Man's Owl, about a Great Horned Owl that he raised and observed. Thankfully my close approach did not meet with disagreement from Sarah. I could now see the prey item more clearly and that it was a bird of roughly dove size.

Then something amazing happened-the cached prey fell out of the tree down to the grass below! I missed filming the fall as I never expected it to happen but I guess the wind got the better of Sarah's caching procedure. Still moving slowly and cautiously I was able to get a closer look at the bird. I still couldn't tell what species it was (please e-mail me if you can figure it out) but I could clearly see that the bird's head had been removed and eaten by Sarah. Birds of prey often eat the head of their prey first taking in the protein and nutrient rich brain. When the hunting is good, Great Horned Owls are known to eat the brain and leave the rest. It was wild to see the severed spinal cord so clearly.

My time in the park with the owls that night was brief but action-packed and fascinating. Later in the spring my friend, Brenda Hente, saw some more caching behavior by Sarah and it too was in The Middle Conifers. I walked home enjoying a stunning sunset, one of the many great side benefits of watching owls at twilight.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Owlets Have Dispersed

After a week of not seeing this year's owlets, Dalton and Monica, I am "making the call": the owlets have left the territory and are out on their own. This is always a bittersweet time. I miss seeing the owlets and their gradual growth and progression. At the same time I am excited that they are heading out to the big wide world and I wish them well with all the many challenges they face. It is also nice to see Charles and Sarah again just as a couple. Great Horned Owls have the longest breeding/offspring rearing season of any owl in North America. The parents only have a short time each year that is not leading up to or directly involved with having and taking care of youngsters. They are now truly empty nesters!

Dalton and Monica hatched sometime in late January to early February so they are six months old. This is the regular age and stage for owlets of the species to disperse. They are large, powerful owls and they have been well taken care of by their devoted parents.

The dispersal process is a natural one and though it can appear tough, it is an important process for several reasons. The owlets are encouraged to disperse by the parents. The parents stop bringing food to the owlets, who are already doing some hunting on their own. This food stoppage forces the owlets to head out and hunt and even disperse. If the owlets continue to remain in the parents' territory they can be chased away by the parents.

On Friday, July 29 I saw what I am 90% certain was Charles chasing one of the owlets away from the territory. I had found one of the owlets and both Charles and Sarah. Charles and Sarah have been duetting a lot recently to re-proclaim their territory and cement their pair bond and this night was no different. As the duet came to a conclusion I reacquired Charles in The Middle Conifers. I was showing him to a few passersby (I'm always keen to do some owl/park ambassadorship) when he flew to the top of a small conifer in The Mixed Glade. Moments later he flew further into the glade and then I saw another owl. It headed out of the glade at great speed followed by Charles. I don't think this was one adult following the other out to hunt, which I have seen before but Charles chasing the owlet out of the territory. Watch for yourself:

It's understandable to feel sympathy for the owlet but this is a natural and important process. If the owlets remained on the parents territory, the impact on the population of prey animals would be intense and in some cases, near catastrophic. Great Horned Owls require a great deal of food to survive and their presence makes a large impact on prey populations and even other predators, some of whom can be eaten by Great Horned Owls. If the owlets stayed and there were now 4-5 GHOs instead of 2, even the abundant prey populations of Forest Park would be severely impacted. Dispersal by the owlets also helps spread out and deepen the genetic pool, which is vital for the health of the species as a whole.

I have more to write about Dalton and Monica and what I observed of them this spring and summer. They were special owlets. One of the most amazing things I experienced with them was getting very close to them on several occasions this summer as you can see in the below photos:

Dalton on May 6:

Monica on July 11:

Be safe and good luck, Dalton and Monica! Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Feeding Time!

May 29, 2011

The owlets continue to grow in their abilities and they are close to full-grown physically. One of the amazing paradoxes of Great Horned Owls is how fast the owlets grow physically and how slow they take to mature and become independent in every other sense. When leading prowls or otherwise discussing the owls, I often tell people that the owlets, physically, are on par with a seventeen year-old human. In all other senses they are on par with a human toddler. That said, it is thrilling to see their gradual development. Every flight, landing, predatory gesture (to call them attempts at this stage is not quite accurate) is a building block to their independence. This year's owlets, Dalton and Monica, are flying (and landing) better than their previous siblings that I have seen at this age and stage. In recent weeks they have made significant progress towards their full maturation but that's a topic for a future post.

Let's take a little trip back to March 31 to see them being fed by Sarah. On this day I arrived and found the owlets, Sarah and Charles, in that order, pretty quickly. It was a lightly overcast day but I had arrived well before sunset. As I watched Sarah and the owlets from one side of The Wooded Area, Sarah suddenly flew off towards The Middle Conifers on the opposite side of The Wooded Area. I walked around quickly but quietly hoping to find Sarah. I got to the Middle Conifers but I could not find her anywhere in the vicinity. I finally turned around to look at the owlets and there was Sarah in The Big Dead Tree with prey in her talons! In the time it had taken me to walk the roughly 100 yards around to the Middle Conifers, she had caught something and flown back to The Wooded Area. She had already begun to dine.

I knew that if I went back to my original vantage point that I would have a great view of her eating on her own and then feeding the owlets. Not for the first time or the last, I wish I could teleport so that I could get there faster. I hurried back around and was amazed by what I saw. She had caught an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit and within moments, the owlets came over to be fed by her. Since it was still quite some time prior to sunset I was able to use the available light and get some dramatic photos and video. You can double-click on each photo to get a bigger image. The footage might be overly graphic for some people but this is the day-to-day reality of life and death in nature.

Now for some video:

Now that you have looked at the photos and video, let's go back and check out a few key points. Notice how when Sarah feeds the owlet, she keeps her eyes closed. She does this to protect her eyes from the owlet's sharp bill and less than precise movements. Sarah's feeding technique is fascinating as she holds down the rabbit with her massive and powerful talons and tears the prey with her bill. The fact that Sarah caught the rabbit so early underscores the Great Horned Owl's deserved reputation as an opportunistic hunter.

Sarah continued to feed the owlets for a while before flying off with the last leg of the rabbit. And there's more to tell about that...

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Post About An Owl Prowl and Owlet Antics!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I ran into my new owl/park friends Nicki and Jim Dwyer the other day and they were thrilled to see the now-fledged owlets, Dalton and Monica, as well as the owlets' parents, Charles and Sarah. Seeing the owlets inspired Nicki to write a great post on her blog about the sighting and to organize two more owl prowls. Thanks, Nicki!! The last of these two prowls is this coming Saturday, April 9. More information about the prowl and Nicki's excellent post can be found here. Many thanks, Nicki! I should also note that Jim is one of several folks who have happily succumbed to owl addiction this year. Well done, Jim!

Now that the owlets have fledged they are getting increasingly more active. For owlets of their age and stage I am impressed with how good their landings are. They still have a long way to go before they reach adult prowess and not just in landings but they are off to a great start.

One activity in which owlets often seem to engage is Follow The Leader. One owlet will fly to one branch and the other owlet(s) will follow suit. Here are two videos, in order, showing Dalton and Monica doing this on Thursday, March 28, 2011. In the first video, Dalton flies to a new perch.

In the second video, Monica joins in and doesn't meet with complete success or failure.

On Sunday, March 27, I led an owl prowl for Sally Topping and family along with my owl/park friend Brenda Hente (another new owl addict-bravo!). We followed Sarah and the owlets out to The Bushy Tree. It was the first time seeing these owlets in this tree, which is often a favorite tree for the owls to use during the summer. We had a great view of them as The Bushy Tree is still pretty bare and not thickly leafed out as it will be this summer. As we watched them, the owlets began to allopreen each other. Allopreening is the term for mutual grooming. I have only seen this behavior a few times over the years so it was great to see it and capture it on video.

In his great book Owls of the United States and Canada, the naturalist and photographer Wayne Lynch describes how allopreening is thought to have social and health benefits. The mutual grooming may enforce bonds between individuals be they a mated pair, siblings or parents and offspring. Allopreening also lets the groomee, if you will, have areas groomed that it cannot otherwise reach. In this same book, Lynch also has a great photo of a female Great Horned Owl being groomed by one of its owlets.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Names For The Owlets

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Choosing names for the owlets is always interesting. The first two groups of owlets in 2006 and 2007 did not get names but in 2008 when there were three owlets, I had to have names and since then I have named each year's owlets.

After some consideration, I have names for the two owlets hatched and fledged this year. I have named the younger, smaller owlet, Monica, after my late aunt, Monica Glenshaw (Aunty Mon), who died on September 20, 2010. I have named the older, bigger owlet, Dalton, after Dalton Brownell, the late father of my good owl and park friend, Barb Brownell. Mr. Brownell died just last week on March 18, 2011.

My Aunty Mon was an incredible lady. A doctor who spent the vast majority of her adult and professional life in rural Zimbabwe doing incredible work with major positive effects both micro and macro as described here. She was a very funny, unpretentious, incredibly hard-working woman with a great can-do attitude. Aunty Mon also had a great love for and connection with animals. I last saw her at my dad's funeral in 2003 and I would have loved to have seen her again before she passed away at much too premature age.

I did not know Mr. Brownell but I have been friends with his daughter, Barb, and her boyfriend/partner/joint-tax filer (and I'm spit-balling on the last one), Chris Gerli for a few years now. Barb and Chris are two of the longest serving fellow observers/owl addicts in both watching Charles and Sarah as well as another pair of Great Horned Owls; John and Jacqueline. No one knows more about these two owls than Barb and Chris. They have done amazing work these past two plus years observing and documenting John and Jacqueline and I am honored to call them owl mentees of mine. Mr. Brownell was surely a superb person both from what I have learned from his obituary and my knowledge of Barb as a person of great knowledge, humor, empathy and compassion.

The ages of the owls correspond with the ages of their namesakes. I don't know if the names correspond with the sex of the owls. Determining the sex of an immature owl requires an extremely up close and personal physical examination, which even if I knew how to do it, I would not do so. I think the owlets would be overly stressed by this process and Sarah might, and with good reason, try to turn me from The Owl Man into The Owl Eunuch. Thank you, no.

Here are pictures of the owlet Monica (be sure to double click on the pictures to see a full size version of each photo):

March 22:

March 23:

March 24:
Here are pictures of the owlet Dalton:

March 21:

March 22:

March 23:

March 24:

And here's both of them from last night, March 24. Dalton is on the left and Monica on the right:

Thank you for reading!