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 !