Thursday, March 28, 2013

Breaking News (Again)-Three Owlets!!

March 27, 2013

Well, if the evening of March 25 and morning of March 26 were not exciting enough with seeing one owlet fledge and make it into The Wooded Area, last night, March 26, just took everything to a whole new level.  To cut to the chase, there are three owlets!  Three!  As of last night, two have fledged into The Wooded Area and one was still in the nest. I was thrilled to finally see two at the same time just over a week ago but we never saw more than that at once and so we thought that it was two owlets and no more.  Two-three is typical for Great Horned Owls and Charles and Sarah have mostly had two per year.  They had three owlets in 2008 and 2010. Their average is very nuclear family in size: 2.25 owlets per year.   With last year's drought I was happy that they nested and had two owlets period so seeing three is a delight and especially interesting.  Here's how I found all three last night.

I arrived at The Wooded Area about an hour and a half before sunset as I wanted time to look for the fledgling I had seen that morning and the night before then.  I found Charles quickly in his new favorite conifer, in which I had not seen him for over a week.  I headed down to The Arena and saw the one owlet still in the nest.  I carefully walked around the perimeter of the eastern half of The Wooded Area looking for the fledgling and Sarah. No dice. I wondered if the owlet had covered more ground like the owlets had in 2011 so I walked back to where I had found Charles to look around that area.  

I found Sarah deep into The Wooded Area not far from her late summer/early fall perch.  I did not notice at the time but a Red-bellied Woodpecker was just to the right of her as you can see here.

I looked between the two parent owls and there just 20-30 feet from Charles in a low, thin tree was the fledgling.  Incredible.  It had covered 50-80 yards since that morning.  Check out how fluffy its cheeks are!

Charles had pivoted in his new favorite confer and I was able to see more of him.

I watched the owlet as it kept a low profile and watched its new surroundings.  As I did so, a helicopter flew by and the owlet watched the chopper's progress with much curiosity. 

Amazed, I  headed back down to The Arena to see the owlet still in the nest.  I could no longer see it in the nest and decided that it had gone deeper down into the nest, a perfectly normal activity.  Charles began to hoot and so I headed back to him, Sarah and the fledgling.  Charles had moved to The Archy Tree in a more atypical spot within this tree, which is mostly used in the summer and early fall. 

I found the fledgling and as I looked in the area of where Sarah was perched, I saw an owlet  trying to keep its balance while perched in a low, small tree near Sarah's perch.  I looked back to the fledgling near Charles to see if it had flown to this new spot but it was still there.  This balancing owlet was a second fledgling!

This second fledgling was bigger than the first.  I think this second one was in fact the owlet that I saw fledge the night prior judging by its size.  Furthermore, I think this fledgling near Sarah is bigger and older than the fledgling near Charles.  This fledging of these two owlets was reminiscent of how the 2011 owlets fledged, which you can read about here.  The big difference was that in 2013 we saw the owlets "hit the gym", much more than in 2011.

By now my mind was reeling.  Were there three owlets or had the one seen in the nest mere minutes ago fledged and moved 80 plus yards from the nest?  The former was the much more realistic option but I had to confirm it.  Back to The Arena I went and there in the nest, again visible was the owlet, smaller and younger than the others.  

This made one,two, three owlets!  Bloody hell. 

 I grinned with delight and quickly texted the news to my girlfriend, Wendy, and several owl friends and mentees.  As I did so I was joined by Taffy Ross a frequent park goer and owl fan. Taffy marveled at the news and as she watched the owlet in the nest, I saw a car pull up and a couple get out and  look in The 08-12 Nest Tree.  I called them over and it turns out they, Peter and Beverly Danis, had been reading my blog, which was great to hear. They began to watch and photograph the owlet and ask many great questions.  Michael Sprague then stopped by and joined the group.  Michael joined me for an owl prowl the night before and he spotted the fledgling first. He is a journalism student at Lindenwood University who is doing a piece on the owls and my work with them for his online journalism class.  He hopes to turn this class project into an article for the university's student newspaper. Michael is co-editor of that paper's sports section and active sports blogger as well as you can see here

The news of the three owlets amazed Michael during his brief stay.  Taffy, the Danis' and I headed up to see the others.  Taffy saw Charles but had to return to her keen for a walk dogs.  Peter and Beverly joined me and we began to hear the owlets beg for food and the second fledgling made the first owlet flight of the year that I was able to see.  

A Cooper's Hawk appeared near Charles and he glared at it before the accipter departed in great haste.  Sarah had food in her talons, something mammalian, and she changed positions a couple of times to try and get closer to the not yet overly mobile owlets. Here she is with the food and taking a nibble for herself and then a shot of her with the food in her bill.  The owlets begging and Charles hooting continued apace. 

Sarah looked especially intense and so we backed off and watched them from a distance before heading down to The Arena once again.  The owlet in the nest was still there but more prominently in view. Peter and Beverly headed home and I watched for a little longer.  Charles' hooting stopped and I went back up to find him gone and the owlets quiet, leading me to believe that Sarah was able to find a way and a place to feed them.  The larger owlet was visible where I had first found it.  I walked home and showed Wendy the pictures and she cooed with delight.  My friend and owl mentee and master of Forest Park, Chris Gerli of City Cycling Tours called me and we had a great discussion about these owlets with much analyzing and comparing with the previous years owlets.  

Thank you for reading! Before I go here is one last picture of the smaller fledgling dozing in its perch.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Breaking News-One Owlet Has Fledged!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I was leading an owl prowl last night, more on that particular prowl in an upcoming post, and somewhere between the beginning of the prowl and the last portion thereof, one of the owlets fledged! Not only did it leave the nest it got out of the nest tree entirely!  No branching in the nest tree-just out and about wholesale. The owlet was at the base of the nest tree delicately perched on top of some reeds by the river way.  My biggest concern was that it was 3-5 feet from the water.  Even though the water is shallow, it is cold and these are owls not ducks or geese.  I was also concerned about potential predators but thankfully Sarah was nearby. The owlet appeared uninjured and safe.  It adjusted its wings when it needed to balance itself. Here's the little one last night.

I stopped by this morning with my binos and my point-and-shoot camera mere minutes before sunrise and was pleased to see that the owlet had made it into the The Wooded Area.  It was perched in a low branch in The Training Area not far from the base of The Overlook Hotel Tree.

The other owlet was still in the nest hollow and Sarah was perched close to the hollow.  Charles was nearby in The PX Tree, a newly named but much storied tree in their territory.  It was touching to see the whole family so close together.  Some commuting crows harassed Charles and Sarah but the crows did not appear to notice the fledged owlet, thankfully.

So how did the owlet get out of the nest?  My best guess is it got out of the nest courtesy of The Three Fs: Fly, Fall and Flail. These three verbs are key to the nest departure locomotion of fledging GHOs. Space issues may have contributed to this owlets departure .  The entry/exit point of the hollow was getting more crowded day by the day as the owlets grew.  Before I left last night, I saw Sarah fly out of the nest hollow before landing in The Second of The Three Trees. I wonder if Sarah's presence in the nest and the subsequent decrease in space became a precipitating factor leading to the owlet's departure.  Perhaps the owlet was just ready for this huge step in its life.

There is much more to say about this fledging but in the meantime, if you come to the park to see the owls please be extra cautious and careful.  I would strongly suggest not entering their territory from the road closest to the nest tree as you might find yourself between owlet and mom.  Do not get close to the fledged owlet and be mindful of Sarah's whereabouts at all times.  Do not risk incurring her protective wrath. Last week my friend Robin Street-Morris saw a hawk of the genus Buteo, likely Red-tailed Hawk flew near the nest and Sarah chased it off vehemently.   You would not mess with a hawk, do not mess with an animal that does mess with a hawk.  Fledging is one of the most dangerous times for a young Great Horned Owl.  They are not strong fliers yet and dangers abound.  Last night during my prowl I compared fledging to a human parent watching its child take its first Times Square.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Two Owlets!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  We have much to celebrate.  Last night two owlets were seen for the first time!  My friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente, called me last from the nest site last night and said, "Congratulations. There are two owlets. I'm looking at them both right now." I marveled at the news and shared it with my girlfriend, Wendy, and she exclaimed and smiled with delight.  Just a short while before Brenda's call, I showed Wendy pictures of the owls and owlets I had taken on my brief visit to the park yesterday.  As I looked at some of the pictures of the one visible owlet shot at different times, I noticed some differences in how the owlet appeared.  I wondered if these difference were due to where the owlet was and what it was doing or if these were two different owlets.  I'm glad that I had this hunch before Brenda called but was even more happy to hear from her that she was seeing two owlets at the same time.  Brenda is on an owlet streak this year both with Charles and Sarah's progeny as well as the now three owlets, Stan, Lil and Red, hatched by the owls, Will and Kate, that Brenda watches in another local park.

Prior to Brenda's sighting there had been only one report of more than one owlet seen at the same time and that was from Crystal Camp a Horticulturist for Forest Park Forever.  Crystal's area of responsibility includes the core of the owls territory.  On Friday she told me that she may have seen two but was less than certain as she said she did not have binoculars and her eyesight is not up to snuff.  Still, it was interesting to hear and my vigil at the owls nest continued. Many other folks have been coming by and my thanks to them including Brenda, Barb, Chris, Rusty, Pam, Luann, Jane, Ted, and Raphie. Biggest thanks to Wendy for her continuously amazing encouragement and support!

Here are some photos that Brenda got yesterday of the two owlets. You can definitely see differences in age because of the differences in size and facial disk development.

Now here are two of my pictures yesterday of what I was suspecting were two different owlets.  The pictures were taken twenty minutes apart.  In the first picture Sarah was out of the nest on a perch where she and Charles mated several times.  In the second picture Sarah had returned to the nest and descended deep within it.  

Great stuff! I have a name for one of the owlets picked out, now I just have to think of a second one.  I will post here when I have the second name determined. Thanks for reading and I hope see some of you at my talks this week as described in my previous post!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Save The Dates-Upcoming Owl Talks

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
The first half of the year is off to a busy start with a couple of owl talks next week and two more before June.  I gave seven owl talks last year and with the talk I gave in January, I will have given five before the year is at the half way mark. If you know of an organization, school, book club, business, crime syndicate, etc; that you think would be interested in a talk, please feel free to recommend me to them.  Thank you!

Next week's first talk is for Missouri Nature & Environmental Photographers (MoNEP) on Tuesday, March 19 from 6:00-8:00pm at The Ethical Society in Ladue.  A map and directions are available here.  I was quite chuffed to hear when MoNEP contacted me that my name had come up several times as a potential speaker. As this is prominent group of photographers whose speakers are frequently highly distinguished photographers, I stressed to them that I am not a photographer but a naturalist who takes pictures and video. Happily they understood my perspective and are keen to hear about my work with the owls as well as my tips and insight on how to photograph owls and other wildlife in a responsible and ethical manner.

The second talk for next week is my first out-of-town talk.  I am honored to be addressing the East Ozarks Audubon Society on Thursday, March 21 from 7:00-8:00pm at Farmington Methodist Church in Farmington, Missouri. They kindly invited me to speak to them after reading about my work in the MO-Bird e-mail listserv.  This will be my first to Farmington, the county seat of St. Francois County. While Farmington is only about seventy miles away from St. Louis, I am thrilled to be taking the show on the road.

As some of you know I gave a talk at the Maplewood Public Library in nearby Maplewood, MO in January.  The talk was a success and with sixty-five people in attendance it was the largest audience the library had ever had for a lecture! It was great to see so many owl friends, addicts, and mentees in the audience and to meet and help create new ones.  The library generously allowed me to film the lecture and post it on my YouTube page as you can see below.  

The talk was such a success that the library has asked me to do a series of talks focusing on specific aspects of the owls' lives.  The first of these talks will be again at the Maplewood Public Library on Thursday, April 25 from 7:00-8:00m.  This talk is called "Forest Park Owls: Nesting and Owlets" and as the title indicates it will be the owls' nesting behavior and their offspring, the ever delightful owlets. Here are links to the library's FAQ with directions to the library (it is both easy and tricky to get there!) and a brochure for the talk itself

I have another talk in May but I will save that for a future post.  Thank you for reading and I hope to see you at one of these talks!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

First Glimpse Of A 2013 Owlet! (Updated With Better Photo)

March 5, 2013

Tonight we had our first glimpse of one of Charles and Sarah's 2013 owlets!  A brief, dark, past-sunset glimpse but a glimpse nonetheless!  Winter is still making its presence known but in spite of this life flourishes anew! 

Before coming to the park on foot, I drove by the owls' territory.  I saw a large group of crows near The Rain Tree and I surmised that they were giving Charles an intense mobbing.  Once back in the park, now on foot, I headed to The Rain Tree.  No Charles there or in one of the other more usual, recent spots as documented in my previous blog post.  Morning snow had cleared up but the afternoon brought the snow back and with intense winds. Sarah has been spending more time out of the nest of late and prior to her departure she has spent more time visible near the edge of the nest.  Here she is today with yellow eyes piercing despite the whirlwind of snow. Be sure to double click on the photos to see a larger versions of them. 

With Sarah found I continued to look for Charles without success.  I head up the steep portion of The North-South Path to look at some previously examined spots from a different angle.  As I reached the apex of the hill I began to wonder if he was in a spot I had passed without checking carefully.  A cawing crow interrupted yet reaffirmed my train of thought as it passed by one of The Trio Conifers.  I remembered that recently (February 19) Charles had been mobbed vehemently by the crows and was flushed to The Trio Conifers.  Back to today, I turned a corner and scanned these conifers and found Charles in the smallest of the three.  Here he is from a more visible but still well-hidden angle.

I went back to The Nest Tree to see if I could watch Sarah leave the nest and see if I could spot an owlet(s) once she departed.  The snow and wind doubled in vigor and she seemed in no hurry to exit her wooden cave. Charles began to hoot regularly after a a late start.  I continued my vigil and several minutes later was surprised to see Sarah's tail feathers dangling out of the nest and her broad back filling the hollow.

On a similarly windy and precipitation-filled evening in the 2008 nesting season I saw Sarah taking a similar position, undoubtedly protecting the youngsters with her massive frame.  As I watched this tonight in 2013 I was joined by a photographer (Sue?, sorry I cannot remember your name) who sometimes stops by to see and document the owls.  My friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente soon joined us at The Eastern Branch Tree; a spot that offers a close view as well as concealment.  The photog begged off due to inadequate fowl weather gear.  Brenda and I continued to watch and we saw Sarah moving around in a vertical motion and then gradually turning her body.  Charles flew down from gorgeously to the edge of The Wooded Area and began to hoot intensely.  

Sarah continued to pivot in the nest and finally did a full 180 and flew out of the nest into The Wooded Area.  I started to move back to get a better view of the nest.  Brenda did not waste time and instead pointed her binos at the nest and told me that she saw an owlet.  I followed suit with my binos and confirmed what she saw.  One owlet, small, young but near the edge of the hollow about 2-3 weeks old from what I could see.  At this point it was quite dark as it was 20 minutes after sunset on a cloudy, snowy night.  Here is a cropped and lightened version of the least awful picture I was able to get.  Photo phans should know that this was taken at 1/10 of a second, ISO 6400, f 5.6 and brightness cranked to the max.  

I should note that on Sunday, March 3, Brenda saw a brief flicker of something greyish-white in the nest hollow.  Nothing enough to be definitive sighting of an owlet but a good hint.  Either way with Sunday's or tonight's sighting, she has the first sighting of Charles and Sarah's 2013 offspring.  Furthermore, the pair of GHOs that Brenda watches, Will and Kate, have two owlets this year in a park in the St. Louis area. Great stuff!

It soon got too dark to see the owlet and/or in descended further back into the hollow.  After this, things got a little confusing in terms of where Charles and Sarah were for the most part.  One definite and memorable sighting was seeing Charles return from the east with prey, something small, dark and furry, in his bill.  He hooted with his mouth full and his hoot was muffled and higher pitched, reminiscent of a trumpet or trombone with a mute in it. I have seen this a number of times and it always has a comic edge to it.  Listen carefully at two second mark for this different hoot.

Charles delivered the prey to the nest and I headed for home.  There is a great deal more to say about the timing of this first observation of an owlet and how it is similar and different to the first owlet sighting when they nested in this same hollow in 2011.  However, bed beckons.  Bravo, Charles and Sarah!  Welcome to the world, little one and thanks for reading, everyone!

Update!  (March 7, 2013)
I returned to the park last night (what a shocker, I know) and was able to get a glimpse of an owlet along with my friend Robin Street-Morris.  The owlet came into view well before sunset and I was able to get a better picture of the wee one.  

What a beaut! Judging by size and development of the facial disk and comparing them to books such as World of the Great Horned Owl by Austing and Holt and Great Horned Owls by D.G. Smith , I would say the owlet is in the three-week old range. That gives us a hatch time in mid-February.  Nesting commenced on December 31, 2012.  

If you want to see the owlet, please be sure to dress for the weather for your comfort and in dark, muted colors to minimize the impact of your presence.  Move and speak quietly and do not stand directly in front of the nest.  Notice how my shot is is not directly lined up with the hollow. I also stood by another tree to not stand out. Female GHOs are notoriously aggressive when defending their nest.  For the safety of the owls and your own, please be extra safe and respectful. 

We will keep watching to see what we can see and keep everyone posted.  Thanks for reading!