Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Owlet Highlights From Sunday Night

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sunday night in the park presented great opportunities to see owlet behavior at close proximity.  Just as I arrived in the owls' territory before sunset  I heard the warning calls of Northern Cardinals near The Permanent Puddle.  I began my search there and in seconds I was mere feet away from the middle owlet.  (Be sure to double click on the photos to see a larger version).

This was only the second time I had seen an owlet this summer in this specific area in the eastern half of The Wooded Area.  Last week I saw two of the owlets in the eastern half, a rarity this summer, and the next night they were back in their more typical haunts on the west side.

As I watched this owlet, she demonstrated the amazing neck flexibility of owls. Owls eyes are so large that they cannot move their eyes in their sockets. To compensate, they have evolved incredibly flexible necks that allow the owls to turn their heads up to 270 degrees.

Owls have fourteen neck vertebrae, double the seven humans have, but a recent study at Johns Hopkins University (shout to my sister, Mary, who she did her advanced degrees in public health there) uncovered other amazing anatomical adaptations that makes this neck turning possible.  Read all about this amazing study here.

Going along the the outskirts of The Permanent Puddle, I managed to get a look at this large and in charge owlet from a few different angles.

Continuing my search, I headed up into the western section of The Wooded Area.  The search took a while to bear fruit, underlining the need for patience and thoroughness when looking for owls and wildlife as a whole.  As I continue to watch the owls I am always amazed to see the similarities and variations in the owls' behavior both day-to-day and month-to-month as well as over the years.  Among these behaviors is where they perch/roost.  As with their parents you see patterns emerge and maintain while others dissolve; some permanently with others renewed. For example, last year the owlets, Lawrence, Edward and Stuart, used a hitherto unnamed tree so much that I had to name this tree.  It was dubbed The Sandwich Tree due to its spot right between three other more consistently used trees: The Big Dead Tree, Sarah's Late Summer/Early Fall Perch and The Window on the West Tree. This year I have seen an owlet in The Sandwich Tree less than five times. But this does not mean that I do not look in this tree each time I look for the owls. Quite the contrary, I look in this tree almost every time.

Finding all of the owls is my initial goal each time so learning their perching/roosting sites is essential.  I am often asked "How do you find the owls?" I respond by saying, "ESL. Not English as a Second Language but Experience, Skill and Luck."

Another phrase I try, but not always succeed, to follow is: Open Eyes, Open Ears, and Open Mind.  The Open Mind portion of this phrase is the hardest because we fall into patterns, which can become ruts even at our most vigilant.  I endeavor to keep my mind open to new places to look as well as looking at previous perch/roost sites that have not been used for some time.

Thankfully, on Sunday I followed my maxim and found the youngest owlet on a low, thin branch at the base of The Window on the West Tree (Henneth Annun for fellow Tolkien fans out there).

This branch has been an owlet perch for the last view years but I had not seen any owlet in this branch this year.  I almost did not look there but I remembered to look anyway.  Glad I did.  As I moved slowly and quietly to not disturb the owlet and to get a closer view, the owlet's gaze remained on the ground.

The owlets' hunting activity grows by the day and it is likely that he was on the prowl for a tasty bug or worm or even small bird or mammal.  The position of the owlet's gaze altered as it stretched its right wing using a move I call The Escalator Stretch.  As you watch the video below, the reason for this name may become clear.

At the end of the video the owlet noticed my presence but as you can see the picture below, he was pretty nonchalant.

I hope this was because of how I dressed and behaved. I was dressed in dark, muted clothes, My blond hair was under a dark hat.  I moved slowly and quietly, the latter a challenge with the ground dry from the lack of rain. I did not get too close to the owlet and kept my time at close proximity to a modest length.

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Promo for Tonight's Talk and Recent Owlet Footage

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tonight's the night, my talk at the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library system!  This is my first talk for SLPL and what better way than start at the branch closest to Forest Park, a mere two blocks away, and the branch I go to every week!  The talk begins at 6:00pm and here's the rest of vital details:

"The Mysterious Majesty of the Forest Park Owls ", Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 6:00pm, Schlafly Branch-St Louis Public Library , 225 North Euclid Avenue (at Lindell Blvd), St. Louis, MO, 63108

I hope to see you there!  SLPL kindly tweeted about tonight's talk as you can see here:

I'm on Twitter too and you can follow me @forestparkowls

While I have been preparing for tonight's talk, I continue to get over to Forest Park and observe, document and do outreach with the owls.  ESL, experience, skill and luck, continue to aid my work and nice footage of the owlets is a happy result.

From Sunday, June 20, this older owlet was mere inches off the ground on The Fallen Tree.  I almost walked right past the owlet when something caught my eye.

A few minutes later I found a younger (more blond) owlet right on the ground.  It was investigating and/or hunting.  Insects are an early prey for young owls.  It was interesting to see how high the owlet's tail angled up as the owlet bent more sharply to further its quest. Although the owlet was likely hunting, notice that at the 20 second mark, the owlet emits its raspy begging cheep.  This call broadcasts the owlet's hunger and location to the parents.  Even though the owlets are hunting they are more than happy to get a feed from their parents.  At this transitional stage, the owlets' favorite Motown song is "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" by The Temptations.

Just last night I ran into my friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente, who just found a younger owlet.  We  went to find the other owlets and I saw one fly up to a low branch. The owlet transitioned to a slightly higher branch that was quite close to us.  It was great to be able to watch the owlet from such close proximity.

The owlet turned around, giving us a great view of its legs. My girlfriend, Wendy, is a cognoscente of the cute and a particular favorite of hers is the legs of bird of prey, which she refers to as "pants."  I was a glad I could shot of this owlet's "pants" for Wendy.

Thank you for reading!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Talk Reminder and Some Great Media Coverage on the Owls

Moday, July 21, 2014

Over the last few years the owls and my work with them have enjoyed and benefited from consistent media coverage ranging from articles in school newspapers and conservation group newsletters to pieces in prominent regional media outlets of all types. It is always heartening to meet people and hear them say things like, "Are you the owl guy that was in the paper?"  or "A friend of mine knows I like birds and sent me an article about you."   Thankfully, this consistent coverage continues during this spring and summer.

Most recently my friend, Nicki Dwyer, posted this lovely piece on her blog about my talk this Wednesday, July 23 at 6:00pm at the Schlafly Library branch.  This branch of the St. Louis Public Library system is located in my old neighborhood, the Central West End.  Nicki is a long-time resident of the CWE and her blog covers the neighborhood in depth and with great aplomb and variety.  Nicki first mentioned the owls and me in her blog in 2011 and she and her husband, Jim, continue to be a great supporters of our feathered friends and yours truly.  Thank you, Nicki!  I hope to see many of you at this talk on Wednesday!

A few weeks ago, Forest Park Forever, the non-profit that partners with the City of St. Louis to restore, maintain and sustain Forest Park, released a new video promoting the park.  If you look fast at the 4 second mark, you can see me on the right side of the screen in my light green Forest Park Forever Volunteer fleece and black baseball hat.  This was filmed during a Beginner Birder Walk, a joint venture of Forest Park Forever and St. Louis Audubon Society venture, which I co-lead.  This was the walk from this May.  You can tell it is the spring because I have a goatee aka my spring plumage.

Back in February I was thrilled to give my first owl talk in Illinois.  It was in Alton, IL and was for a joint meeting of the Great Rivers chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society and the Piasa Palisades Sierra Group. The talk went quite well and we organized a few owl prowls for both groups.  The prowls were also a success.  My favorite comment from the prowls was when, unprompted, one of the members exclaimed, "This is so cool!!"

On the second owl prowl, one of the prowlees, Teri Maddox, told me that she a feature writier for The Belleville News-Democrat in nearby Belleville, Illinois.  She thought that an article on the owls and my work with them would be a great fit for the Sunday magazine.  I certainly agreed with her and we began to exchange e-mails about when to meet for an interview and such.  Teri's angle was great.  While she wanted to interview me, she also wanted to come out for another owl prowl that I was leading for other people and document the prowl including interviewing the prowlees.  We found a date and I got the permission of the prowlees for Teri and a photographer to join us and document the prowl.  The prowl turned out to be a rather good one and the prowlees, the kindly Hartz and Aydelotte families, were gracious to share the prowl with Teri and her photographer.  Teri's article was the cover story of the paper's Sunday magazine on March 30 and you can see it here.  Unfortunately the article's great accompanying photos are no longer online but you can see the excellent job that Teri did of profiling the prowl, the owls and your friendly neighborhood owl man.

Last but not least is a piece written by my employer.  For just under two years, I have happily worked at the Jack C. Taylor Library at Fontbonne University, a small, Catholic liberal arts university in Clayton, MO just outside of St. Louis.  This is a great place to work in so many ways ranging from having the resources and support from leadership to do my work to a engaging, close-knit university community and it is close to home and Forest Park!  The university is highly supportive of my work with the owls and I have happily given talks and led owl prowls in and for several contexts at Fontbonne.

In November I was thrilled to get an e-mail from Elizabeth Hise Brennan, the director of the University's Communications and Marketing group, stating that she wanted to write about the owls and me for an article the university's magazine Tableaux.  Elizabeth interviewed me in my office and then she and the photographer, Jim Visser, joined me on an owl prowl for students, staff and faculty I was leading as part of the school's Dedicated Semester on sustainability. This prowl too went well and Jim got some great shots of the prowl and I provided Elizabeth some photos of the owls. She did a superb job of pulling everything together in a multi-faceted piece in the latest issue of  Tableaux.  To see the article, check out this link and flip to page 20.  To read the article, just go to this link.

Thank you for reading and I look forwarding to seeing many of you at my talk on Wednesday, July 23!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recent Owl Activity and A Big Upcoming Owl Talk

Tuesday, July 17, 2014

Summer continues to be the most challenging season for blogging about the owls.  Sunset is gradually becoming earlier after the solstice but the still late sunsets make for some long nights in the park.  When combined with my swimming at a local pool after work, the late nights in the park give me less time at home at night to write about feathered friends.

In terms of observing and documenting the owls in the summer, those of you who have been on an owl prowls have heard me say that, "Every season has joys and challenges."  The joys of summer are that the weather is warmer, there are more owls and wildlife to see and it is fascinating to watch the gradual maturation of the owlets. The challenges of the summer are that the trees are all leafed out thus making the owls harder to see, it gets bloody hot and humid in St. Louis in the summer, there are more owls and wildlife to observe, and the park is louder with the increase in human and insect activity.

In the last week or so, I have had some particularly enjoyable observations of Charles, Sarah and their owlets.  Last night, I found one of the younger owlets perched just off the ground on the stump of a tree. (Be sure to double click on the photos to see a larger version)

Here is a video of this observant owlet.

On July 9, I saw the oldest owlet right at my eye level on a small, dead tree.

Watch the owlet wink and blink in this video.

While the owlets are all large, there are subtle differences in size and more noticeable distinguishing points in their feathers and coloration.  Look at these two owlets again and notice how the younger owlet's tufts are thinner than the older.  A clearer difference is the head colors of the owlets.  The younger is showing the lighter, blonder feathers of youth while the older owlet's head feathers are a more adult brown.

Another highlight of July 9 was seeing Charles and Sarah next to each other in his and hers Cottonwoods. Sarah was on the left high up in The Eastern Tree and Charles on the right in The PX Tree, which has become a frequent perch spot of his this summer.

Using The PX Tree as a perch is a first for Charles and a good example of how the owls vary their perches not only day-by-day and season-by-season but also over the course of years. 

Speaking of years, I am happy to say that on June 29, I reached the eight-and-a-half year mark of watching the owls. It is always a thrill to reach these milestones and to reflect on how much the owls have brought to my life and the lives of others.  

2014 is also going strong with owl outreach work.  My 2013 total of 57 owl prowls will likely be eclipsed as I have already led 44 owl prowls this year.  The same goes for owl talks.  28 talks in 2013 with 21 so far this year. My geographic range for talks has increased this year with my first three talks ever in Illinois and a talk in Kansas City with others throughout Missouri coming up or in the works.

My next public talk is a big one on many levels.  It is next week on Wednesday, July 23 at 6:00pm at the Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library system.  This will be my first talk for SLPL and as Schlafly is one of their large regional branches, I am starting in the big leagues already.  Furthermore, this branch and its predecessor, the Lashly Branch, have been my local SLPL branch since 1997. Wendy and I go there every week not just as library patrons but as visitors to our former neighborhood, the Central West End, in which the branch is located. Lastly, I worked for SLPL at the Central Library from 1998 to 2003 and that is where Wendy and I met.  Wendy and I both now work in academic libraries but our love of and for public libraries and their mission is undiminished. With all these factors, I hope the talk is well attended and a big success.  I thank you greatly if you can attend this talk. The Schlafly Branch is located at 225 North Euclid Avenue (at Lindell Blvd), St. Louis, MO 63108

Thank you for reading!