Friday, December 26, 2014

Multiple Matings, Prodigal Owlet, and Other Mildly Engaging Moments!

December 26, 2014

The other day I began an blog post about seeing the owls mate twice in the same night; the first time I had seen such behavior this year.  Time, holidays, parties, and the like interfered and the post is still in draft mode. Since then MUCH has gone down with the owls.  Let's try to do a brief catch-up. Or is it ketchup?  Or catsup?

On December 18, I saw Sarah chase an unidentified bird of prey; a UBP.  She disappeared, Charles hooted on his own for long time.  No reply from Sarah. At all. That is until she appeared out of nowhere and they mated.

I was with my friend and owl mentee, Rusty Wandell and we were full of questions:
  • Where had Sarah gone?
  • Was she nearby?
  • Was she far?
  • Why was she not hooting?
  • If she had been far away when did she arrive back near The Wooded Area
  • How/why did they mate after such a brief duet? (If you could even call it that.)
20-30 minutes later they mated again. Sarah made hunger calls (as she had in recent days, unprecedented before nesting) and Charles hooted. She transitioned to her regular hoot and they mated again.

This was Rusty's first double mating he had ever observed.

The next night, December 19 was cool and not. After more than three weeks, the youngest owlet was back. Bloody hell and not in a good way.  I found him in The Trio Conifers and he was already begging. (Be sure to double click on each picture to see a larger version)

That night Charles hooted on and at the hollow in The Third of Three Trees. Only after Charles departed did I hear Sarah. She was making hunger calls from The Training Area. I did not see her.

On December 20, my new friend Praveen and his family came out for their second owl prowl. Their first owl prowl was the night before Thanksgiving. Despite the constant rain and less than stellar sightings, they were enchanted by the owls. Happily on December 20, the weather was better, we met my friend; the amazing wildlife photographer and guide, Butch Lama, and they saw a great deal more. The owlet was not to be found and Charles and Sarah mated.

On December 21 I led an owl prowl for Tom Jordan, his daughter and father and Lee and Karen Walters. We found Charles and Sarah. Without wanting to or trying hard we found the owlet again.

The owlet begged and begged and Charles and Sarah did not mate. However, Sarah checked out the 11/13/14 Nest Hollow and Charles checked out The Newly (as of  Summer 2013) Expanded Hollow in The 06/09/11/13/14 Nest Tree.

December 22 was less than stellar weather condition. It poured rain.  The owlet was still there. Charles and Sarah did not mate.

December 23, I led an owl prowl for the McCauley family, their third (or was it fourth?) owl prowl for this family and another great multi-generational prowl for this superb family of nature and park enthusiasts. They rule!

We had the great luck of finding Charles and Sarah perched together in Sarah's Autumnal Perch. Sarah in the foreground and Charles in the background.

We soon found the youngest owlet (again), in the The Crossroads Conifers where it soon moved into the dead, bare conifer of this group.

Charles and Sarah did not mate. I was already worrying that the owlets' continued presence would have a negative impact on Charles and Sarah's mating and/or nesting behavior and my fears were being realized. 

December 24, I lead an owl prowl for the Pickard family.  Charles was in Sarah's Autumal Perch and Sarah was in one of The Trio Conifers. No sign of the owlet.  In a most unusual fashion Charles and Sarah began early hoots and did not stop.  Sunset arrived and their duet continued until they mated:

Charles flew off and landed inside The 11/13/14 Nest Hollow. He then flew to a nearby Sycamore and by then Sarah was in an adjacent Cottonwood. She flew to him and they mated. 

December 25, Appropriately enough Charles was in Charles' Xmas Tree and Sarah in Sarah's Autumnal Perch.  They are such beautiful owls. 

I was in the park early as I was heading to a park in St. Louis County to consult with/for my friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente, about another pair of Great Horned Owls; Will and Kate. 

I had not seen this pair of owls for some time and it was fascinating to see them. The differences between individual and pairs of this species can be legion.  Seeing these differences is educational; to say the least. This pair nested in the same tree the last three years but this tree has fallen to the ground.  Brenda has not seen them mate this year and their perch/roost spots have been harder to predict/observe/determine. After watching these beautiful Great Horned Owls, I could not help but agree with Brenda that this may be an off year for this pair and they will likely not nest.  While unfortunate, this change in behavior is an observational/educational opportunity. 

December 26. I led an owl prowl for the Kocher family and Brenda was with us.  As with the day before, Sarah was in her Autumnal Perch and Charles in his Xmas Tree. I thought I heard the begging calls of the owlet and sure enough I found it in The Quartet Conifers. Bloody hell. Again!

I told everyone how the owlets' presence in recent days had resulted in no matings and that of the two recent nights when the owlet was not seen Charles and Sarah did mate. As such I mentioned that my fears of the owlet's presence interfering with Charles and Sarah's mating and nesting were being realized. 

This night while not putting these fears to rest, certainly provided additional shading to my thinking, to put it mildly.  Charles and Sarah mated three times. I have never seen them mate three times in the same night. In all of my research on this species, I have never read of Great Horned Owls mating three times in the same night. .

Charles and Sarah began a good duet and after we were joined by my friend and owl mentee, Chris Gerli of City Cycling Tours, and a pause of several minutes they resumed duetting and mated in The Jungle Gym Tree Near The Overlook Hotel Tree.

This was the first mating that Brenda and Chris Gerli had seen in 2014. Charles flew just outside of The Arena. Sarah appeared in The Second of the Three Trees. Charles hooted and she made her hunger calls. She flew to him in the high winds and resumed her regular hooting. Charles floated over to her and they mated. Amazing!

Charles flew southeast and Sarah soon followed in a south-easterly heading.  We followed Sarah's path and looked for her and Charles in several known hunting spots including Raccoonville and The Dark Pond.  We reacquired one of the owls along the waterway. Despite our best efforts we flushed it and it landed in one of Charles favorite spots on the north side of a lake.  As we checked it out, we felt more confident that it was Charles. Hooting commenced and confirmed our identification. Charles hooted fast and we wondered, given his rapid hooting, if Sarah was nearby.  We did not have to wonder long as Sarah appeared out of nowhere and they mated!  This was the first time I have seen the owls mate three times in the same night-amazing!

Charles flew off west and Sarah remained perched in this tree; the first time we had seen her in this tree. What a beautiful owl. 

Brenda, the Kochers and I headed for our vehicles and home. Once home, I texted several of my owl friends and mentees with the big news!

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Two More Matings!

Thursday, December 17, 2014

I saw Charles and Sarah mate on two of the last three nights!  Each mating had commonalities and differences with the other.  Of the former both mating moments took place on the later side of things with early duetting interrupted by nest shopping and an eventual resumption of the duet prior to mating. Reacquiring one of the owls in multiple hunting spots also happened each night.  The differences were substantial: who did the nest shopping, which owl I followed hunting and where, and where the mating occurred. While I would love to give a full account of each night, I will try and keep this on the briefer side of things.

On Monday, December 15, Charles flew off northeast and I reacquired him hunting in three different spots all of which the owls regularly use along in this particular stretch of the park.  Out of nowhere I began to hear him hoot softly.  Just as I heard him, I heard Sarah, who I had not observed in the previous fifteen-twenty minutes, reply in hushed tones.  Before I could find her visually, Charles flew off to her and they mated.  Thus the audio only of the mating in this video:

This mating took place about twenty to thirty meters from the northeastern most mating location I have seen them use so far.  It was interesting to see them almost match this geographic reproductive record.

Due to a work commitment on Tuesday, January 16, I came to the park later than usual and without my gear so my stay was brief. Charles and Sarah duetted well but then she just stopped. Charles flew off to The Arena. I though Sarah might have a pellet to eject but she began to make a sqwuak/hunger call vocalization, which was interesting and weird too as I have not heard make hunger calls prior to nesting.  I missed her flying off but given the givens she probably flew into The Hilly Wooded Area, thus not in the same direction as Charles.

After the aforementioned nest hunting and duet interruption, last night, Wednesday, December 17, 2014, resumed their duet in a large Cottonwood just outside of The Arena.  I managed to film the mating as you can see below here.

Sarah made hunger calls during their duetting and after they mated I followed her to The Hilly Wooded Area where she hunted.  I reacquired her four times before losing her when she flew off northeast.  ESL (Experience, Skill, Luck) was working well, thankfully.  One of her hunting perches was The Southern Branch Tree, where, I believe, I have not see her hunt before but it is one of Charles' favorite spots in that portion of the park.

Of the many highlights of all three nights the biggest was finding the owls perched together in Sarah's Autumnal Perch on Monday, December 15.  They do not perch together often so it is always a delight to observe.  In the below video, Sarah is on the left and Charles is on the right.  They are grooming intensively and the video is a good look at different grooming methods as well as the differences in their size and coloration.  Such gorgeous owls!

Unfortunately, the nest shopping was the nadir of the evenings.  Not the intrinsic activity but where it occurred.  The hollow in The Third of The Trees was the location visited on Monday by Sarah and Wednesday by Charles.  In this period of nesting season, the owls have visited this hollow as much as they have visited The 11, 13, 14 Nest Hollow.  The hollow in this tree concerns me.  As I wrote in a recent blog post: " I hope that if all goes well and they nest that they do not nest here.  They began to nest here in December 2010 for the 2011 breeding season and I was hugely relieved when they changed hollows.  This hollow is low and too close to highly traveled areas by park visitors both vehicular and pedestrian.  If they nested here I worry about them being inadvertently disturbed by people and the people getting attacked by the owls as well as the safety of the owls and their owlets."

Last night as I did my best to keep an eye on Sarah and eye on Charles, I turned to see Charles flying out of the hollow and over the road.  As he did a pick-up truck drove by and Charles flared up to gain altitude and avoid the truck.  Yikes!

Other hollows they have used are near roads and sidewalks and bike paths but none as close as this one.  If all goes well and Sarah and Charles nest, I hope they avoid this hollow.  To its credit, the hollow is an interesting shape, having one opening and then a larger opening made due to storm damage in the summer of 2010.  Here is Charles last night in and on the hollow.

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Charles and Sarah Mated Last Night-First Mating Observation of 2015 Breeding Season!

Thursday, December 12, 2014

After waiting, watching, hoping and predicting that mating was in the offing, Charles and Sarah mated last night!  It was the first time I have seen them mate for the 2015 breeding season! Fantastic! In the footage below, Sarah flies across the road starting from a large Cottonwood and landing immediately next to Charles in The Second of The Three Trees.  As soon as she landed they mated. Charles needed a moment to secure his spot but mating commenced with the owls making their high pitched call of excitement.  Charles then flew off west/northwest.

The mating took a while to happen and while I was confident that mating was in the cards in the next few nights, it never was a certainty last night.  In fact for a couple of periods mating was more in doubt last night than not. 

The evening began with me finding one of the owls in Sarah's Autumnal Perch.  This well concealed spot sometimes requires finding and identifying the other owl and/or getting other angles on the occupant of this fall favorite. Whoever it was already awake and active executing an Escalator Stretch.  (Be sure to double-click on the photos to see a larger version of each shot)

Nearby in The Tallest of The Trio Conifers was the second owl.

 Just as I began to identify the second owl correctly as Sarah and thus Charles as the occupant of Sarah's Autumnal Perch, Charles hooted from this perch confirming his identity beyond doubt.  They engaged in a short, early duet before resuming their preparation for the evening. Charles was active with extensive grooming and stretching, including three Escalator Stretches and a Double-Wing Stretch.  In marked contrast, Sarah was quite still with the occasional turning of her head.

The American Crows commuting back to their rookeries noticed Sarah's slightly more exposed spot and began to mob her.  Sarah has used this tree a fair amount in the last few weeks and she regularly gets mobbed.  In contrast, if she or Charles are in Sarah's Autumnal Perch, they are not seen by the American Crows and are not mobbed.  What makes this especially interest is the vagaries in location and topography and the resulting difference in perspective between the crows and me.

As you can see from my shots  The Tallest of The Trio Conifers usually is challenging spot for me  to see and observe the owls.  The abundant and be-needled branches offer great concealment. The particular position of the tree on the middle of a hill typically limits how much of Charles and Sarah I can see and the places from which to watch.

Now while Sarah's Autumnal Perch is well-concealed spot, I can get multiple and better perspectives of whoever is perched there. The tree is on top of a portion of a hill but views from the side, the top of a higher part of the hill and from the bottom of the tree's portion of hill are all available to me. My shot of Charles stretching is from the side.  Here he is yesterday from the front as I stand between The Archy Tree and The AYU Tree.

Here's Sarah on this perch on November 28 ejecting a large pellet while I film from the bottom of the tree's portion of hill.

However from the American Crows' airborne perspective, the situation is markedly different.  With their literal bird's eye view they can see more of Sarah's usual spot in The Tallest of The Trio Conifers but they cannot see Charles or her when perched in Sarah's Autumnal Tree.  Me with my equally literal boots on the ground perspective sees little of The Tallest of The Trio Conifers but much more of Sarah's Autumnal Perch.

As the mobbing came to the end I was joined by my friend and owl mentee, Rusty Wandall.   In the process of catching him up on the last few nights' activities, Charles disappeared on us! D'oh! I said that he may have gone down to The Arena and if not, hopefully he was otherwise nearby.  We stayed to watch Sarah.  She began to stir and even did an Escalator Stretch of her own.

She flew off east landing 80-100 meters away in a large Cottonwood next to an arching row of Bald Cypresses.  We followed her and got a good angle on her while we looked towards The Arena in hopes of a sign of Charles.  Our hopes were soon rewarded as we heard him hoot.  I commented that he well be in The 11/13/14 Nest Hollow.  We inched forward to see try and see more while not loosing our angle on Sarah. I trained my binoculars on this hollow and there was Charles right inside of it.  I took the least worst photo I could of him and if you look in the hollow branch you can see a large white patch.  That patch of white feathers is Charles' chest and gular sac. 

So why did I say that Charles might be in the hollow?  Well that's where I found him perched the day before; a hitherto unseen observation of him perching in this hollow before Sarah's nesting had begun.  On Sunday, Charles twice and Sarah once checked out this oft-used hollow. In recent weeks they examined in twice more.  I did not know that Charles had flown there but it was a decent likelihood given all this recent activity.

Charles and Sarah began to duet.  They were about a hundred meters from each other and the duet was solid if not intense yet.  The intensity grew as Charles flew towards her and us landing in the hollow in The First of Three Trees. Sarah quickly flew towards him and landed in a low branch next door in The Second of The Three Trees. Sarah was at roughly the same height as Charles and only 2-4 meters away.  The immensity of her presence and beauty there was astounding.

They duetted vigorously and Charles was scarcely visible as he went deeper into this hollow,

His hooting dropped off while Sarah's continued for a little while longer.  Charles stopped hooting as I have seen him do sometimes while inspecting hollows.  It is as if he goes from being a talkative real estate agent to a taciturn and detail-oriented home inspector.  At times this transition throws off the duet and mating does not occur and I feared this might be the case.

This was the third time I had seen them check out this hollow this year.  I hope that if all goes well and they nest that they do not nest here.  They began to nest here in December 2010 for the 2011 breeding season and I was hugely relieved when they changed hollows.  This hollow is low and too close to highly traveled areas by park visitors both vehicular and pedestrian.  If they nested here I worry about them being inadvertently disturbed by people and the people getting attacked by the owls as well as the safety of the owls and their owlets.

Sarah flew across the road and a creek landing high in another Cottonwood.  Several minutes later Charles did the same and they were both high up and 40-50 meters away from each other.  They began to duet sometimes mildly but other times with touches of intensity.  I kept wonder if it was enough yet for mating, which usually takes place at the peak of an intense duet.   Sarah flew but still landed not any closer to Charles by landing at the pinnacle of yet another massive Cottonwood at a greater height than Charles.

The duet continued and the intensity grew a touch more but still not to red-hot coal proportions.  Charles flew past Sarah landing high in The Second of The Three Trees at about the same height as Sarah's skyscraper perch.  I wondered aloud if he did this to be at the same height as her and if now he would go to her or vice versa.  She ended the question mark by flying to him, landing right next to him and them mating as you saw in this post's first video.

Rusty made a great comment by noting how relatively short and not especially intense the duet was but still they mated.  I complimented him on his observation and analysis.  I told him that yes, mating usually occurs at the peak of an intense duet but not always.  I have observed and documented Charles and Sarah mating over a hundred times since December 2006. I have seen them mate after a few early, mild hoots.  They have mated after a brief but intense duet that went from 0 to 60 in no time.  I said the duet has to be just long and intense enough for them to mate.  This also implies the context: day/time/weather/location, hungry, not hungry, etc

Soon after Sarah followed Charles with Rusty and me in pursuit.  They were actively hooting as they continued going west/northwest.  The duetting was fantastic.  It was great to see them take their show on the road, actively re-establishing their territory and re-cementing their pair bond throughout their territory.  Overall this fall and early winter I have not seen as much of this wide-ranging duetting as I usually do.  Only recently have I seen more of it. I am reasonably certain that this difference is due to the youngest owlet's late departure.

We reacquired them several times. Here they are together in a glade of Sycamores.

Here's Charles now further west.

Sarah perched in low conifer about 50 meters from Charles.

Charles flew past Sarah landing high up in a Bald Cypress.

Sarah flew off further northwest and Charles pulled another disappearing act on us.  Thrilled with what we had observed we headed back to our vehicles and homes.

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

TV Coverage Of The Owls Now Online!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The KMOV/Forest Park Forever special aired last night and is now online and you can watch it below.  They did a great job of presenting the owls and my work with them.  It is an immense honor and thrill to be part of this.  I hope you can watch all of the special but if time is short, the section on the owls begins at the 13:10 mark.  So to speak. :)


Big thanks to KMOV and Forest Park Forever and to those that joined me on that owl prowl: Brenda Hente, Kim Rois, Kevin Kelly, and Libby Herbig! Thank you for reading and watching!

Monday, December 8, 2014

No Mating Yet But More Media Coverage

Monday, December 8, 2014

Charles and Sarah have not mated yet but I believe that they will do so shortly.  Their duets continue to intensify and expand.  Last night Sarah and then Charles at two different times again checked out the 11, 13, 14 Nest Hollow.  They have now checked out this hollow more than any other I have seen so far this year.  Fingers crossed!

In other exciting news, the owls and my work with them will be profiled as part of:

KMOV Channel 4 to Air New Special on Forest Park This Tuesday, December 9, at 6:30 P.M.
On Tuesday, December 9, at 6:30 p.m., KMOV Channel 4 will air a new 30-minute special about Forest Park and Forest Park Forever. Hosted by Forest Park fan and supporter Jasmine Huda, the show will highlight a range of Park users, including: 
·  "The Legends of Forest Park" running group
·  Amateur naturalist Mark H. X. Glenshaw and his Owl Prowl
·  A professional photographer who uses Forest Park for portraits 
·  A family with young kids who are proud to be Park users and supporters
This special is part of Forest Park Forever's Year-End Membership Drive, made possible by lead sponsorEnterprise Holdings Foundation and by Express Scriptsand KMOV. Now through year's end, you can become a new member — or renew your membership — and our sponsors will upgrade your membership level at no cost.

Visit to join or renew today.

Check out this teaser for the special:

Teaser: 2014 Forest Park Special on KMOV from Forest Park Forever on Vimeo.

I met Dianne Casey, a special projects producer for KMOV, in November when she joined and filmed the Forest Park Beginner Birder Walk, which I have the honor and pleasure to co-lead with Amy Witt, Nature Reserve Steward for Forest Park Forever.  Dianne enjoyed the walk and I told her about the owls and suggested that they would be a good addition to the special.  We arranged an owl prowl and she came out with a camera man soon thereafter. They had a blast seeing the owls and documenting the prowl.

I hope those of you in the St. Louis area can tune in and watch the special.  I am proud to help promote Forest Park and Forest Park Forever and all they offer and do.  As a Forest Park Forever member and volunteer I can attest to the significant and positive impact of joining Forest Park Forever. I strongly recommend that any non-members take part in this Year-End Membership Drive.  

Some more excellent media coverage is coming up in January and I cannot wait to share that with you shortly.  The consistent media coverage the owls and my work with receive is a priceless part of the outreach portion of my work.  This coverage leads to more interest in the owls and thus more talks and more owl prowls.  All of these help spread the word of wildlife watching, birding, conservation, citizen science and more. 

Thank you for reading!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Last Owlet Throws In The Towel(ette)

Friday, December 4, 2014

I am making the call.  The youngest owlet has left Charles and Sarah's territory.  It finally happened. It has been a long time coming for this owlet to finally disperse.  The owlet is incredibly late in dispersing.  To put it in context, the 2013 owlets and the 2014 owlets hatched at the same time, early to mid-February.  The youngest owlet of the 2013 clutch was last seen on September 17, 2013.  I last saw the youngest owlet of the 2014 on Thanksgiving, November 27, 2014.  Here he is on that night, perched in one of The Crossroads Conifers, a spot he had used a few times that week.  (Be sure to double click on the photos to see a bigger version).

A beautiful owlet that looks a great deal like Sarah from the neck down and like Charles from the neck up so much so that sometimes IDing them all was challenging at times.

I have never seen an owlet disperse so late as this one did.  The owlet's continued presence impacted Charles and Sarah's behavior immensely.  The most notable impact was how it changed where Charles and Sarah perched.  Their perch and roost sites vary seasonally.  As we got into late summer, I was not finding Charles and Sarah in there usual spots in The Wooded Area.  This continued into the fall.  Only in the last several weeks have the parents perched consistently in their regular fall spots.  For most of the late summer and the fall Charles and Sarah perched nearby in The Hilly Wooded Area in the vicinity of the 2010 Nest Tree.

At my recent talk on the owls' mating, nesting and owlets at the Mid-County branch of the St. Louis County there was a whiteboard in the room and with my complete lack of all but the crudest drawing ability, I drew a diagram of these changes in the owls' perching/roosting sites.  Despite my worst efforts, the diagram helped make this impact palpable and not just to the owls.  I have recreated this below with a few extra labels and such.

Prior to this period, I had only seen Charles and Sarah use this area for daytime perching when she nested there in 2010.  Not only that but we had a few periods when Charles and Sarah could not be found for a day or two.  These disappearing acts occurred before this but not as frequently.

This owlet begged throughout its whole time with the parents. I often found the owlet first vocally and then visually.  Charles and Sarah stopped feeding it probably in August but still it stayed and begged.  On numerous occasions it interrupted their duetting. I saw them chase the owlet twice.  The first time was unmistakable: the owlet flew off with Charles and further back, Sarah, in pursuit.  The second time was intensity made flesh and feather.  Charles and Sarah all but assaulted the owlet as they did their best to drive it to disperse.  While it seems a tough thing to do, owlets must disperse to maintain healthy populations of owl prey and deep, rich owl gene pools.  Even with this chasing, the owlet remained.

Not only that but I would have hints that the owlet had left only to find him once more. I would not see him for one night and begin my countdown only to see him the next day.  I had two separate four night periods when I did not see him and I thought that he might be gone but each time I found him again.

As the days and weeks ticked by and the impact on Charles and Sarah's behavior continued I had two concerns.

1. The owlet was developmentally lacking and that this not bode well both in the short and the long term.

2. The owlet's continued presence might impact Charles and Sarah so much that they may not mate and/or nest.

These concerns continue but thankfully the second concern is diminishing.  Charles and Sarah's duets have increased in intensity and I think they could mate any day now.  I have also seen them check out a few potential nest spots including the 2011/13/14 Nest Hollow. Here they are in mid-duet last night. Such a treat to see this. (Charles on the right, Sarah on the left)

With any luck the owlet will survive and thrive and my next post will be about Charles and Sarah mating.  Thank you for reading!