Friday, July 17, 2020

Charles Is Back!

Charles is alive and well!  I have seen him back in his territory on two of the last four nights; first on Monday, 7/13  and then again on Thursday, 7/16.  I am beyond certain and convinced that it is him.  His hoots, markings, posture, vibe and behaviors separately and cumulatively are unmistakably Charles's.  I am completely thrilled to see him and share in his magic again! It is also a super cocktail of emotions and thoughts to have him back! I cannot stop shaking my head about this overwhelmingly welcome development.  The biggest question of course is: where has he been for the last two months?!?   My friends and I scoured many different areas of Forest Park for six weeks but never found him. 

In my last post I wrote, "I am leaving the window of possibility slightly cracked and that Charles has moved to an as yet un-found area but only as a remote possibility." His reappearance underlines the importance,in any and all fields of endeavor, of always being open to the prospect of being wrong and/or not knowing what is going on even after years and years of diligent work.  I have never been so happy to be wrong!

Here's a shot of him from Thursday, 7/16. He looked at me with this quizzical tilt of the head for several minutes. Perhaps he was wondering if I was the weird two-legged critter he knew but had not seen in the last two months! 😊 (Be sure to double click on the photos to see a larger version of them)

Here are two montages of photos and videos from these two nights. Please take a look:

July 13:

July 16:

Compare the hoots from Monday night and Thursday night to any and all of these videos of Charles hooting:

It's the same hoot in every manner, shape and form.  I have shared this week's footage with several of my closest friends who know Charles and they agree that it is Charles without question. 

Before going into greater detail about finding him, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who expressed their condolences about Charles and their gratitude for his life and my work studying him. I have received e-mails, Facebook comments, Twitter replies and more from hundreds of people from all over the St. Louis area, the country and the world.  I cannot emphasize enough how much your kindness means to me and how much of a help it was especially at the most trying times.  I am humbled and honored at the impact that Charles and my work with him has had on so many people and in so many ways.  

In the weeks since June 25, when I stopped searching for Charles after not finding him for six weeks, I began a new process of owl observation and study.  As before I would arrive in the park about an hour before sunset.  I would first search The Wooded Area, the core of Charles's territory, to see if any owls had taken up residence there even temporarily.  I did not see any owls there in the last few weeks and as in the six week search for Charles the absence of bird warning calls continued. From The Wooded Area I would walk over and look for the new male Great Horned Owl I found on June 10 aka The New Guy.  In the first few weeks after I found him, I would see him 2 thirds of the time. However, in the last few weeks I have barely seen him at all with only three sightings so far in July.  Finding The New Guy is an especially all or nothing prospect.  Either you found him in 30 seconds or you spent 45 minutes looking all over for him without success.  With one exception, when I found him he was always in the same tree using two different branches 99% of the time that he was in this tree.  With only three sightings in July studying The New Guy has been especially challenging.  However, as I learned quickly with Charles and Sarah, the first few months are often the hardest.  It took me a couple of months to find them more than 1 out 10 attempts.  

On July 13 I was just about to finish my search of The Wooded Area and  go look for The New Guy when I heard a hoot.  At that moment I was concentrating on not getting too close to a family that was walking on a nearby path so when I heard the hoot my focus on it was less than complete.  I was pretty sure it was a male Great Horned Owl that was nearby in The Arena; a key component of Charles's territory.  I started to search The Arena but was not finding any owl. Ten minutes later I heard another hoot I honed in on the location within The Arena. I was reasonably sure that the owl was in The Middle Tree or The 08-12-20 Nest Tree.  I scoured these trees from multiple angles but could not find anyone.  These trees have been used by Charles as summer perch/roost sites sometimes using a couple specific spots with healthy consistency and other times perching in a terribly obscured spot.  The owl remained quiet for a while but I continued intensely searching for the him.  Such was my concentration that I did not even that my buddy Jeremy Knollhof and his dog, Shadow, were coming over to say hello. I just noticed some guy and his dog nearby.  Jeremy is one of many folks I met by pointing out the owls to them one night and then, happily, they returned to see and learn more and more of the owls. I finally recognized Jeremy and updated him about the hoots I heard and the thus far invisible owl. As we talked I realized how long I took to recognize Jeremy and apologized.  True to his good nature, Jeremy told me not to worry about it as he could tell that I was concentrating deeply.

We heard another hoot and I was able to hone in on further on the owl's location as being in The Middle Tree-but where? What made finding him even harder was that there were no warning calls from any birds.  The owl was hard for me to find but why had not any birds found him?  I kept working the angles and finally found the owl in a high and most likely unprecedented spot in The Middle Tree.  The angle was from the owl's right side.  In recent years I have noted a row of white dots on both sides of Charles's body running down from shoulders.  Either from the angle or how his wings were positioned I could not see these white dots. 

As the owl began to hoot more I said to Jeremy that it might be Charles!  The owl looked at me and I felt more confident that it was him. 

I wanted to find a more straight on angle and a few minutes later I found one.  With each hoot and this new angle I became more certain that it was Charles!

As I became progressively more confident that it was Charles I said to Jeremy, "I don't know how I feel."  Of course I was elated about this development but to find Charles with a modest amount of effort after weeks of intensive searching and the grief about his loss mixed a potent cocktail of conflicting emotions.  

A different human reaction to the louder and more frequent hoots of the owl indicated further that it was almost certainly Charles.  Two groups of people came over to see what was making this hooting sound and at what we were looking at in the tree. From a safe social distance I was able to point out Charles to them. One group was new to Charles but another had seen him before as I pointed out Charles to them months earlier.  There are so many aspects of Charles that so many people cannot help but be drawn to and captivated by him.  

Jeremy had to take his leave and I asked him to keep this sighting quiet until I had more information to share and he kindly agreed to this. The owl took his leave flying in a direction and to a destination that Charles used frequently this winter and spring.  Seeing this made me even more convinced that it was Charles.  With movement the birds finally became aware of his presence and he was mobbed by American Robins.  I had just reacquired him when he flew to another frequently used spot.  

He continued to hoot frequently and with each hoot and moment of seeing this owl's posture, markings and behavior I became ever more certain that it was Charles. Even this photo, taken almost 30 minutes after sunset, screams that it is Charles. 

While watching him I made two key phone calls. First was to my girlfriend, Wendy, who was thrilled and happily perplexed by this welcome development. The second call was to my good friend and owl mentee, Brenda Hente.  I often say that if I fall under a bus that she will be the most knowledgeable person about Charles and co.  Brenda too was stunned and thrilled to hear about this likely reappearance of Charles.  When I got home I texted my new friend and owl mentee, Alexis Miano, about the exciting news.  She called me later and like Wendy and Brenda was simultaneously astounded and flummoxed by this news.  I felt that a huge weight had lifted off from me and I was so excited that it was hard to get to sleep that night.

The next day on July 14 my excitement led me to go to the park that morning. I had to see if I could find him again.  Before doing so I emailed Wendy, Brenda and Alexis the montage of footage from the previous night and they all concurred that it was Charles.  I drove to the park feeling a sense of elation and optimism, which I had not felt for far too long.  Unfortunately, the morning search was unsuccessful so I returned that night; something I would have done even if I had found him in the morning.  The night search was a bust as well but I still felt confident.  The amount and intensity of Charles's hooting made me convinced that he was re-establishing and re-proclaming his territory.

The weather forecast for July 15 predicted thunderstorms as an all but certainty for the time around sunset.  I go out to study the owls in almost every type of weather but I do not play around with thunderstorms; they are far too dangerous and in so many ways.  With this forecast in mind, I went out again in the morning and again did not find Charles or any other owl.  Sure enough right around sunset an overture of lightning and thunder commenced before the skies opened with a drenching rain that after a pause resumed for another soaking round of thunderstorms.  

With clearer skies and cooler air I headed to Forest Park a little more than an hour before sunset on July 16.  I began my search as I had the previous few nights by searching The Middle Tree.  Charles was not there or elsewhere as I searched The Arena before moving into The Wooded Area, where he was not to be found either. My next and last area to search was the area around The Double-Barreled Tree and The 2019 Nest Tree.  Charles had used this area in an especially unpredictable manner this spring but it was where I had found on the two of the last three times I had seen him in mid-May.  I had just taken my first steps to this area when I heard the unmistakable and often incredibly helpful warning calls of American Robins. My heart rate and foot pace quickened.  I checked a few spots as I honed in on the robin calls and worked the angles.  There in the tree immediately south of The Double-Barreled Tree was Charles. I could not see his face but unlike July 13 I could clearly see the white dots running down the side of his body. 

I was confident I could move around and see him from the front. I was happily correct in that assessment but Charles was still well hidden by the thickly leafed branches.  

It took a while for him to hot but when he did it was even more certain that this was the one and only Charles. I texted Wendy, Brenda and Alexis and they quickly responded expressing their excitement and happiness at this most welcome news.  

Charles began to hoot more and I reveled in every moment with him.  He flew high and to my right and landed in a very obscured spot.  It was glorious to have him fly past me again! 

This was one of my such occasions in which the objective is to not find the best angle but the least worst angle!  He continued to hoot but out of nowhere blasted off in flight before circling back quickly to land in a neighboring tree.  The speed of the flight and the semi-circle pattern of it along with the quick return to a perch made it a strong likelihood that he just made a mid-air predatory attempt on a bat.  I have seen hundreds of such attempts, successful and not, and I have noted these aspects to them. 

Charles hooted from his new perch for a good while before flying off more than a half hour past sunset to hunt.  

I needed to hunt for my dinner and I headed  home absolutely thrilled that I had seen Charles twice in the last four days and that there was no doubt in my mind that it was him.  

When I got home, I texted my good friend Chris Gerli, who was celebrating his birthday,  with this good news.  Chris and his girlfriend, Barb Brownell,, were my first two owl mentees and have been good friends since we first met back in 2006.  Chris texted back that this welcome news had made his good birthday event better. Barb sent me her own super kind note expressing her excitement about this incredible news! 

Thank you for your reading this and for all your care and support for Charles and my work with him!

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