No, not ‘our owl’. Since last year, Scott and I became volunteers at The Center for Birds of Prey. We are officially members of the Renesting Program. We are on call to renest birds of prey chicks that have fallen out of the nest.
Great Horned Owls are the first of the nesting season for birds of prey. The Center got a call on Tuesday, March 17th, that there was a baby owl on the ground. And we got the call. Our first ‘mission’!
I am embarrassed to tell you that I went to the reported area and could not find a chick anywhere! I look and look. No chick. I call Joe, the guy that reported it while walking his dog, to get an exact location. I am in the right place. No chick. An adult parent is clacking whenever I get close to a particular tree.
Kind of like that old game of Hide the Button – getting warmer, no getting cool, colder. Adult clacking means I am close. No warning sounds mean I am really cold. The area around the tree that elicits the most warning alerts from an adult owl is full of all kinds of interesting evidence: a headless baby squirrel, three adult squirrel tails, owl pellets and lots of white poop.
But no chick. I listen. I am quiet. My first assignment and I cannot find the chick! I knock on doors. Explain. Leave notes on doors of ‘not at home’ nearby residents with my contact information. I go home defeated.
Four hours later, Joe calls back. The chick is sitting out in the open, pretty much exactly where he told me he saw it that morning. By now, Scott is home and we gather our gear and head out. Joe has recruited a neighbor kid to stand watch until we get there.
Sure enough. A Great Horned Owlet is just sitting there next to a pine tree, out in the open, in total and complete site!
Scott and I confer. There is no visible nest. And this chick is developed beyond the nestling stage. It is a Brancher but not able to fly yet. I examine it as best as I know how. I hold its talons and unfold its wings, one at a time. All looks good. The chick is amazingly compliant. An adult owl is clacking its beak but from a safe distance.
Scott and I decide to place it in a large Live Oak Tree. We get permission from the homeowner. We put the chick in a bucket, Scott sets up the ladder to reach a crotch (or nook) in the tree, about 20 feet high. We discovered last year that a bucket was the most expedient and safest way to carry a chick up a ladder – for all involved. I explain to neighbors that have gathered to watch what and why we are doing this and also what to expect. And give everyone our contact information.
What we expect: this will not be the one and only time we are in this location. We know from our experience from last year (with ‘our owls’) that this will most likely be the first time, not the last.
Not too secure looking. As, ahem, now that we are ‘professional renesters’, we are not supposed to attribute human feelings or characteristics (anthropomorphism) to our feathered creatures. BUT clearly, this chick does not look too happy. We pack up our gear and watch from a distance with binoculars. Parent owl communicating with chick by hooting softly. Chick is silent.
Looking a little more relaxed now. And safe. This is all we can do. As Joe texted when I gave him an update, “I would say that young owl had the luck of the Irish on its side today.” Indeed.
But that is not the end of the story of our first mission. Followers of this blog from last year’s adventures will recognize that there is almost always another chapter. Stay tuned!
Special thanks to Joe for his diligence in reporting this fallen chick and following up on its status to make sure it was safe and secure. And to the neighbors Rachel, Emily, Elizabeth and others for whom I do not have all their names. Thank you!
Preview of next blog: Same location, different chick!
There is a lot going on this fall in our garden and on the marsh. We have seen flocks of White Ibis grazing the marsh for fiddlers crabs. Below is a juvenile hanging out on our dock showing off its beak and wing feathers.
Another frequent guest is this Great Egret.
Several pairs of Wood Ducks have been vacationing in our neighbor’s pond. They are very skittish if I venture too close and immediately fly off returning only after I have left the scene. Therefore the photo is not great. I have to keep practicing to get the right settings on my camera to catch the fast shots.
And it is not all about birds. We have hundreds (literally!) of these wonderful, insect eating Carolina anole lizards. They are great posers!
Oh yeah, what about the owls?
Well – we hear them. Almost every night. There is a lot of hooting going on and it is decidedly different from when they are on the hunt (wink, wink). We very rarely see them. We often hear them in the trees in the back garden and they are close together. Once in a while I catch site of one on the roof of our dock in the early dawn. And we continue to find dinner remains on our t-top.
We are fully expecting them to nest near us again this year. We have been scouting out all the abandoned squirrels nest and tree hollows so we will know where to look when they nest. We are brushing up on our knowledge of Great Horned Owl mating rituals. And we volunteered with the Center for Birds of Prey as re-nesters. More about that in another post.
Just in case…
OK. I know it is near impossible and highly (extremely) improbable that the owls will use the nook of the Live Oak Tree where we relocated the Owlets last winter after they continually fell out of their original nest…
But I couldn’t help myself.
Yes, I collected buckets of Spanish Moss and small twigs to fortify the Nook. I even decorated with fall leaves, feathers and dried grasses! I think mine looks much sturdier than that old rickety squirrels’ nest. Seriously.
I took this shot of sunrise on the marsh a few days ago.
All summer we have heard and seen the owls hunting – both parents and one juvenile (previously known as the owlet Happy Feet). It is always too dark to photograph them at dusk and dawn when they are actively hunting. The parents still provide prey to the youngster. This we have deducted from their behavior as we watch and listen.
A few weeks ago, Vanessa and I kayaked at high tide (for access) over to the The ISLAND and walked around with our cameras during the day when the owls are roosting. There is heavy undergrowth on The ISLAND and the pine trees are very tall. We spotted the juvenile owl from our kayaks on the approach to The ISLAND by way of a narrow creeklet that surrounds the high ground. Yes, the same creeklet that was the scene of several owlet rescues from near drowning. See earlier posts.
We observed the young owl in the same tree that I have seen it in while kayaking sans camera. It seems to be its favorite spot. In the feature photo at the top of this post you can see why sometimes they are hard to spot, especially at low light. Both parents and their teenager hang out on The ISLAND most of the day.
Happy Feet is almost all grown up with adult feathers and distinguishing ‘ear’ feathers. But it still relies on Mom & Dad for food. Just like a teenager! BTW I asked HF whatever happened to MiniMe and he had no comment. There is always a parent in close proximity. They are very difficult to spot from distance or from the ground looking up into the tall pines. We think this is Dad.
Almost every morning, if I am up early enough with the binoculars trained on the t-top of our boat, I can see and hear the young adult calling for its breakfast. And then a parent flies in and delivers a small rodent or bird. It is too far away to get a clear photo. Attempts to get closer result in a fly away. I guess it is about time I invested in a tripod and learned how to use the wireless remote! And buy a bigger lens!
Please note that our t-top still has two layers of recycled bill board tarp that Scott and I made to protect our canvas from owl talons and beaks. So attractive!
And this is the view as I turn back to the house. Dawn breaking.
Unfortunately, we still do not know. We hear the owls hunting at dawn and dusk. They have been spotted on the docks, in the trees and on The ISLAND.
We cannot determine if there are one or two owlets. I’m not sure the term ‘owlet’ is appropriate anymore. Juvenile may be a more accurate term at this stage of development.
Over the past several weeks, no one has seen two juveniles at the same time. Only one. It is full grown but still has enough fluffy baby feathers to see it is a youngster. The ‘horn’ feathers are more defined now.
Last year about this same time, we had two juvenile Great Horned Owls appear in our trees along the marsh. We called them ‘The Twins’. A neighbor took this photo:
The Twins were very entertaining all summer last year. They were almost always together, side by side. The parents continued to bring them prey, sometimes live prey, until October when they started hunting on their own.
We never knew where they had nested and none of our neighbors had spotted them prior to their appearance in the Live Oaks along the marsh in our garden and adjacent properties. The Center for Birds of Prey folks told us that it was most probable that the parents are the same. Great Horned owls mate for life and stay in the same territory if it provides an ample food source.
As the juveniles learn to hunt on their own, and as the nesting season approaches in late fall, the juveniles leave to find mates and establish their own territories. We have wondered how they do that – OwlDating.com or OwlCupid.com?
Last year all four owls used our boat t-top as a dining table which shredded the canvas. We tried just about everything to thwart them. It is a long story in itself. I need to gather those photos for another post. In the meantime we will keep watching and listening: One owlet? Or two?
MiniMe is still missing in action (MIA). The photo above is the other bigger owlet (we think). Also know as Klingon, Twinkle Toes, Happy Feet and Big Foot.
We have been trying to find MiniMe. We look and listen. One owlet or two? By we, I mean all of us that live on the marsh in the parent owl’s territory. We call and text each other what we see and hear. We also join up in our gardens, docks and marsh with binoculars and flashlights.
Sometimes we convince ourselves that we do hear two owlet voices. But we cannot confirm. We have not found any evidence that MiniMe is permanently gone. Until we see two owlets at the same time in different places, MiniMe’s status is MIA.
We have hope that Mm survives and is dancing in the treetops. Finally learning how to climb and fly.
In the meantime, we celebrate that one owlet is thriving. These photos were taken on April 1st. The owlet is in the very top of tall pines in front of our home. It looks good.
Many fans of the owlets and especially MiniMe, with all its travails, have written and called to find out if there is any news. And also to check on us, worried that we are despondent.
Scott and I are fine. We are secure in that we did whatever we could to help these magical creatures along in their life’s journeys. But we are also realists. And huge fans of mother nature.
Yesterday, our neighbors reported a wild turkey in the marsh! I did see it but was not stealthy enough to get a photo before it flushed. A female or juvenile, and wild, since it flew.
While trying to get a photo of the turkey, I spotted an easier subject.
So life goes on. I will continue to update this blog with photos of the Great Horned Owlet. Maybe not considered an owlet anymore – a juvenile? I will have to look that up. Teenager?
Last year about this same time, we had juvenile Great Horned Owls show up in our garden. We called them the ‘Twins’. They were the size of the owlet we have now in our area. They sat side by side, everyday, quiet and well behaved. Until feeding time.
They entertained us all summer long, the parents feeding them until late September. So we do have some experience, however last year, they did not appear as nestlings or even owlets. They were almost full size and still downy. And they could fly from tree to tree and were never on the ground. They could not hunt for themselves and the parents brought them live prey, once a huge snake. So we expect that we will be following and reporting on whatever the owls are doing for quite a while.
Thank you for all your comments, support and concern – for the owlets, MiniMe and me! And St. Scott.
And if we ever find MiniMe we will be sure to post it immediately!
MiniMe is MIA. After its near fatal traumatic swimming experience crossing the creek on Wednesday, Marsh 26th, Mm spent almost all night in the nest tree.
Scott found it early the next morning in our neighbor’s yard on the opposite side of our house from the neighbors near The ISLAND. As we look out to the marsh from our house, MiniMe is to the far right.
MiniMe looks good. Parent was observed feeding it on the ground. We watch from a distance and our neighbors are keeping tabs too.
MiniMe stays on the ground in the general area all day Thursday. At dusk we hear three owl voices. One adult. Two owlets. The owlets are being fed. One in a tree and one on the ground. Then our neighbors, watching from inside their house, see MiniMe trying to climb up a tree. Great news! It appears as if a parent is trying to encourage it to climb up.
Scott has tied me to the porch so I don’t go out to investigate, interrupt or scare off the parent. We watch and listen but it is getting very dark and then we can only listen. All pretty normal. We go to bed hoping for the best.
Then I get a text from our neighbors. MiniMe is getting too close to their pond! You have got to be kidding me. I text back that I am coming over with flashlight.
So it is about 11 PM on Thursday night and my two neighbors and I are out there with flashlights checking on MiniMe. There it is, just sitting next to the pond looking innocent. Obviously the climbing lesson was not successful. What is it with this owl? Now it wants to be a duck?
We discuss. Earlier, a parent was trying to teach it to climb up. MiniMe does not look distressed. We could try to put it in a tree, but so far it always jumps out as soon as we turn our backs. If I try to get it, it might jump in the pond. (It jumped around me the other day when I was trying to head it off from the marsh.)
This is what this adorable, fuzzy, vulnerable little owlet looks like when it does not want to comply. (Photo taken a few days earlier).
After weighing the risks, benefits and play out the ‘What ifs” we decide the best thing to do is to do nothing.
Friday morning, MiniMe is missing in action. Everyone is looking for it and listening. Nothing. I find Big Sib high up in a tree.
Between looking for MiniMe and observing where Big Sib is, I wash all the muddy towels, blankets and clothes. I also, finally, vacuum. Scott and I go out to an early dinner so we can be home by dusk to watch and listen. The owlets do a lot of squawking at feeding time.
The tide is full, prime hunting time. We hear squawking. One voice? Or two? At full high tide with moisture in the air and rain showers, your ears can play tricks on you. We see flapping silhouetted in the trees. But only one owlet visual. Big Sib does not usually flap around. Could that be MiniMe? Finally, in a tree, learning how to maneuver to get into a feeding position without sky diving?
Saturday morning, I am up at dawn. Do I hear two owlets squawking or only one? They are ventriloquists. If there are two, they are close together. I cannot see through the trees and Spanish moss in the early light. There is insistent squawking. I want to believe it is MiniMe. The much more vocal of the two. But I cannot verify.
I have taken photos of one owlet high up in the tree tops at various times in the past several days. I enlarge and compare. The owlets are almost full grown now but are still fluffy with down on their chests and with the ‘horned’ feathers just starting to show. From the back and sides they look more like adults. They are clumsy when flying and hopping from tree to tree. One owlet or two?
Until we can see two owlets at the same time, we consider MiniMe to be MIA. We have hope.
There are times when you have to decide, sometimes rather quickly, if you want to be the observer, the uninvolved documentarian of life around you. Or are you going to jump in to try to change the inevitable. And sometimes, it is not a choice at all. It is inherent. A part of your DNA.
You already know what is true about me. I come from a long line of lifeguards. Literally and figuratively. My Dad lied about his age to become the youngest, and best, lifeguard in Mantoloking, NJ. Or just ask a soldier my Mom rescued when he was a youngster in dire straights on our backyard Tarzan swing.
I have tried to make this blog informative, interesting, entertaining, positive and most of all, true – with a generous dose of ‘tongue in cheek’ humor. It has not always been fun and/or easy.
Life has a way of grabbing you by the heartstrings. We do not take lightly our stewardship of life on the marsh. The debate is ongoing regarding intervention to help nature along or interference with the natural order.
OK. Enough philosophy, back to the owlets!
I get a text from Nancy early Wednesday morning, March 26th. MiniMe is by the sea wall across from The ISLAND. Just sitting on the freshly mowed lawn.
Why is MiniMe sitting on the lawn across from The ISLAND? Guess Hoo?
MiniMe sits here, close to the sea wall, in the sun, seemingly without a care in the world about anything that is going on around it. ALL DAY. I repeat: ALL DAY.
We worry that it is going to make a move to go back to The ISLAND. The tide is going out. We set up a neighborhood schedule of watch and see.
The tide goes out. Mm does not make a move. The tide starts coming in. Still just sitting in the sun. I am on watch now and am talking on the phone with my sister. I see a parent in one of the pine trees on The ISLAND.
And then…Why is there always a “and then...” with MiniMe?
I’m guessing MiniMe is getting hungry and there wasn’t any delivery or wait staff service on the lawn. Please, please MiniMe, do not try to go to The ISLAND! Pleeeease…..!!!!
I hang up on my sister, drop phone, glasses, take off jacket and then hold my breath to see if it can make it. Use your wings MiniMe!
I put down the camera. There is a long bamboo pole floating in the water near the floating dock. This is a very small floating dock, if I jump on it, it will make a wave that will wash over MiniMe. I am on my belly and still cannot reach the pole from the sea wall. The tide is moving fast now. MiniMe is trying to walk on water.
I run over to my neighbor’s boat shed and grab a net. Not for Mm but for the pole. I snag the bamboo pole, then gently climb on the floating dock and throw the pole next to her. Grab on MiniMe!
The creek is about three feet wide. It is mid tide so moving fast. MiniMe is grasping the pole with both talons. I want it to go to The ISLAND at this point. If it will just move along the pole away from me, it will reach thicker spartina grass and could make it to high ground, especially if it will use its wings! And it needs to go NOW. The situation is only going to get worse with the rising tide.
MiniMe and I discuss. Please MiniMe, go to The ISLAND. Your Big Sib is there. Your parents are there. You can do it.
I watch MiniMe trying to collect itself. It makes small moves towards The ISLAND. I am thinking about what to do. I am by myself. It is a beautiful sunny day. I am a good swimmer. I know the marsh. I do not have gloves with me. Could I jump in and get a firm enough footing in the pluff mud and manage to grab MiniMe in my bare hands? It weighs nothing but has huge talons, a sharp, strong beak and a wing span now of almost four feet. Pluff mud is not quick sand. But you can sink in pretty deep. Could I control the owl? In the water? In the pluff mud? Without grievously hurting it or myself?
Please MiniMe. Go to The ISLAND. Please, please, please.
She does not go to The ISLAND.
Sometime during this internal debate I am having with myself, I pick up my camera. I take the shot above and the one at the top of the page. Here again:
OMG! What am I going to do?
Swim MiniMe! Swim!
Owls can’t swim. I run to my neighbor’s boat shed, again, this time for a paddle. If I can just get it to the same neighbor’s boat ramp. MiniMe tries to grab on with its beak, talons. It is sinking. The tide is moving it in the right direction. Don’t give up MiniMe!
I use the paddle to hold it up and carefully push Mm to the boat ramp. I do not want to break a wing or damage tail feathers. It is not moving. I run down the ramp and gather it up in my arms, tucking in the wings. It is breathing… barely.
My neighbor comes out and he helps me rinse MiniMe off with fresh water. I don’t think it will make it but it swallowed salt water and I am thinking that a quick rinse might help – if it survives at all.
This is bad. Really, really bad. Of all the things that have happened to MiniMe, this is the worst. By far.
I take one photo then run home to get towels and the box. I don’t even think about the red gloves. I run back. Still breathing, barely standing. I wrap it up in a towel and hold it like the baby it still is.
Yes, I am in tears. I have no idea of what to do. I cradle it to my chest. I talk in low tones, trying to achieve a calm voice, trying to convey that I care. That I will it to live. I do not put it in the box. I carry MiniMe back to my house and find the warmest, sunniest spot I can. We sit. I hold it dear. I think it will die in my arms.
Just when I am about to give up, I feel a slight wriggle. MiniMe is coming back! Fighting for life. I place it gently in the box, in the sun, and cover it like the Center for Birds of Prey advised. I retrieve my camera and assorted paraphernalia that my wonderful neighbor, Nancy, has already collected for me.
It is touch and go for Mm. When Scott gets home, he puts up the ladder to the nest tree.
We don’t know what is best for MiniMe. She has touched our hearts and we are pulling mightily for it. Scott lobbies hard that the only chance it has is for MiniMe to reconnect with the parents. Me? I am searching how late Pet Smart will be open so I can buy frozen baby mice. Once again reason prevails.
As gently as we can, we place MiniMe once again in the nest tree.
This is how I find MiniMe the morning after the kayak rescue. Tuesday morning, March 25th. After it recuperated. After it got all dried out. After it jumped out of the tree trying to get fed, in the cold, pouring rain. After checking on Mm until 2:30 am and finally going to bed.
I am as beside myself as surely as MiniMe is. I find a window in my house, from which kneeling on a stool, I can observe it to see if a parent will come to feed MiniMe. They only feed the other, stronger owlet. The one that is in a tree, can fly from branch to branch and can climb.
This is nature. The survival of the fittest. Darwin. Adapt or die.
MiniMe does not move for over three hours. It is shivering. Shaking. It does nothing to help itself. Not even a weak peep.
This is it. Every time I look, I expect the worst. Keeled over. I consider grief counseling. You know, the kind when a beloved pet dies. Then I finally come to my senses and get the electric heater.
Since it is raining, I am terrified that I am going to fry it, or electrocute it or myself. Now it is late afternoon. MiniMe has stopped shaking and is drying out. It hears a parent’s call.
MiniMe picks itself up and walks into the garden to the sound of its Mom’s voice, squawking all the way. Tears of joy. Just maybe…I won’t need that grief counseling after all.
Scott came home not knowing if he would find me in tears, under the covers or building an aviary out of our back porch.
MiniMe manages to get through the garden behind the azaleas. Mom eventually drops in. I am afraid to even move inside the house. Mm desperately needs to be fed. Some of the photos are fuzzy, shot through glass or screens.
I try to head Mm off. I explain that it is not well enough to travel, especially by foot (or talon). I am persuasive, calm but firm in my arguments but it is having none of it!
Does one of her pupils look dilated? Concussion? Owl drugs? Delusional? Mental health issues?
Once again, there is no stopping MiniMe. So once again, I go to sleep wondering where in the world I will find Mm in the morning….
I am not making this up. Not any of it. Not one single bit.
I would like to take a moment to explain that we have a whole group of neighbors along the marsh that have been on owl and owlet watch at all times of the day and night. We text each other, call, confer, commiserate, debate, search each others yards, walk and stalk the docks, borrow rescue tools from garden and boat sheds, lend support and binoculars and share experiences. And so far they have not called the folks in the white coats to come get me. Thank you. Thank you for your support, help, blog ideas, and humor – especially when things seem dire, your trust, your caring – for me and for the owlets.
No matter what happens, it has been an amazing, awesome experience. Every night for the past week or more, the question of the night is “Where will MiniMe be in the morning?”
A summary: I HAVE to get off THE ISLAND! Drowning in marsh. Kayak rescue. Big orange thing that swims. The blue blanket, the box and the red gloves. Boat ride. Back in a tree. Jump out of tree for dinner since still can’t fly and my Big Sib is getting all the rats. Screeching all evening. Parents trying to get me to climb up. Dale trying to get me to climb up. I prefer the ground. I am so tired of screeching. I identify as a marsh owl not a wood owl. No one gets me. I am so hungry. No one will feed me. Dale can’t sleep. Gutted. It is very cold and raining. My parents are fed up. Dale keeps checking on me. My parents keep feeding my big sibling! But nobody is feeding me! I have to learn to climb……Dale is offering a nice warm box in the outside shower but no rats…Nobody understands me….I…am…really…really…hungry…
After an uneventful Sunday on The ISLAND, and an early Monday morning check on MiniMe, I (Dale) am feeling more confident that MiniMe is truly doing OK on The ISLAND…BUT.
But I am not totally convinced. I just have this weird feeling. So I decide on a mid afternoon break and take a walk through the garden, along the marsh, check out the island, looking, listening. Something is not right.
I walk out my neighbor’s dock a bit further. OMG! This cannot be happening.
I am stunned. MiniMe for some mysterious reason has decided to abandon The ISLAND. It is caught between the creek and high tide flooded spartina grass. It is too deep, the marsh grass too flimsy and its wings are too wet and too heavy. Talk about up the creek without a paddle….
But wait…I have a paddle! I call my husband, Scott. I don’t even know if he is home. He answers. He tries to reason with me. Intervention v Interference. Please, please come here quick. He does. He takes one look at MiniMe’s predicament and one look at my face and St. Scott goes home for the kayak. I run for the box, the blanket, the red gloves and a towel. Seems like a towel might be necessary.
I have no idea how this is going to work. My kayak is the float on top variety. Scott is taking photos.
This is hard to see but if you look closely, St. Scott and I have placed MiniMe just below its big sibling. Lately we have been calling it Big Foot. (?)
But, well, I don’t stay in the tree….
PS This is why Dale never gets a chance to catch up on her blog, or cook dinner, or do laundry (and she has a ton of muddy clothes), or go get her hair cut and colored, or do her real, paying job, or vacuum. I think there’s lots of marsh grass and stuff on her floors….Her human mother even asked if Dale was deliberately letting her hair go gray!?!