This is me peeling sweet potatoes and parsnips for our human dinner, coat and scarf on, ready to run out and take photos of the owlets’ dinner delivery. My Dad took the photo just to show/prove that I was making an effort to prepare dinner for my visiting human parents.
These photos are from yesterday, March 13th.
It is very hard to spot the parent owl on call in the trees near the owlets. It is much easier to pick out the far away parent resting in the tall pines in the distance (as reported in earlier posts). Below is the exact same photo, one as taken and then zoomed in.
The Spanish Moss just blends in with the crown of the Great Horned Owl’s head. They are such good camouflagers! Sometimes even after considerable time looking, I can’t find them and need the assistance of crows, blue jays or other small birds on the attack (mobbing) to clue me in where it is.
And below is my Dad’s version of camouflage on the back porch.
There is so much going on at dawn, during the day, at dusk and at night that I can’t keep up with the photos and the narrative. I am only able to convey a tiny fraction of the story. The owlets and their parents are endlessly entertaining. Every day I need to do more research on their behavior. I learn something new every day. Actually, several times a day!
Today, March 14th, my human parents and I went to the Center for Birds of Prey. We had a long list of questions. Steve was great! And patient, knowledgeable, funny, smart, and wonderful. As were all of the folks at the Center. Here is just a preview of tomorrow’s post:
And we had a surprise when we returned home. The owlets were looking a little guilty in our absence.
One parent is always on watch. The parent on duty has eyes on the nest and the surrounding area at all times, usually from a distance in neighboring tree tops. Today my friend and photographer, Vanessa, came by to catch the owlets in the morning light.
As luck would have it, the adult owl flew in for a closer look and to supervise the photo shoot. Vanessa got this great shot of Mom. We think it was the female.
And the other evening, Tuesday, February 25th, she caught the owlets all tucked in, comfortable enough with her presence to take a nap.
And I just took this shot of one the owlets investigating the second floor – getting adventuresome!
It is pretty awesome when the ‘Rents fly in to feed the kids. We wish we had the equipment (and know how) to photograph or film this incredible sight and just as much, record the sounds! It is a very elaborate dance with each owl and owlet having a distinctive voice. It takes patience and focused listening to discern what is happening before your very eyes in the shadows of nightfall or breaking dawn.
So I will try to describe. But first, another photo from Vanessa. In this shot she focused on the special delivery ‘prey’ leftovers. Don’t look too closely if you are squeamish!
This evening as I was writing this blog, sitting at a small table in our living room overlooking the marsh and the owlets squawking for their dinner, both owl parents flew in about 6pm. This is the reason the last blog “rainy day in the lowcountry” was so short!
Seen separately, it’s hard to tell the male from the female. But when they are relatively close together, it is easy to see that one is larger in size – the female. Both had prey in their beaks to deliver to Squawker and MiniMe. (I intend to write another blog post dedicated to their voices.) Dad was first in; Mom was waiting on a branch a few limbs away. Dad had a small bird in its beak. Mom had a big fat rat.
We can see all this in silhouette against the dusk sky. Using binoculars, we can make out some detail but we are relying more on shape. Scott and I try not to move as we are watching and whispering about what we see. Both parents and the munchkins turn to look at us inside the house if we move, even though we have been here in our living room all along. They are much more cautious when they have prey.
The adults take turns coming to the nest which is now in a crotch of a Live Oak Tree. (Please see previous posts on how we all got to this point. It has been quite a journey!) The folks hold the prey in their talons and using their beaks, pull off strips of meat to give the owlets. They are not regurgitating food. They are doing the equivalent of cutting up meat into bite size chunks for their kids just like (most) humans do!
We are not sure about the pecking order. It is too dark. From the sounds and shadowy movements, we think they kind of take turns and they squawk the whole time. Even the ‘waiting’ parent. They talk with their mouths full! Such bad manners! Dad seems to ‘hoot’ more and Mom squawks. And the kids squawk, one stronger than the other.
But now I want to tell you about last night. We met friends for dinner and returned home about 8:45pm. Before I came into the house, I grabbed a flashlight to check on the kidlets. Both were snuggled into the nest. All quiet. No hooting. No squawking. Scott and I decide to change into warmer clothes and have a glass of wine on the back porch just to listen to the night sounds. Well.
The hooting and squawking starts up. Dad is hooting in the distant pines. Mom is screeching down at our dock. (We have a long boardwalk, 440 feet across marsh to a salt water creek.) And the owlets? One has a deeper, louder squawk; the other, a quieter, softer squawk. These are not the peep, peep, peeps of song bird chicks. We attribute the stronger voice to the larger owlet but this is pure supposition on our part.
OK I guess this is turning into my blog about sounds. Scott and I are trying not to laugh but they sound so funny! The owlets started getting their voices just a few days ago and it’s been escalating. With all the drama of them taking nose dives out of the nest(s) and us climbing ladders, finding/making new nests, being wary of attacking birds of prey, etc. it was great to just sit and listen. It was very dark so we could not see much. Mom’s screeching got closer. We laughed as we envisioned her walking up the long boardwalk dragging some kind of prey.
After a few more minutes, she flew into the nest. All we saw were wings and a blur. And little shadowy movements in the nest area. We heard excited squawking. Large and small. Mom eventually flew away. Scott went to bed. I went out to do bed check. Your eyes play tricks on you when trying to focus on tree branches and fluffy creatures in the dark and I just HAD to check to be sure the owlets were safe and sound and had not tumbled to the ground (again).
I used a low light flashlight to check for the wee ones. They were not nestled in as usual (since they moved house). They were standing straight up like little fluffy penguins, side by side, about a foot from the center of the nest. They were looking at me and then at each other then at me again, looking suspiciously guilty. “We weren’t doing anything”. “It wasn’t me”. “We’re good”. I laughed and laughed out loud.