Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Owls Anyone?

Today I have a very interesting post. Kelly and I spent this past weekend in St. Louis to celebrate his Birthday and Valentine's Day, and we went on an 'Owl Prowl'. A simple definition of an an Owl Prowl is: a nighttime session of owl spotting/watching. This can be done as an individual or in large groups with others.

As you all know, Kelly and I are very into birding. We have been hearing an owl hooting in our backyard for quite some time now, and it has made us very interested in learning more about it. I wasn't really sure where to start, so I turned to the internet and found all the information I needed. In my research, I ran across a blog run by Mark Glenshaw. You can click the image below to be taken directly to his blog. I highly recommend the blog if you enjoy owls.

(image above copyrighted by Mark Glenshaw forestparkowls.blogspot.com)

Mark is an amateur naturalist that has been following a mated pair of Great Horned Owls in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri since 2005.  He has even named the pair, Charles and Sarah. Their story is very interesting and the blog immediately drew me in. I noticed at the bottom of the blog that owl prowls were available for those interested via email request directly to Mark. I was very excited about the possibility of meeting the owls, so I sent off a request. Mark kindly and quickly replied, and we made arrangements to meet up at Forest Park for an official Owl Prowl with him. I did want this to be a surprise for Kelly, but I was so excited I just had to tell him. He was also thrilled with the prospect of possibly seeing the owls as well. 

We arrived in St. Louis Friday February, 15th in the early part of the day. We immediately went to Forest Park and followed Marks directions to the Forest Park Visitor Center where our meeting was to take place. I wanted to make sure we knew where we were going ahead of time so we wouldn't be late. It's always best to scope these type of activities out ahead of time. 

Once I was sure of where we were going, we returned to the park for our meeting with Mark at 4:30 P.M. We met at the park Visitor Center at Marks request. He also had his friend and owl mentee, Brenda, with him. I had read a lot about her on the blog as well, and it was really cool having her accompany us as well. We all headed out to the location where the owls were nesting. Out of respect toward Mark and the owls, as well as for their privacy and well being, I will not be listing the exact location of the owls nesting area at this time.

As soon as we entered the nesting area, I immediately spotted one of the owls. I wasn't sure if it was Charles or Sarah, but I knew Mark would inform of that. This is what I saw. 

I didn't even need Mark to point him out to me, he was so grand and very hard to overlook. According to Mark, this was Charles the male of the pair and he was just recently waking up. He still seemed somewhat asleep here.  I was amazed at the sight of him. He was even more beautiful than I had imaged. 

Mark then informed me that he would slowly wake up and begin to 'hoot'. It was fascinating. Prior to hooting, he would stretch his body (as seen below). There is a specific name for the stretch, but the official name escapes me right now. Here is Charles stretching and waking more.

He then began to hoot. It was a deep almost haunting (in a good way) sound. It was one of the most amazing things I have experienced as a birder so far, something I won't ever forget. He would fill his throat up (it would somewhat balloon out) and then let out a hoot. Here is a picture of Charles puffing up some, just prior to letting out a loud hoot.

Here is Charles when he's not puffing up and hooting, you should be able to see the difference. 

Unfortunately, I was not able to photograph Sarah, she is in the process of nesting and the nest is not in view. She did came out of her nest for a very short period of time. While she was out she was able to grab some small prey and then return quickly to her nest. The whole process lasted maybe 2 minutes, and I was not able to grab any shots. 

We continued to observe Charles for at least 2 hours, until it got too dark to see much anymore. I can say it was in my top two of best birding experiences to date (watching two Pileated Woodpeckers feeding in my back yard in late January was my other).

I wanted to thank Mark and Brenda for an amazing experience. They were both so friendly and informative. The prowl was very fun. I learned a lot about owl behavior, so much I had to jot things down after so I wouldn't forget anything. If you love owls as much as I do, make sure to stop by Mark's blog. It makes for real interesting reading (link above). 

Thanks for visiting and as always - I will be back soon with more!

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