Spring 2000 - Quite by accident I stumbled upon 2 baby Great Horned Owls. Two days prior to this, I was in that area when the 2 parents flew into a tree directly in front of where I was standing and stayed there to watch me until I had taken my fill of pictures and moved on. I must have been very close to the babies that day, but didn't have a clue. Of course I went back to the same area the following year expecting to have the same experience, all to no avail. 2002 was the year of our next experience...
Monday, March 11th 2002 - Urgent e-mail message from Marcy "Genie Genie Genie - OWLS ALIVE AND WELL, I heard male calling and female answering. Saw him in hemlock on old growth trail."
Tuesday March 12th 2002 - I walked after work, saw Marcy's car when I came down at 5:30, it was almost dark, I left note on car something about needing a flashlight. She emailed me later, she had seen the female owl further down the old growth trail toward Round Lake.
Wednesday March 13 2002- Walk with Marcy - We heard the owls call as we came down Hernia Hill bypass - 2 or 3 calls, then total silence. Much disappointment, but she said "well, I'll show you where I saw him Monday night". We walked a few more steps down the path, stood looking up at the top of an old semi-dead maple, where a squirrel was cavorting around on an upper limb. Suddenly with stealth and gusto, out of nowhere, an adult owl flew into what we later discovered to be a hollow at the top of that tree, and disappeared within. We were filled with elation - A myriad of " Did you see that?" " I can't believe it" etc. etc. WE HAD FOUND THE NEST! (Strange co-incidence, it is the same tree that had the swarm of honey bees that Ted, Freddy & I saw back 5 years or so ago) For some weeks we had been looking in tree tops, checking out anything that might resemble the future home of owls. Probably most of these were actually squirrel's nests. But here we were, quite by happenstance, at the right place at the right time, and our search was over. The search was over, but it was only the beginning of another couple of month's worth of time and energy spent awaiting the birth of little owl babes... many daily and nigh-time vigils.
Saturday March 16 -Another walk in the park - Marcy finds the much searched for owl pellets under tree used as a perch further up hill from the "owl nest tree". I scooped up one and stuck it in my pocket to take home for closer scrutiny and examination as to it's contents. This met with some--"Ooooooooooh HOW GROSS! how could you touch it?" etc. etc. I didn't even think twice about it, guess I will never be a "proper lady"!
March 17 2002- Crows harassing owl in Hemlock. (mama or papa - whoever was in the Hemlock standing guard of the nest.) They seem to take great delight in pestering the living day lights out of the owl, who seems to be fairly oblivious to them for the most part, just a temporary annoyance. They soon lose interest and leave just as suddenly as they came. However we found that they will leave a bit quicker if we give out a few loud blasts of angry shouts.
March 20 2002 - Marcy saw silhouette of owl in roosting tree, beneath which were the pellets. Subsequent walks for the rest of month, some with grand kids who also got to see one of the adults fly - with crows bringing up the rear.
Wednesday April 10 2002 - THE BLESSED EVENT-HAS COME TO PASS - Marcy sees the baby owls, states that they look just like a cartoon - the two of them sittin' there watching the world go by. This e-mail was read with much excitement. The next day of work fairly dragged, all I could think of was getting up to what by now had become our home away from home. We were both always very careful when the runners and walkers came by the path, to not give any indication that we were there with any intent or purpose. This was our big secret, not for the rest of the world to know... at least not yet.
April 11 2002 - With flashlight and some Andy's candies in knapsack we visit our owl tree and observed. We take great delight that they are "our" owls. As I mentioned just before, many many people walk, run, jog etc. up and down the hill trail and lower Old Growth trail, oblivious to the fact that the nest and owlets are right over their heads. It was a good thing we had the flashlight, as we stayed out til 9PM. Marcy introduced me to the antics of the woodcocks on our return.
April 12 2002- 2 trips to owls; afternoon and again at night, many pictures.
April 13 2002 - Zack & I take a trip up to see the babies - rainy day. Still got some shots of the young'uns peeking out of their home in the hollow of the tree, their little eyes fixated on us and our every move.
April 15 2002 - I had quite a surprise when I paid my nightly visit. The owls were out of nest - one was at the end of a limb, the other just atop the snarly knob at top of hollow. I kept hoping that Marcy would happen by, but she probably had been up earlier in the day.
April 16 2002 - Owlets back in nest, must be very tired from previous night's excursion. Small steps for man, but large steps for "Baby Owl-Kind", or something like that. Too much time spent in the woods staring up into the top of a very high tree, I think it's affecting my brain.
April 17 2002 - Shawnee and I go up to our tree - Not a single owlet in sight. It appears they have left the nest. I scout the immediate area of the woods, then find a log and have our picnic lunch. It's a very hot day for April - in the 80's. Despite Shawn's protests that she is virtually being eaten alive by all kinds of bugs and flies, and about to pass out from the heat, I decide to check just a bit higher up in the woods, an area of many old logs in various stages of decay and moss covered, and as I'm thinking to myself that it's very much like the one where I stumbled upon the owlets 2 years ago up on Brookside-Cliff- area, I spot the fledgling. I took several pictures then had Shawnee come up and see it.
That night Marcy & I return to the area - didn't see it right away, then Marcy spots it on a log just beyond where it had been that afternoon, trying desperately to hug the log and remain invisible. It's getting very dark, he almost appears to fall asleep and fall onto it's face - just a ploy I suspect. We leave, and the rain starts.... sprinkles at first and then a down pour; thunder and lightening and the whole works. The brighter the lightening and the louder the crash of thunder amidst the pouring rain, a devil may care attitude surfaced in the two of us, laughing and joking like high school kids. We made our way up into the campground, happy that up to that point we hadn't been struck by lightening. The thunder by that time was travelling further from us, but still some very bright, vivid streaks of lightening, illuminating the clouds, actually very beautiful.
Thursday April 18 2002 - More great opportunities for pictures, very accommodating little owl. It had moved to a small sapling and once again I relived that experience of 2 years ago, sitting within 3 or feet of owlet, staring into each other's eyes and souls.
Meantime we discover the 2nd owlet is still safe and sound in the nest.
April 24th 2002 - "Houston, We have a Problem - Owl Afraid to Fly"
April 30 2002 - I find the "Stay at Home - I like my nest" owlet far out on branch. I decided to go back up in woods and look around a bit, and when I came back down it had found its way back almost to the nest. It saw me down there and very hurriedly scurried back to the outer limits of the branch again, as if to say "here I am again-- don't leave yet."
May 1st 2002 - the nest appears to have finally been abandoned, so the search is on. I spent some time all to no avail. Freddy called on cell phone to say that Marcy was on her way over to the park, so I hung around til she arrived. We went to an area where I strongly felt it could be, with a little help from those pesky crows tending to lead me there in their constant effort to harass the mama.
Marcy seems to be the lucky charm. We examine a tree with tell-tale signs, which obviously has been a roosting place for the parent owl, and just the other side of this tree in a small sapling, I spot our illusive 2nd fledgling, which at first glance didn't even resemble an owl, but perhaps an opossum or some object just hanging in the tree, and then " THERE IT IS". It allowed us to get very close without any show of fear or aggression; no chattering or snapping of mouth or raised wings.
Suddenly the crows reappeared and revealed the location of the mama, who was looking straight at me, ears raised and her piercing eyes glued on me. She had us both in view, all lined up, and I could have been the perfect target! The baby was about 4 feet behind me. I would first take a picture of "mama' and turn and shoot pictures of the fledgling. It 's difficult to put into words the feeling that I was experiencing at that moment - the realization that here we are this close to the baby, and the mama has come to trust us. In all of these past weeks from March 13 til now, she has been scrutinizing and watching us as we have been watching them. A mutual participation type game. One look at those talons (even the talons of the baby owl) and you realize what damage and havoc they could create if they so chose. It's just another one of those magical / mystical facts of humans and the interaction with nature, in this case a raptor, but this scenario translates into a rapture.
Saturday May 4th 2002 - Beautiful sunny day, found an owlet in top of tree but not sure which one it was - suspect it was the first one out of the nest, but can't be sure. Not quite sure if the last one out could fly up so high so soon. Pictures of it sort of reinforce the idea of it being the #1 owl out. Early on, Marcy said that one would be called Marcy and other one Genie. Well, I'm not sure which of us was way up there on that limb, but she sure did look "handsome"! While I was enjoying my lunch, a yogurt and a beer - a great lunch, on a nearby downed log in view of the owlet, the crows arrived, cawing and hooting and hollering (actually no hoots) - just a loud ruckus and commotion. They buzzed her/him -she sort of flinched the first couple of passes, then very aptly flew into another nearby tree to safety. Then I commenced to tell the crows what I thought of them, and with all the noise I could muster yelled at them to get their sorry butts out of there. Seemed to work, or they just tired of it all and left. I tend to think it was the latter as I doubt my voice carried much higher than my own height or stance, and I am pretty short.
May 11th 2002 - Marcy and I spent the afternoon walking, spotting a myriad of birds in the fields and woods. Checked in on the owl's woods. Marcy first saw an owl fly out of one tree into another. Then a 2nd and 3rd owl took flight to another tree, but it appeared that they suddenly realized that it was us, and they no longer took flight. Instead, they maintained their position in their perch, again "watching us".
As of this writing, I feel they are pretty much free spirits, only to be seen again by chance encounters. But it has been quite an adventure; blessed comes to mind. We've been afforded a rare privilege, shared by only a very few, being able to get so close to these beautiful birds of prey, seemingly gaining their confidence, and I am very appreciative of the experience and I know Marcy feels the same way. In a way there is a sense of sadness, to have "lost touch", but it had become an obsession. I know I found myself gravitating to them, in hopes of maybe a better photo opportunity, though I had excellent opportunities, far better than I could ever have dreamed of having.
We have since attempted an owl prowl after dark to hear them calling, but our first effort proved to be unsuccessful. We plan to keep trying, undaunted by one failure. After all it was a bit cold that night. Any one who will spend some 68 days tirelessly and feverishly trekking to the park keeping the constant vigil will never give up that easily. I think we are both Rare Birds and will forever remain vigilant. AND, I dare say, that next year, God willing, we will both be looking once again for a new family of owls.