More Owl Tales of Green Lakes State Park
It's been about 4 years since the fantastic luck I had in locating the great-horned owls and all those wonderful photo opportunities.
In the Spring of 2003, after discovering the tell-tale owl pellets in an area where I had several times seen a female owl fly out of trees, I determined that the hollow of a totally dead tree (devoid of even one solitary branch) - might possibly be the nesting area of a young owl. The exposure or opening of the hollow was on the lower side of the hill (facing west) so the morning sun was absolutely of no help, and only by the late afternoon's light and the aid of binoculars was there any chance what so ever of observing much at all inside the hollow/ the nest area. After much perseverance, and many trips back to this spot, I could finally see some movement, a wing or a little fuzzy head would appear from time to time. I took several pictures during the next few weeks, which showed pretty much of what I just described. I also was able to get some fairly good shots of the parents from time to time, perching in a neighboring tree, and their endless guarding of the nest.
In early May of 2005 I had to take a leave of my daily routine of checking on the nesting area to go to the Turks and Caicos to do my open water dive to become a certified scuba diver. I returned a week or so later, only to find the nest vacant... My first attempt in searching the woods proved to be futile, however the next day was successful. I was determined to not let that be the sole opportunity of getting pictures, so with some help from those unruly crows I came across an area to check out, knowing that the parent normally leads the crows away from the owlet, I looked all over the general area and found it once again. I spent quite a few minutes taking pictures of a very cooperative little fuzzy owlet, whom I decided to call it "Caicos".
The next year, 2006, the same routine repeated itself, up until a very bad wind storm blew down that poor old tree - and I can only hope that the owlet survived. To this day I keep telling myself that's what happened.
Right after Labor Day of this year, my grandson Zachary and I went for a walk at the park, one more walk before he heads back to school the next day. On our return to the campground area, Zack very excitedly pointed to a young barred owl sitting very close to the trail. Unfortunately I had left my camera in the car. I stayed near the owl, while Zack went to the car and ran back up camera in hand. Fortunately the owl had not budged from its limb. He was very pleased with himself for seeing the owlet before his grandma did.
March of 2007. I came across an area in a pine woods with simply zillions of owl pellets, unlike any previous spot I had ever seen. Then one day while surveying the area trying to locate a nest, two parent owls flew into trees very near me. I was elated and was immediately on my cell phone to my friend, to inform him of my success for that day, thinking I had found the great horned owls. On a subsequent visit to the area, again in hopes of learning the location of nest, to my delight I spied an owl high up in one of the pines. I was able to get a couple of shots - before I hurriedly took off for home to check it out on the computer. Another surprise awaited me, it was not a great horned owl, but a beautiful long eared owl. The next day, my friend, and my grandson accompanied me to the pines, and immediately another owl flew into a pine beside us. We got good shots of this one, both with video and stills - and later determined this to be the female long-eared owl, after comparing the two pictures on the computer. The long eared owl has a way of blending itself to the color of the trunk of the tree, making it look as if it were part of same. Although by every sign we were definitely in the right area , we never did find the nest. However after days of no further activity, I had a feeling that the owlet had perhaps left the nest. I decided to moved on to different areas of the pines and broaden my search. As luck was with me, I did find the owlet, perched up on a branch, looking as proud as can be. It was not an easy area in which to move about for a variety of shots, as it was very overgrown with all kinds of bushes, briars and vines, all bent on creating havoc for any unsuspecting interloper. I took a series of pictures as best I could. I never saw the young owl or adults again, and if you could see that area of pines you would understand why. It is a very thick and expansive pine forest with many places to hide.
My walks in the park continued though, just for the exercise, and the sheer enjoyment and pleasure I derive from them. On this particular day the crows were having one of their frenzied cawing festivals. Naturally my curiosity was peaked, and I eventually spotted an owl in a tree. Again the photo session, and a repeat of that the next day or so, another owl and another picture etc. Next followed days of vigorous attempts to find the "little" one. I don't give up easily, and again with the help of those crows, I got shots of 2 different owlets. One in particular was so cute and sweet. As I was video taping it, there was a crow within view in a tree behind the little owlet cawing loudly trying to harass it, and hopefully to coax it to fly out so he could pursue it even more. Meantime the owlet is perched on a very exposed limb, stretching its little neck and body toward me, alternately looking back at the crow then at me, and to my amazement, at which point it actually hooted to me. I took it as a request to me to help save it from the crow. I have this section on a DVD, and with the sound turned way up, its possible to hear its "plea" for help.
About 2 weeks later, I happened upon one of the owlets again. This time there were no leaves or branches to block the view and I was able to take some nice photographs.
My friend and I would go over to the park after the evening's dinner and hike through the area where we had seen recent activity. Invariably there would be the sound of the crows and their menacing ways. The usual routine I've observed in the past is that one of the parents would lead the crows out of the area on a wild goose chase and we would then see the owlets In this instance they did not just take off and fly out of the woods into another tree as I've seen in the past, but instead they hovered very low flying down under the branches and then landing on the ground farther down the line. We observed this behavior a couple of other times. Unfortunately we saw very little of them after that night. They did however seem to progress through the various sections of woods, and on about the 4th of July on a hike through the area, one was scared up while I was hiking through. Which owl it was, I will never know.
As luck would have it, on the 27th of November as I was out and about on a hike up through the infamous pines, I ambled up to the area where I had located the long-eared owlet in March, quite sure of the approximate tree it had occupied, when to my surprise I looked up to see a very handsome barred owl. It let me snap some pictures, then as I tried to edge a little closer, trying to stay out of sight a bit by staying behind a tree, I got a glimpse of the owl leaning its head forward, trying to peak around to see where I had gone.
It's impossible to fool those little characters. It decided to fly to another tree about 6 feet from its previous perch, which was fine for me, as it allowed me to get better shots of it in the new location. The only drawback was that there were twigs, needles etc. occasionally blocking a truly good photograph.
It was such a cool little owl, rarely paying much attention to me, but was intent on gazing out over the area before it, occasionally looking over its shoulder to see if it was missing anything in that direction. To get its attention and to encourage it to look at me and into my lens I would make some noise with my backpack or whistle to it. It obviously felt very safe and was not threatened in any way by my presence.
It was getting to be late afternoon, and time to head back home as darkness would be approaching very soon. I returned home quite content having seen one more owl for the season. Hopefully I will be back this winter in January or February to perhaps catch the sound of owls dueting, and the search for the owl pellets, and the cycle begins again.
It was a very satisfying year. I do feel that only one who has had the experience of inter-acting on such a level with these beautiful birds, can truly understand the elation and emotional charge involved in crossing paths with them. I think it transcends the usual experience of viewing nature / animals. There is something magical when an owl's eyes meet with my eyes.
Perhaps it has to do with the folklore handed down throughout the years regarding owls, but it seems magical and mystical to me. I can only hope the reader is not rolling on the floor with laughter at this point! But if they are, that's ok too, at least you had a good laugh, and we know laughter is good for the soul.
I am very thankful for all the opportunities I have had in the past and hope for more in the future.