Tag Archives: Great Horned Owl

Curious Pairs of Eyes. And Other Drama on Honeymoon Island.

On Friday morning I took my new ‘lens baby’ out for a long hike on Honeymoon Island. Dylan and I wanted to check on the progress at the many osprey nests we had spotted on our end January outing.  And it was time to test whether or not the three of us would be able to hike together. Like last time, we followed the Osprey Trail.

female osprey HMI UD154We spotted several osprey nests. And in all cases found one parent incubating and the other guarding the nest close by.

second osprey nest female incubating HMI ud154

male osprey with a fish HMI UD154To my delight, I discovered that this was the case even at the nest that an osprey couple had just started to rebuild when we last visited. It was a sizable nest now and the mom-to-be was sitting on the eggs.

female osprey incubates HMI UD154

Daddy Osprey in the new nest UD154As far as I could see, the osprey couples on this island were on the same time-table as Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley here at the salt marsh. All were still incubating. Then I remembered the nest that had been overtaken by Great-horned Owls. That explained the tight security around the osprey nests. In January mama owl had been incubating and now I wanted to see if there were owlets in the nest.

Mama great-horned owl ud150I soon discovered two lively owlets. They were having brunch. The older sibling was eating something white and feathered, while the younger one was getting its pickings.

Great-horned Owl chicks at HMI UD154

two owlets HMI 16x9 UD154

Owlets showingntheir feathers UD154There was some occasional brawl around the brunch table and I could see them flexing their little wings. But they were still far from fledging. After a while they finished eating and discovered us on the trail quite a bit away.

Owlets 2b at HMI UD154

Younger owlet UD154Both owlets were very much aware of our presence. Perhaps more Dylan’s than mine.

the Owlets on HMI UD154 featured 2We stayed quite a while – treats for Mr. Dylan for his patience – as I was trying to locate at least one parent in the trees surrounding the nest. Finally I spotted a well camouflaged mama owl sleeping high up in a pine tree.

Mama Great-horned Owl HMI UD154When we left the owl nest I noticed that the younger sibling had fallen asleep, while the older one was keeping watch.

one owlet is sleeping HMI UD154When we approached the end of the trail, I found a female osprey perching in a tree that also housed a nest. Her hubby was nowhere to be seen.

young female osprey hmi ud154Suddenly he flew up from the vicinity of the nest. She looked surprised.

an osprey couple HMI UD154He flew right on top of her. But despite a good effort, they didn’t quite know how to mate…and he flew down to a lower perch. They clearly had no eggs in the nest.

mating young ospreys HMI UD154I found it unusual that they were trying to mate at this time, in mid March. Maybe this was a young couple who already occupied a nest, but had not succeeded to lay eggs as yet. Or perhaps their eggs had become food for predators and they were trying for a second clutch. Whatever the case, I wished them all the best.

We walked back to the car. My assistant was thirsty and my arms were tired of holding the ‘lens baby’ for almost two hours. A bit of a workout for both of us. But we had proven that we can hike together. We just need more practice.

Dylan after hike UD154For us this coming week means ‘hatch watch’. We’ll be hanging out on our terrace with binoculars and the superzoom camera whenever we have time. If we’re lucky, we might spot a hatchling or two at the osprey nest before next weekend. Dylan and I wish you a great week.

Go Ahead, Take a Picture!

Have you ever been to an Owl Festival? And I don’t mean any festivals for night owls you may have frequented in your youth. I mean real Owls. I hadn’t either, until recently. The annual Burrowing Owl Festival took place last Saturday in Cape Coral on South Florida’s Gulf coast. It’s the home town for many colonies of these pint-sized owls, and I wanted to see these expressive, tiny birds in person for the first time.

Burrowed Owl UD152If I wanted to go on the “Photographer’s Tour”, I had to be at the festival grounds at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. So I drove south in the congested traffic on Friday afternoon for over three hours and spent the night at a hotel. But only after filling my ‘tank’ at a great Mexican establishment. Fajitas (enough) for two enjoyed by me and myself.

Fajitas for two UD152_edited-1Appropriately fortified by a rare 6 a.m. breakfast, I arrived at our meet-up-location on time. And boarded a Parks and Recreation bus with The Photographers. Most with their massive 600mm lenses and tripods, weighing over 10 lbs/5 kg. I tried to carry one of these combinations. Ouch. To tell you the truth, I’d need to go to the gym just to be able to lift that kind of equipment to eye level. So there I was with a ‘tiny’ 70-300 mm lens on my Canon and my “jogging camera”, a light-weight compact superzoom. Feeling a bit intimidated, but hopeful the owls would treat me well. And they did. Relatively speaking.

burrowing owl 3 UD152_edited-1We arrived at a sports field. There was an active burrow with both parents preparing for the nesting season. Only one greeted us when we arrived, but soon the other parent (I believe the female) also came out and they posed for us together. Too cute.

burrowing owl couple ud152Soon one of them, I believe the mom-to-be, decided it was time to continue to make their home ready for the little ones…

two owls at the burrow UD152_edited-1…and disappeared down in the burrow. The dad-to-be stayed above ground to keep an eye on us.

burrowing owl male UD152Although we were well-behaved, I could see he was on his guard. We soon discovered there were Monk Parakeets on the sports field. Among them a sweet courting couple.

a MOnk Parakeet couple ud152I was delighted to be able to observe this couple as we do not have this species in our area. Beautiful love birds.

monk parakeets ud152From there our journey continued to another site known to host much larger owls, namely Great-horned Owls. We discovered they already had fledglings. One ‘baby’ was sleeping high up in a pine tree.

great-horned owl baby is sleeping UD152 His mother was nearby, well camouflaged behind branches in the same tree.

Mother Great-horned Owl UD152_edited-1Perhaps we made some unintended noise because the ‘baby’ woke up. And seemed to nail his big yellow eyes right on me. Howdy!

young Great-horned Owl UD152Just for the record, we saw the other ‘baby’ in a close-by tree, but papa Great-horned Owl was nowhere to be found. We believed he might be sleeping in a another tree away from the mom and the babies. Perhaps seeking some privacy after a night of hunting.

We continued our journey to a field close to the owl nest in an effort to locate a family of the rare and threathened Florida Scrub Jays. We were lucky! There was a family of four residing in the scrubs on a grassy field. They are beautiful birds, a bit like the more common Blue Jay.

Florida scrub jay nat env UD152After a while they became curious. And before we knew it, two of them came to greet us! They sat on heads of photographers who wore hats…

…and one of them even wanted to specialize in photography, thoroughly examining the equipment of a fellow photographer. What a treat!

Florida Scrub Jay on Camera UD152On that field I also captured more familiar birds, a couple of Mourning Doves on a wire in the distance.

twp mourning doves ud152But I missed the Eastern Meadow Lark’s brief appearance while trying to zoom in on an approaching young Bald Eagle. And didn’t get good pictures of several other smaller birds. You just can’t have everything.

Juvenile Bald Eagle UD152We continued our journey trying to locate a Bald Eagle nest. We found both Papa and Mama Bald Eagle. With mixed feelings.

bald eagle couple UD152A note on the road side told us that this couple had lost all three of their hatchlings for unknown reasons about two weeks earlier.  The note further speculated that  the reason the parents hadn’t left the nest might be that a second clutch of eggs was forthcoming. I hope the author was right as Mama Eagle stayed firmly in the nest…

mama eagle UD152And Papa was guarding their home just a branch or two higher up.

papa bald eagle UD152I wished them the best and took a portrait of them both.

Our last stop was another active burrow, where we found a rare Burrowing Owl with black eyes. Based on the apparent division of labor I concluded he was the male.

Black-eyed burrowing owl UD152_edited-2After he trusted us a bit more, he flew closer to the burrow and soon we saw his ‘better half’ for a brief moment.

second burrowing owl couple UD152After posing for us, she went down again and started working on their burrow. Fine sand flew out in waves right on the face of her hubby.

sand blast UD152She demonstrated an ability which is unique to Florida Burrowing Owls, namely that they dig their own burrows. At first her hubby closed his eyes and took the intense sand blast, but soon realized that the remodeling effort had just started, and flew up on a perch nearby.

burrowing owl at his burrow UD152I truly enjoyed this tour with our fantastic guides, Tammy and David McQuade. And needless to say, these tiny owls captured my heart. I hope I can go back to see them next year. And if I do, I will be a little better equipped. My new 3.62 pound ‘baby’ arrived a couple of days ago.

new lens ud152The good thing is that I will not need to go to the gym to be able to hold it. I just need to be a good parent and teach it to do exactly what I ask for 🙂 Wish me luck.

I hope you enjoyed the short visit to the owls. Thanks for coming along.

 

 

Sanctuaries and Sunsets.

In the afternoon of Easter Sunday, I went to see the birds at the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary again. Here are a few portraits of the resident birds, some of whom by now are old friends, like the Red-Shouldered Hawk, the Great-Horned Owl and his house mate, the Barred Owl.

red-shouldered hawk ud121

great-horned owl ud121

barred owl ud121The birds that are most represented among the permanent residents are the pelicans, both the White Pelicans and the Brown Pelicans. They tend to get hurt by human activity on the water. This warm day several of them were bathing in the many pools, large and small placed everywhere in their aviaries. Or preening to look their Sunday best.

brown pelican bathing ud121

white pelican closeup ud121

brown pelican closeup ud121

brown pelican preens ud121My friend the American Oyster Catcher was there too, and appeared to be doing better than last time I saw it.

american pyster catcher closeup ud121On this Sunday, several other birds were visiting their relatives at the sanctuary, like these American Black vultures.

american black vulture 2 ud121

american black vulture ud121I also counted more than 50 nests high in the trees around the sanctuary. I believe birds feel this is a protected zone and are confident building nests in the trees around the park. Here a mama pelican peers down from her nest high up in a tall tree, and a Black-Crowned Night Heron nods off at her nest.

mama pelican in the nest 2 ud121

black-crowned night heron sleeping ud121It was a wonderful, life-affirming visit, as always.

sanctuary ud121If only the earth would be a sanctuary for all its inhabitants.

At mid-week, I enjoyed a great sunset walk on the beach with our son, who was on a business trip here on the Gulf coast.

catamaran at sunset April 18 ud121The sunset was as beautiful as ever. Shore birds were running around at the water’s edge and little sand crabs hurried into their homes for the night.

a willet at sunset ud121.jpg

sand crab UD121The sun disappeared into the ocean leaving a soft glow on the skies. I thought about the beautiful Irish blessing “May every sunset hold more peace.”

sunset April 18 16x9 UD121With that thought I wish you all a wonderful weekend. I will be traveling to spend time with the youngest generation of our family. It always gives me hope. Just like the Osprey chicks.

Be Calm. And Enjoy Life as It Unfolds.

More than anything, I’m saying this to myself as I am facing a work trip packed with back-to-back meetings. I’m not used to such speed anymore. I’m more like the turtles I spotted at McCough Nature Park on Saturday. They just enjoy life in the present moment, lapping the sunshine. They have no hurry to do anything in particular. They accept what is and go with the flow. Or don’t go anywhere at all. A few lessons for me right there.

turtles-ud108While at this beautiful park, I also said hi to Sarge, the Bald Eagle. She has a rare feather disorder and is not able to fly. She now lives in the small Raptor Sanctuary in the park. She was undergoing tests to determine why her feathers are brittle and grow curly instead of straight. The cause could be environmental or genetic. And if it is environmental, it is important for the whole Bald Eagle population to pinpoint the exact substance that may have caused this disorder.

sarge-the-bald-eagle-ud108Sarge’s home is adjacent to a few other raptors, owls and hawks. One of the Great-horned Owls was about and about with his handler.

greathorned-owl-ud108After I had greeted all the raptors and chatted with staff, my journey continued to the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary. I couldn’t believe my luck when I arrived there exactly at the same time as Sheila’s handler. Sheila is the old Red-shouldered Hawk, whom I have met a few times in the last two years.

Sheila was happy to get out for a walk with her handler in the gorgeous winter weather. She flexed her wings vigorously before she settled down to enjoy the sunshine. She is almost blind, with very weak sight in one eye.

sheila-red-shouldered-hawk-with-her-handler-ud108When I talked to her she turned her head and looked towards me. I always enjoy her company. Walking back from the beach side where Sheila was perching, I spotted a Brown Pelican. She was doing bird yoga in the pool.

pelican-yoga-ud108This particular pose lasted for a while, and right afterwards she took a vigorous bath.

brown-pelican-bathing-ud108I walked to greet an old friend, an American Oyster Cather, who has a serious wing injury. It was great to see that she seemed to have more energy now than a few months ago when I first saw her.

american-oyster-catcher-ud-108As always, many completely healthy birds were drawn to the peace – and food – at the sanctuary. There were several American Black Vultures hanging around the hospital building. Maybe visiting their two relatives, who live here permanently.

american-black-vulture-ud108A few Black-crowned Night Herons were around too. One was busy drinking from the water fountain next to the raptor homes.

black-crowned-night-heron-ud1-8And many Brown Pelicans had made their nests in the high trees around the sanctuary. I counted 11 (!) pelican nests. The mothers-to-be were already sitting on the eggs and the males were bringing in complementary nesting materials. Or just hanging around.

papa-pelican-brings-nest-materials-ud108

male-pelican-at-the-nest-ud108Before I leave the sanctuary, I always greet the Great-horned Owl, one of the permanent residents here. He is very curious about me and the camera, and always poses nicely for a picture in his neat and clean little home. He has accepted what happened to him, a serious wing injury, and seems to enjoy every day given to him.

great-horned-owl-scbs-feb-11-ud108I was delighted to see how well the birds and their environment in this sanctuary are taken care of by the new management, all the volunteers and the medical staff who work in the hospital. They had just released several birds into the wild last week, and those who cannot manage on their own have pleasant and clean forever homes here.

On this happy note, I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day!

two-turtles-ud108

Hello World! Reporting Live from the Seabird Sanctuary.

The Great Horned Owl, Miss Kitty, is alert and follows my movements in front of her little house with keen interest. This owl, whose badly infected wing had to be amputated, has been living at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary for over nine years. She is usually one of the first birds to greet me when I visit. Her closest neighbor is another long-time resident, a Barred Owl. She is huddling deep in thought close to the ceiling of her little row house, and unlike her neighbor she clearly prefers her own company. And I respect that.

Next, I am checking on some of the White Pelicans. They have a large netted home with several swimming pools to enjoy in the summer heat. While autumn is officially here, our temperatures are still hovering in the upper 80s F (around 30C).

white-pelicans-at-scbs-ud81The Brown Pelicans have a home next to their white cousins, and their ‘yard’ is also appointed with several pools. Just chilling around the pool seems to be a favorite activity.

brown-pelican-scbs-ud81Next to the pelicans, two Sandhill Cranes have their large, beautifully decorated home.

two-sandhill-cranes-ud81Some smaller birds, like a juvenile White Ibis and an American Oyster Catcher with a badly injured wing, share the neighboring homes.

juvenile-white-ibis-at-scbs-ud81

wounded-oystervatcher-at-scbs-ud81But to be honest, I came here to see an old friend, the Red Shouldered Hawk. Her name is Isis. I will need to point out that this beautiful bird was named 26 years ago when she first came to this sanctuary with a badly injured eye. She is close to 30 years old now, completely blind in one eye and almost blind in the other. To my delight I discover that her handler has just arrived to take her out for a ‘walk’ in the park. Great! So after greeting the other birds, I walk into a large covered area under the observation tower and find her perched there.

scbs-observation-tower-ud81I love watching her and it is clear that she thoroughly enjoys her open air outing. But I also want to take a few pictures of her. And that proves quite challenging. While the covered area is nice and shadowy,  the sun is very bright right outside of it.

red-shouldered-hawk-at-scbs-ud81Isis is still molting and she is preening diligently to get rid of some old feathers on her wings.

red-shouldered-hawk-molting-scbs-ud81And then she stretches her beautiful wings. I can sense she is dreaming of flying high up in the sky riding a cool current.

red-shouldered-hawk-2-at-scbs-ud81She has had a long, safe and comfortable life here at the sanctuary and it is wonderful, as always, to spend some time with her.

Walking out of the sanctuary I meet two non-residents, an American Black Vulture and a Black-crowned Night Heron. Perhaps they have relatives in rehabilitation here, or maybe they are just waiting for a free meal. I also note that the night heron is strategically positioned to remind visitors of the importance of donating to this unique sanctuary.

american-black-vulture-3-at-scbs-ud81

black-crowned-night-heron-at-scbs-ud81It is lovely to know there is a place where so many injured wild birds can get help. About 15-20 birds daily, or up to 5000 each year, are brought to the Dr. Marie L. Farr Avian Hospital located in this sanctuary. They have varying injuries, for example to their limbs, eyes or bills.

sun-coast-sea-bird-sanctuary-ud81Unfortunately about 90% of those injuries are directly or indirectly attributtable to human activity. After receiving the necessary hospital care, the birds are rehabilitated and then released. The success rate is fairly high, over 80% of the birds who survive the first 24 hours go back to live their lives in the wild. Those who cannot manage to live on their own due to a permanent handicap are provided a forever home here. I am always filled with gratitude thinking of all the volunteers who take care of these birds and keep their homes looking wonderful, and people who donate to keep this sanctuary going.

That’s all for tonight from the Seabird Sanctuary. Next, your reporter will take on the replacement of the osprey nest platform at the salt marsh. We don’t want Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley to move out just because their home falls apart, do we?

We all hope your week is going great.

Free Like an Eagle. A Hike in the Urban Wilderness.

This is Sarge, a five year old female American Bald Eagle. But unlike in the song, or how I pictured her here, she’s not free. Quite the opposite. Sarge can’t fly, and now lives at the Narrows Environmental Education Center in McGough Nature Park. But let me start from beginning.

mcCough nature parl trail ud70This long weekend I suddenly found myself without plans. Our smallest granddaughter woke up with a viral infection and sky-high fever when her family was supposed to drive this way on Saturday.

So yesterday I decided to hike in McGough Nature Park, a jungle-like small park bordering to intracoastal waters south of us. Huge oak trees mix with tall pines, palms and mangroves providing a peaceful spot of wilderness in the middle of the hubbub of this crowded beach weekend.

jungle 2 ud70This park is a safe haven for hundreds of turtles, so I started my hike at the turtle pond. Some turtles were enjoying the sun on the ‘resort deck’ in the middle of the pond.

turtle resort ud70While others preferred to lounge solo on the land or in the water. I thought many of them had beautiful colors. And observing their slow pace of life was calming to the soul. They had no hurry to do anything or to go anywhere. A lesson on “just being”.

turrtle 3 ud70

turtle closeup ud70In the open areas of the park, lots of wild flowers were blooming.

wild flower 2 mcGough ud70

wild flower at McGough ud70But around the forested trails sunlight reached the ground only at a few spots.

McCough trail ud70I could hear an Osprey calling and many birds singing, but it was impossible to spot them high up in the dense forest. I walked towards the intracoastal hoping to find some birds.

nest UD70I walked along the long pier over the water and spotted a pelican just taking off. But all wading birds were hiding from the heat in the dense mangrove forest.

pelican on the intracoastal ud70I stood there in the welcome breeze for a while and observed the busy boat traffic, a sign of families having fun on the water this long weekend.

boat traffic on the intracoastal 2 ud70It had become cloudy and I hurried back through the park to visit the raptors who had their permanent home at the Education Center.

pier McGough nature park ud70Sarge is a newcomer to the park. She was found weak, dehydrated and malnourished in Tennessee a couple of years ago.

sarge ud70After a long rehabilitation at the World Bird Sanctuary near St. Louis, she was deemed non-releasable. She has an irreversible and rare feather disorder. Her feathers are brittle and can break easily. Her molting, unlike for other birds, happens all on one side. That makes balanced flight impossible. Thus she cannot take care of herself in the wild.

Sarge is a beautiful, big bird of about 11 pounds. She came here only in May and is still getting used to her new home. But now she is safe and well cared for, and gets to go on outings in the park once she’s familiarized herself with the new environment.

I found her fascinating. She looked at me, the only visor at the time, and we talked for a while.

american eagle ud70Next to her, some Great-horned Owls had their little home. I thought one of them looked at me a bit suspiciously from the corner of his eye.

great-jorned owl ud70And then there were several hawks, all with different injuries that made life in the wild not an option for them. I thought this Red-shouldered Hawk girl was most beautiful.red-shouldered hawk ud70I stayed with these wonderful raptors until a few fat rain drops started falling and I had to head back home. It was a great hike. I hope you enjoyed it too.

fireworks ud70Happy Independence Day to all friends in the US!

Behind the Grid. In the Bird Sanctuary.

In the bird sanctuary many of the injured or otherwise handicapped birds live in enclosures. Behind the grid. Like these two Blue Jays, siblings brought up by humans since they were nestlings. And then abandoned. They don’t know they are birds, and cannot manage in the wild despite best rehabilitation efforts. They always return to their little row house in the sanctuary. It’s home.

two blue jays scbsThe Seabird Sanctuary here on Florida’s west coast is the largest non-profit wild bird hospital/sanctuary in the US.  On average, 15-20 injured birds are brought into their medical facility on a daily basis, and up to 5,000 are admitted annually. Unfortunately about 90% of their injuries are related to human activity.

snowy egrets SCBS

Luckily most of these birds (over 80%) only stay here for a little while. First in the hospital and then, if required, in observation and rehabilitation. Once healed, they are released back into the wild, usually in the same area where they were found. All baby birds born in the facility are also released into the wild as soon as they have gained independence.

young great blue heron SCBSBut quite a number of birds have injuries that make it impossible for them to live in the wild. They’ve lost parts of their wings and can no longer fly, they are blind or partly blind, or have injuries to their bill so they can no longer fetch food. Birds with a permanent handicap are offered a forever home here, or in another reputable facility.  Like these pelicans who enjoy splashing in the many small swimming pools. Or just floating around on a lazy afternoon.

pelican bath SCBS GThe oldest permanent resident is a Red-shouldered Hawk. She is blind in one eye, and almost blind in the other. She is over 20 years old, and has called this sanctuary home for quite a while. She lives in her little studio apartment, but is also able to enjoy the park and the beach thanks to a volunteer, who comes and takes her for regular outings.

Red-shouldered hawk scbsred-shouldered hawk on outing scbsThe day of my latest visit her human friend had just arrived. She turned around towards the back door in anticipation of her walk. barred owl SCBS G2And it was a great outing. The weather was fabulous, and I could see how much this old hawk enjoyed it.

Among the residents there are also two owls. They have wing and eye injuries, but are well taken care of here.The Barred Owl insisted on sitting in the attic so I only got a shaky portrait of him. But the Great-horned Owl was very curious about me (or the camera?) and posed nicely for a picture.

great-horned owl 2 SCBSThere are many other residents, like this Cormorant, who all have large and remarkably clean enclosures.

cormorant at scbsIn the surrounding park, I found other birds, old and young, who call the sanctuary home. Like this old Black-crowned Night Heron who was waiting for lunch time right in front of the hospital building when I arrived. And this buffed up youngster on the roof of the education center.

old black-crowned night heron at scbsjuvenile blackcrowned night heron An old American Vulture also hangs around in the park. He might be a former patient, who just feels comfortable staying close by.

american black vulture at SCBS I have made it a habit to visit this sanctuary every now and then. Just to offer little support as I don’t have the time to volunteer. They depend solely on donations, and you can imagine the amount of food that is needed here on a daily basis. And medicine, medical supplies, materials for the “homes” and equipment to keep the place clean and comfortable. Wonderful work by staff, volunteers and caring donors.

I wish you all a great week ahead.

This post is also my response to the Weekly Photo Challenge “Grid”. You can find other responses here.