Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Screech Owls Mating & Flight of the Red Tails April 8, 2009

Note of event from Lee on our April 7, 2009 evening adventure

We’re keeping this our little secret among this group because one of the owls has decided to stay very close to the path near the building and has been out in full view. We’re not taking pictures while people are around but all of us are good birders and/or photographers so hopefully all of us can help to protect these birds, especially over the next couple of months because we’re going to have baby owls soon!
Ann and I decided to go down to the park to see if we could see the owls hunting at night, and Carol came down to get something from Ann and wasn’t going to stay, but she did. Little did we know what we were about to witness…

Just to go back a bit, last. The owls had been seen very infrequently over the past few weeks, and none of us knew if they were still around or if they’d left. As I was leaving the park Thursday, I saw something hop from one branch to another in a pine tree next to the building. It was the red screech, and I called Frank and Walter over to see it, too. I had to leave but came back twice, the second time being close to 8 pm and Frank and Walter were still there, waiting to see if the grey screech would pop out from somewhere. We saw them both in flight and there was an exchange of food. The grey one then went back in the direction of the tree and we left because we couldn’t see much of anything.

A couple of nights ago, Ann and I decided we’d go and we saw one screech – we assumed it was the red but are now sure it was the grey – fly out from the area of the new tree, which is very close to the old tree. It then flew into a tree very close to us and we could hear what we thought was a cat meowing, but when we started walking towards the “cat”, we heard it above us and saw the blobbish form of a screech owl! We called Chris and she told us when a single note is sung from high to low, it’s the female and she wants food. We left soon after since it was getting dark, and that leads us to today.

I saw the red screech in the pines by the building a couple of times, and Chris went down after work. Fast forward to tonight. Ann, Carol and I met around 7:30. Red was still in the pines, no sign of any other owl. This time, there were no other people around, which was good because we don’t want anyone to know about the owls, outside of this group and the people who work there.

We decided this time we’d sit on the benches just south of the pine trees and we could keep our eyes on red while watching out for grey, all the while staying out of their way. Red stayed on the branch but was much more alert than during daytime hours, lots of swivelling, preening etc. Ann suddenly spotted grey screech in a hole in a tree along the path. This tree is on the same path as the old tree, just across and over one. The hole is very small and is facing west, and it’s about 15-20feet high. So the three of us sat on the benches as if we were waiting for a bus. We kept seeing grey popping her face out of the hole but not much more. She went in and out several more times. We could hear them calling to each other. We kept turning to look at red just to see if he was still there. All of a sudden, red was gone, grey flew out of the hole and landed in a branch 10 feet above us! Here we were trying to stay out of their way and they decided it was show time! Red came back from the area he’d gone to, landed on grey and they mated, and it gave new meaning to the word Quickie! I don’t think I’ll ever forget her face, her eyes both popped wide open, her mouth made the form of an O, and just like that it was over. Of course, we were in shock and on the verge of going into hysterical fits of laughter so we were all sitting there in a row with hands clamped over mouths. The owls just stayed on this branch, probably for 20 minutes. Later I asked Ann if red was smoking a cigarette which set off another fit of laughter.
I sent Chris a text message:
“They mated ten feet above our heads!!”
Her reply:
“Oh my God that is unreal, you’re going to be grandparents!”
At that point, I lost it, it was like being at a funeral when you know you are not supposed to laugh and it finally erupted. The whole time we were there I kept saying to myself, “I can’t look at Ann” because I knew we’d start laughing and it wouldn’t stop. We didn’t want to disturb the owls, and we also didn’t want them to decide to attack us but hey, we were there first! We went to this area because they’d never been there before (as far as we knew) and they were drawn to us like moths to light! So the three of us were killing ourselves laughing and the owls just looked around like we weren’t even there.

They stayed on the branch above our heads for a good 20-30 minutes. Suddenly the red one was gone, we didn’t hear a thing but we saw him east of us and he was hunting. Grey then flew over there too. We took our cue and got up and left. We all had visions of staying overnight so as not to disturb them but they seemed to enjoy our company.

As all this was happening, the moon came up over the lake, nice and full and bright. It was such a gorgeous night and we’ll never forget what we saw.
I took three pictures (without flash) with my Blackberry. They’re the really dark ones in this set, followed by 3 more of the same pics which Ann lightened:
If anyone wants to see the tree where the nest most likely will be, Ann, Carol and I all know exactly where it is now so we can show you.
And if anyone wants to go down, I’m sure one of us can join you.

A few shots of the red tails flying over my head today at work. They were very busy bringing in branches to build their nest.

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