One of the things I love about the island is the chance to really experience the rhythm of the seasons. When I am on the island, I am always much more aware of the tide, the times of sunsets and sunrises, the phases of the moon, and the other seasonal events that are less noticable in urban and suburban settings.
This is the third time that I have had the pleasure of watching owls nest on the island, and this year was the first time that I had the chance to check on them regularly. I had become accustomed to the clacking and fussing of the chick for food or sounding an alarm, but when I checked the nest this week, only the whistle of the wind in the marsh and the creaking of the pines greeted me. The chick or (chicks) have grown up into young fledged adults, and gone off to hunt on their own. All that remains is a feather and some pellets around the base of the tree.
This is my owl journal for this year, and I made it a priority to get to the nest regularly. You should be able to click the photos on the page to enlarge them.
January, 2, Christmas bird count. The team wakes up very early to go owling, but dense fog dampens the sound of the calls we use to find them. For the first time in several years, it looks like we might not register owls. I flush a large bird near the corner area, and it flies with steady, rapid, silent wingbeats. I am pretty sure it is an owl, but no one else sees it, and I am reluctant to count it. Later in the day, the group that is counting at lone cedar dock finds a pair or roosting Great Horned Owls. Mom checks the base of the tree and finds a pellet; a treasure she brings to me as a gift.
January 17, Reggie and I check the Lone Cedar area and think we see ear tufts in the red-tailed hawk nest. We take the camera and take a photo, but it’s hard to tell without blowing it way up to see. Bill Sullivan later asks if we think there is an owl in there… we concur, and check the photo for collaboration. I start shopping for a new lens.
January 23. Frost clings to the plants and the dock at lone cedar, as our breath steams in the early sun. Careful of not slipping on the dock, we take another photo… again, we are pretty sure there is an owl there. There are surely tufts, well camouflauged in the nest. Over the next weeks, we check the nest repeatedly. There is always an owl there, barely visible under the pine cones, rocking as the tree sways in the winter wind.
February 17, I am on our back deck with a friend, watching the last colors of the sunset fade on the impoundment, when we are startled by an impossibly silent large bird, swooping right past us up to the osprey pole. The unmistakable silhouette of a great horned owl sits atop the pole for a minute as we watch, holding our breath. The owl takes flight, on the prowl across Chapel Pond, and we stay silent, caught in the magic.
Kate and Ted go up to the top deck and find an owl pellet, which they report excitedly to me is only one of many. Sure enough, the roof is apparently a spot that the owls use frequently to deposit owl pellets. We collect them and put them in the freezer, saving our real science lab for the leisurely pace of spring break.
February 20, Kate and Elsa go on a photo safari with Elsa’s new camera, and take dozens of photos from lone cedar. When I finally catch up with them, they are taking shadow shots of themselves jumping. I can’t help but wonder what that owl thinks of them, goofy and giggly, posing and jumping and making shadows in the winter marsh.
February 26, the owl is spread over the nest as if she might be sheltering something. She looks like a cat, the way she is perched. (Small wonder they are called “winged tigers!”)
March 7, I check the nest and am dismayed to find it empty. I wonder if something happened to her. I take a photo anyway.
March 9, Kate or Bill or Reggie check the nest and find the mother back on it. I go back to my earlier photo of the empty nest and blow it up, and see the smallest bit of white fluff along the edges. That could be a chick or two.
March 11. An adult is in the nest with a fluffy baby, who peers down at us. (photo at top) We keep our distance and watch for a few minutes. We don’t want our presence to upset the mother.
March 14, Bill Sullivan sends this: Mary Kay and I decided to picnic yesterday at the end of Lone Cedar Dock. As we walked out there was no sign of activity in the nest. After lunch I focused on the nest with my spotting scope from the end of the dock and there were two BIG, fluffy, mottled tan and brown babies perched up in the nest with definite ear tufts and huge eyes. No sign of an adult.
(More coming– with photos and notes spread around on various laptops and cameras, it is taking me some time to pull it all together.) We will be dissecting owl pellets today at 11:30 if you would like to join us.