Bad Weather Brings Good Birds

The worst of this year’s winter weather is over. We hope. But if we get any more ice, freezing rain, snow or cold temperatures, watch your bird feeders, because those conditions often drive nice little surprises your way–especially if you always have a reliable source of water for the birds. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but birds prefer hosts that serve beverages.

You can see all my movies on my YouTube channel: Jo Alwood


For an hour or more, I wondered about my sanity. I went to the woods yesterday afternoon to film the Great Horned Owls. I saw the male (he hooted, so that I knew it was him) and saw him fly further into the woods. A minute later I saw another owl fly in that direction, and soon afterwards I heard him screech as he did the day I filmed him copulating with her. So I trained the camera on the Sycamore where they nest hoping to catch some film of her returning–in case they do have eggs in there that she’s incubating. Then … WHAT? I saw movement in the hole. I was so excited: it’s a baby, I thought! But no. I caught a glimpse of it. That was no baby. It had the tufts of feathers that give it the name horned, and it wasn’t downy. That was an adult owl. I thought, wait. Didn’t I just see her fly several hundred yards away? Didn’t I just hear them mating? Or did I dream that? What I didn’t dream was the adult owl in the nesting site. That, I have on film. I waited another half hour. The bird in the hole never poked its head up again, and the female didn’t return.
When I got inside, I called the neighbors who live nearest to that Sycamore. Mark told me that he has seen three adults. Oh. Suppose last year’s owlet has stuck around. Suppose it was a female and she’s helping incubate the eggs, while Momma Owl goes off to, shall we say, keep the pair bond strong. That’s several suppositions, but none of them are a far stretch.
When I filmed the owls mating on January 27th, I supposed they didn’t already have eggs. I supposed that owls agree with the ancient popes, that sex is for reproduction and that they wouldn’t copulate after the eggs are laid. Seemed like a reasonable supposition since I couldn’t find any information either way on the internet. But then I learned that Barn Owls do mate after the eggs are laid, so why not Great Horned Owls too?
There’s too much supposing and not enough knowing going on to suit me, but I will be down in those woods almost every afternoon until I figure out what’s really happening.

The Siren’s Call

The Siren's Call

Despite the aching aftermath of my fall Monday, I was lured through the snow to the woods late this afternoon. I went out to feed the birds about 4:30 and heard the male Great Horned Owl calling. Got some nice film and this photo.

Whenever he had the back of his head to me, he would snap it back around to stare if I so much as crunched the snow by shifting my weight. He was probably fifty yards away, but their hearing is phenomenal. Their facial disks help direct sound to their ears. (Those tufts on top of their heads are just feathers, not ears.) One ear is set slightly higher than the other and at a different angle, so that they can pinpoint sound with laser accuracy. They don’t have to figure out where a sound originated. They know. And my little snow crunchy noises would reverberate in his ears as loudly as a telephone book dropped on a hardwood floor.

I’ve wrinkle proofed my tripod.

Mud baths are good for the skin, so I’ve heard. Yesterday, I slogged through river bottom mud on the Mississippi at the Alton Dam with my camera gear.  My feet were so encrusted with mud that they were the size of snowshoes, and I fell. My camcorder, telephoto lens, external monitor and tripod got a mud bath. So did my coat, jeans, gloves, and–during the cleanup–the underside of my fingernails. All these have now been wrinkle proofed. I’m especially pleased to know that about the underside of my nails. Looking as stupefied as Stan Laurel, I needed three tries to successfully stand and hoist the muddy gear back onto my shoulder.

Never assume that you’re on safe ground, mud-wise, if the temperature is in the mid-twenties. The sun had turned the soil into a sucking muck. I should have taken a selfie of me and my crusted gear, but I was intent on cleaning up the mud before it dried. The camcorder still works, but the tripod is stiff to open and close. Not to worry, though. The skin under my fingernails will probably be smooth well into my nineties.