🎵”To all the owls I’ve loved before” 🎵

I was a little bummed that I missed baby owl season this year. Most of the nests are deep in the woods and required a little hiking and with a hurt foot I just didn’t feel like looking for them this year. Of course my husband says “Don’t you have like a million pictures of baby owls?” Yes, but, every year is different. Different nests, different personalities. I was thinking back to when I first saw babies and started digging through my old pictures. These are all just a few of my favorite ones. The two above are of my first time seeing baby great horned owls. These were taken at Kapok Park in April of 2009.

These above were at Kapok Park in 2012. That was a great nest, in the open part of the tree and fairly low down. At some point they stopped nesting here. I think something happened to one of the adults.

Barred owls at Lettuce Lake Park in 2014.

Great horned owls at Fort Desoto Park in 2014. This was another great nest. It was low in the V of the tree. These babies were famous with tons of people coming to take their pictures. The park rangers had the area roped off so the shots were far away. They nested in this tree for 2 years and then moved to another area of the park the next year.

The next year the great horned owls picked the top of a dead palm tree on a trail at Fort Desoto (at least everyone thinks it was the same couple).

Barred owls at Lettuce Lake Park in 2015. They nest here deep in the swamp so it’s hard to see them until they are big enough to move around.

Great horned owls at Circle B Bar Reserve in 2016. They nested right on the main road into the park so they were pretty easy to find.

That same year the reserve had barred owls nesting on the main trail so they were also easy to find.

The great horned owls started nesting in the big oak tree in the parking lot at Philippe Park in 2017. I was able to see the babies here through 2022. This is where so many of the babies did not survive due to rat poisoning. In 2021, 2 of the 3 babies died. Last year both parents and 2 out of 3 babies died.

Barred owls at Lettuce Lake Park in 2018.

The great horned owls nested in a very visible nest out on the beach at Fort Desoto in 2019. They took over an old osprey nest. These babies were fun to watch and had a lot of personality.

Above is the only time I’ve seen a screech owl baby and he was pretty big. This was April 2021 at a nearby park.

To paraphrase Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias (their song “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”

“To all the owls I’ve loved before
Who travel in and out the park
I’m glad they came along
I dedicate this post to them
To all the owls I’ve loved before”

It just keeps getting worse.

More from the great horned owl’s nest. These were all taken in late February, before we lost one of the babies to rat poison.

These were the only pictures I got of all 3 of the babies together. They were usually all over the place. The first one was taken early one morning, with the youngest trying to hide behind the moss.

One of my last visits at the end of February, they were flying to the nearby trees and really working those muscles.At the end of the day it was dark and cloudy and about to rain and they were very active but it was hard to get good shots in the bad light.

Here is where the problem is. They eat a lot of rats. Most restaurants, apartment buildlings and stores use those black rat poison boxes and don’t realize the impact it has on the other wildlife. If a rat eats the poison and doesn’t die right away, the owl is going to get it and eat it and die as well. There is a campaign to educate the people in the area about the side effects of using the poison. You don’t need it when you have owls, eagles and hawks living in the area. Plus there other non-poisonous traps to use. We also lost the Mom as well. She was found a few days after the baby. Both had necropsys done and they came back positive for rat poison.

I made a quick stop a few days later and Dad was raising the 2 remaining babies. I found the Dad and the babies were both high up in the next tree. I’ve heard they were doing well and flying all over the park since then. Edit-One of the remaining 2 babies was found dead at the park this week from rat poison and the Dad was found yesterday. So now there is only 1 remaining owl out of a family of 5.

Too precious to lose

The beautiful baby owls at a nearby park. These were all taken in early February. There were 3 babies but at this point there wasn’t a time when they were all together. The youngest still stayed in the nest while the older 2 were starting to venture out on the nearby branches.

These were all taken in mid-February. They were really cruising around the tree.

This was the youngest of the three. He was still staying close to the nest at this point. He still had a lot of fuzzy feathers that didn’t quite have the color in them.

The parents would always be close by in the same tree or a few trees over.

It’s with a super heavy heart that I post this but I wanted you to see how precious these babies are. The oldest baby died earlier this week. He had rat poisoning symptoms and did not survive. Last year we lost 2 of the 3 babies to rat poisoning. Then, just yesterday the Mom was sick and was rescued but did not survive. Again, rat poisoning. Everyone has got to stop using rat poison. These owls eat the rats. You don’t need the poison. Now that’s 2 less owls that will be keeping the rats in check.

My Corner of the World

Please don’t use rat poison

“What is everone looking at? Wait, I see a rat in the parking lot. Tell Mom to go get it.”

“I am Dracula. I suck the blood of rats”

“Soon I’ll be flying and can go get my own rat.”

“She’s taking my picture. I need to move over here to the best spot.”

Right before dark all three of the babies lined up and I got a shot of them all together. Both parents had just flown away, assuming to go get dinner. Since they are so curious, they were always looking everywhere. It was so amazing seeing these guys growing up. It really is a privilage to have these owls growing up in such a populated area. I didn’t make it back to the nest after this to see them all grown up.  Unfortunately no one got to see 2 of them grow up. I just recently found out that 2 of them died from rat poison. The third one survived. Maybe he didn’t get to eat as much of that poisoned rat that the parent brought back. This is what happens when people use rat poison boxes. The rats don’t die right away and the owl grabs it to bring back to the nest. These owls are a  natural pest control and the three young ones would have cleaned out most of the area of rats for a while when they first start to hunt.

Guess what’s for breakfast

Mom was digging around in the nest early one morning in February and pulled up a rat. I’m going to be repetitive about using rat poison. Owls love rats. When people use rat poison the rats don’t die right away. They wander off and the owls pick them up and eat them. Owls can easily die from a rat that has eaten rat poison.  You don’t need to use it. The owls (eagles and hawks as well) will take care of the rats.

I spent a good part of the morning waiting for the baby owls to wake up and then  watching Mom taking turns feeding the babies.  Doesn’t that look yummy!?!  It was an overcast day, I was using my long lens and these are extremely cropped up so they aren’t quite as clear as I would have liked. But that’s okay. I’d rather be standing half way across the beach than too close. I didn’t make it back out later to see these little ones completely grown. On a sad circle of life note, I heard that one went missing and a team of people spent all morning looking for it. They think it may have fallen during the night. The area has a lot of coyotes that we don’t see during the day so one of them or an eagle could have gotten it.

The owls at Fort Desoto

Mom standing watch over her babies.

Meanwhile, the babies are acting cute with those curious eyes. Always looking around at the sounds and birds flying by.

Mom moved over to a tree nearby for a while.

Then back to the nest to sit for while before feeding the kids. You could see both sides of the nest since it sits between a trail through the woods and the beach. We were running back and forth trying to get the best shots while the sun was going in and out. I think this is when I got my poison ivy on my ankles. Not paying attention and running around in the small wooded area where the owls nest. One ankle was pretty bad and my foot was so swollen I couldn’t get a shoe on for almost two weeks. That’ll teach me. After 13 years of doing this I’ve been pretty lucky with not getting it before now. Of course now I’m checking everywhere I step or walk.

The baby should have been excited since he was about to be fed but instead he was yawning. Mom was digging around on the nest for something good she had hidden in there. More to come on what that was.

SkyWatch Friday

Spring is here

Trying to get a shot of an inchworm hanging from a tree is like trying to bite an apple hanging from a tree with your hands tied behind your back (I remember doing this as a kid at Halloween parties).  The trees were full of these guys dangling and swaying back and forth in the wind. It’s not a sharp shot but you get the drift.

They were crawling around in the weeds as well. Every year in early March they take over a few of the parks here in the Tampa bay area. Harmless but annoying when they get in your hair.

The inchworms where hanging in the tree that is home to the owls at a local park. Dad was in his usual spot overlooking the big tree.

My first baby owl sighting of the year. He looks a little grumpy, like he just woke up. It was late in the day when I got to the park. The babies were just waking up from a nap and were ready for a snack.

Mom flew up to a branch over the nest.

The babies were watching Mom and one was climbing up the tree trying to get closer to her. Did I say “babies”? There were actually 3 and I eventually got pictures of all of them together but more on those later.

I was sitting at a traffic light on the way home and noticed an inchworm on the inside of my window. He had the nerve to poop on my window and leave a trail. When I got home I got him out and put in on a bush.

A brave Mom defending her babies.

It was drizzling on and off in early February when I first caught a glimpse of the baby great horned owls at Fort Desoto. The two babies huddled together and Mom stayed with them on the nest when I first got there.

After the rain stopped and the sun was trying to peak out, Mom flew over to a tree across the trail. Looks like she was trying to wake up and stretch.

The black hooded parakeets were flying by, being loud and annoying. The owl paid little attention to the parakeets buzzing around.

All of a sudden Mom sits up and looks at something close by the nest.

We all turned around to see what Mom was looking at. An eagle had quietly landed on a branch right near the nest. The eagle started screaming and Mom flew off the nest and chased the eagle away. It all happened so fast that I did not even got a shot of the confrontation.

After chasing the eagle off, Mom came back and landed on the nest. This time she stayed on the nest for a while. The baby popped his head up for a few seconds then went back to sleep. It’s going to be fun watching these guys grow up.

My Corner of the World

The Safety Harbor owls were growing up.

A rare time seeing both parents sitting together high up in a tree while the babies sit below alone in the nest. Although, at this point the babies are big enough to stay by themselves as long as a parent is close by. We usually only see one parent at a time.

After a while, Mom woke up and flew down to the nest.

She only stayed for a few minutes and then took off across the park while Dad continued to nap high above.

The babies were awake and were very curious looking around at all of the joggers and dog walkers going by.

Then this one sits up, stretches and yawns and then plops down for a nap. Time for me to go home and have lunch


Photographing New Zealand

Another great horned owl family

Both parents were close to the nest. Mom out in the open in the top picture. Dad was trying to hide in the moss while napping.

Mom eventually flew down to the nest. She turned her back when she was feeding the little ones so I don’t have a shot of that. After a few minutes she left again, flying to a branch nearby.

The little ones sat quietly for while, watching people walk by.

Someone found a pellet right underneath where the Dad was sleeping. We were trying to figure out what he had eaten.

I ran into some friends who were there walking their dog. They stopped to chat for a while but the dog was ready to go. He wanted to be out running in the park, not sitting under a tree while his owners were talking.

The view of north Tampa bay from the park. The owl’s nest sits in a big oak tree in the middle of a parking lot. It’s a main thoroughfare for joggers and walkers so the area is very busy.

Photographing New Zealand