Nothing Like Young Burrowing Owls

Having a feeling that we might not be living full time in Florida next year, I made sure that I had “quality time” with my burrowing friends … the owls.  Each year, the burrows and owls are often different and this year, nothing could have been more true.  Like all wildlife, some owls are more “social” and required more personal space than others.  In Florida, they are protected and the state mandates a safe viewing distance … that being said, the best rule of thumb after that is careful observation of the owl and watching for signs of distress or changes in behavior.

Other differences easily noted are the varied eye colors.  Usually I see the normal yellow and some with darker brownish eyes, but this year it seemed that there were all the colors in between as well.  This adult had those greenish brown eyes and his mate had yellow eyes.DSC_0120This little owlet was one of their babies (of 2) and as you can clearly see, it possessed those traditional yellow eyes, as did its sibling.  These owls run a tidy ship and are frequently clearing out the opening to the burrow … sending lots of sand into the face and eyes of an onlooker.DSC_0147Even with just 2 babies, one is almost always clearly braver, or more inquisitive, than the other.  Before long, you know exactly which one you’re dealing with.DSC_0253Owls are predators and possess sharp pointed beaks and claws, along with feet that are quite strong.  Some are better hunters than others and it isn’t long before the little ones try to join in one the fun.DSC_0301The first feathers of the young owlets begin to be overtaken by more mature ones.DSC_0413While the feathers change, those big bright eyes never do.  🙂  Wonder what it’s so intent on spying in the air?  Let’s see….DSC_0454So it’s a hawk flying overhead and I as well get nervous.  Though I’ve seen it (and hope that I never will), they have been known to swoop on it and grab young birds, including these owlets.  Usually the parents are quite aware and send an instantaneous alert for everyone to go into the burrow.DSC_2254Owls can be fascinating to observe and I’ve spent many mornings or afternoons (or both) with them.  I just love it when the ruffle up their feathers … usually preceded or proceeded by a bow and a poop.DSC_0781By far, a favorite time of mine is when the little ones first discover their feet and claws.  You can literally see their wheels turning as they investigate them … they pick them up, open them, close them, sometimes even turn them upside down and eventually put them down again.  Often, they do it repeatedly.  Reminds me of our own young when they discover their toes.  🙂DSC_0472Feeding ones mate and the hungry family is a never-ending task.  Crickets or beetles are often consumed.DSC_1071Sometimes frogs are on the daily assortment and this one was obviously caught earlier and cached for the right moment.DSC_0854Lizards aren’t safe from them either.  Often the male will taken them into the burrow for its mate, even if there are no babies apparent yet.  Young ones don’t emerge from the burrow for at least 10 days, so it might be that she’s attending to them … or the eggs.DSC_1107Super special is when they’re both up and they transfer the delicacy from one to the other.  It reminds me of a Lady and the Tramp moment … only with a frog instead of a strand of spaghetti.  🙂DSC_2506I think that owls get bored easily … for sometimes they just declare “war” on anything they can get their claws on.DSC_0621At this particular site, there are others present, like these resident monk parakeets.  They’re quite beautiful and noisy when they fly by.  This one was busy grabbing twigs to reinforce or build its nest.DSC_2907Sometimes people want to know which are the babies versus the adults.  Of course, when they’re both out, it’s generally easy to ID them by size.  However, there’s another dead giveaway … well except for those “hair plug” head feathers.  If you notice the adult (in the back) had a pattern to its feathers throughout its belly, while the baby doesn’t have the striations yet.  I call this the Kahlua look (OK, maybe that’s too much info … LOL).DSC_1301These young owlets are nothing if not curious … and they display all sorts of head angles when they’re trying to figure something out.DSC_3132Of course, the family unit shot is highly desired, but just like our own group shots, it’s difficult to get them all cooperate at the same time … let alone smile.  🙂DSC_1348When the kids are safe in the burrow, the parents take a few moments for themselves with some mutual grooming and “canoodling”  (OK, so I guess that’s a made up word).DSC_2673Not sure what was going on here, but this male must have been in trouble and offering some sort of peace offering to its mate.  “OK, will you forgive me if I share this mouse with you?”DSC_3858“If not, I’ll just eat it myself”.DSC_3979From an early age the owlets learn to recognize threats from above.DSC_0214This time, a red-tailed hawk.  DSC_3370No worry though from this parent … no alarm call for cover … just a stare down.  I wonder why?DSC_1266Owls have much better eyesight than humans and upon careful inspection in the viewfinder, I see why.  See, this red-tailed hawk already has snatched a poor unfortunate baby bird for its dinner.  (OK, I secretly hate this side of nature, but hawks have to eat too.)DSC_3370-2So the socializing above the burrow continues.  Dad soon takes flight not far from where I was photographing and I wondered why.DSC_3243I noticed that before long it flew, with great difficulty, back to the burrow.  Then I saw it … it had a bird of its own.  To this day, I’ve never seen one with a bird before.   I guess owls have to eat too. (no, not again) DSC_3566So my next favorite time with these young owlets is when they learn to use their wings to make short flights around the burrow.  This one was quite happy and worked hard to impress its sibling and dad.DSC_3686-Edit“Look what I can do!”DSC_3685-EditDSC_3687-EditDSC_3692Meanwhile at another burrow, the youngs ones were just beginning to emerge.  This time, both parents were yellow-eyed and the babies ran the gambit of eye color.  There was some discrepancy about this burrow too, as some say the pair might have changed after the new ones were hatched.DSC_2602DSC_4079So, that’s this installment of the burrowing owls of south Florida for 2017.  Lots more images to share, so stay tuned.  I mean, how could you not with these eyes?  🙂DSC_2756Next up:  A return to the wetlands

© 2017  Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

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My Local Everglades National Park

There’s been a lot of talk about #mypark … indicating what national park is your favorite.  Sometimes people choose the park that they find most beautiful … or perhaps the one that they can relate to the most … or even the one geographically closest to them.  It’s a very individual perception and designation.  For me, I would have to say that Katmai NP is “my park”, though I certainly don’t live anywhere near it, though I do absolutely adore the wildlife and landscape of Katmai.  For me, another NP, which is actually closest to me, is Everglades NP.  It’s a place of diverse beauty and landscape … and depending on the season and other environmental factors, its presentation is very different.  Like all of the national parks though, its a fragile habitat and environment, and we need to protect them and the wildlife living in them.  In the case of the Everglades, it’s also critical to our water supply in Florida.  Enough said ….

Usually in the summer, our visits to the Everglades are fairly sparse.  It’s hot, humid, and buggy during the summer.  Sometimes those conditions extend into the other seasons as well.  We did make a few visits in the beginning of winter and found it pleasant … well except for those mosquitoes.

One can find white pelicans there, as this duo shown feeding on the surface of the water near Flamingo.  Brown pelicans can also be found year-round, but these white pelicans are more winter residents.dsc_2003 American avocets are a favorite of mine, especially when they’re in their winter plumage, as this adult female is.  Love their grace as they swim or walk around the shallow water foraging for food.dsc_2760 You can almost always count on the American kettle to make an appearance when visiting, though sometimes they’re more cooperative than others.dsc_3535 Such graceful beauty in flight as they patrol the area for a meal.dsc_2580 Another common resident year-round is the red-shouldered hawk.  They’re quite smart predators too, as we watched this one tagging alongside the riding lawnmower man, taking advantage of the grasses being stirred up, making insects much more accessible.dsc_3324 A variety of hawks, as well as turkey and black vultures, are a sure thing, especially when warm and windy, as they seek out thermals to circle in flight.  dsc_2841 In the Flamingo area of Everglades NP, there are always many osprey found and in the winter, they are generally pairing up through courtship behaviors and nest building.  The adults are always easily identifiable due to their yellow eyes, versus the orange eyes of juveniles.  The female adult also generally adorns a “necklace” across their upper chest.dsc_4173 It’s a blast to watch and photograph them as they fly around … leaving and returning to the nest … as they bring in food and nesting material, as well as defend their nest.  We watched one day as a vulture tried to land in the nest.  Well, that didn’t go over too well, as the occupant of the nest and its mate (from a destination in the distance unknown) went into aggressive modes to defend their nest.dsc_2091 It’s fun to watch as the female gets excited when she sees the male coming in with some dinner.  (Note: the dark mottled “necklace” feathers indicates this one is a female).dsc_2213 What this female didn’t count on was her mate being very defensive with the fresh fish he brought in.  It reminded me of a dog being teased with a toy, as he jumped around and around, keeping an easy pick of the fish away from its mate.  Eventually, it flew off with the fish, which he devoured a bit, then returned with it … finally surrendering it to its mate.dsc_2306 I don’t think that she liked that initial “hoarding” of the food and she screamed at him when he left with it.  LOL
dsc_2120 After she got her share of the meal, I guess that he was forgiven, since they worked on the next generation of osprey.  😉dsc_2481On this particular day, we encountered a bit of a rain shower.  I just loved the way that this male osprey perched itself near the nest, dropped its wing and bowed its head, in an attempt to speed off drying its wings.
dsc_3206 An appropriate end of the day … and the blog … is the appearance of a rainbow, as seen right over the nest of the osprey couple.  I think rainbows are a lucky sign of what’s to come.  Wishing them the best in their nesting endeavors.  🙂_dsc1881Next Up:  More from Everglades NP

© 2017  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

A Day To Remember ;-)

I’ve often wondered if I take living in Florida for granted.  While my friends from other areas of the country are dodging snowstorms and bitter cold, I’m basking in temperatures ranging from a cold of 50’s to a warm of 80’s.  It’s totally no problem for me to drive out in search of wildlife or natural landscapes in just my light pants and top … maybe a fleece for the early pre-dawn hours.  I laugh because when I wear long sleeves and pants … it’s to keep the sun or mosquitoes away.

Nonetheless, in the midst of “winter”, I venture out and see sights such as the juvenile bald eagles circling around known nests, probably looking for mom/dad to give them a once willing handout.  No more … they are on their own for food.
DSC_4455The mature eagles are too busy guarding their nests from intruders, which include past years broods.  I find it strange when I visit out west and see this nesting and courtship period much later in the season … often at least spring.  Makes sense, as these eagles don’t have to worry about snow or migration.DSC_4713Once I’m away from the hustle and bustle of coastal south Florida, eagle fly freely as they go about their day.  They often call out to one another as they soar over the landscape, with a call that’s quite distinctive and always summons me to stop and look for their presence.  Sometimes I get a up close fly by that would be hard to miss … sometimes I can simply detect a tiny white head in the faraway trees.
DSC_4761DSC_4760Other predators lurk nearby as well, such as our ever-prevalent red-shouldered hawk.DSC_4737But by far, the eagles are mst prevalent and busy with their nest building, courtship, and hunting.  I’m always so fascinated by their feather patterns and love it when I get a topside view.DSC_5054Beside predator birds, there are also a wide variety of “little birds” migrating through.  Most times I’m struggling to isolate them in the trees as they dart in and out, but this one was quite curious about me and came over for a closer look.  Reward:  picture taken.  🙂DSC_4813While bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks, and a wide variety of “little birds” can be found in other places besides Florida, the Everglades snail kite is endemic to Florida in the US.  Endangered in the Florida, it feeds primarily on pond apple snails, though Florida now has some invasive snails that it will feed upon, though with some difficulty.  See, the other snails are invasive and quite a bit larger, so the Everglades snail kite has to work harder with its beak to get the snail inside.  They are quite fascinating hunters and always a thrill to encounter.DSC_4930The belted kingfisher is also a treat to see and photograph … for when it’s hunting for fish, you can capture them in their notorious hovering position … much like a hummingbird.
DSC_5424Limpkin, a noisy wading bird found regularly in Florida, also eats the snails, but with their long straight beaks, they effectively crack open the invasive snails and pull their snail out of its shell much more efficiently than the Everglades snail kite.DSC_5211Even when birds are scarce, you can almost always count on the great blue heron to be somewhere about the wetlands.  The most patient hunters I’ve ever seen, they will eat just about anything!DSC_5404Of course, when the sun begins to set, the party really begins._DSC5159_DSC5179Just when you think your day is over, here comes the owls … count them … 1 … 2 … 3 … great horned owls getting ready for the evening hunting ritual.  Of course, though not an esthetically pleasing location, it’s always a thrill when you can find 3 together!DSC_5685On this evening, I had the pleasure of encountering something that I’ve never had the pleasure of witnessing before.  As I was winding down my pole shots of the owls, one flew away to a location unknown.  The other two remained behind until I could see one getting ready to fly as well.  It flew down to a post nearby to where I was shooting from.  I was photographing it, figuring that it would fly off to begin its hunting.  Then before I knew it, the other remaining owl flew down.  I wondered where it was going to land because unlike the burrowing owls who jockey for position on the posts nearby, there really wasn’t room for two.  Was I way off!  This guy was jockeying for position all right … on the backside of the female.  As they say, the rest was history.DSC_5835-EditDSC_5841-EditDSC_5847-EditI clicked away furiously trying to capture what I could of the rendezvous … dark or not … I mean it was literally right before my eyes!  When he was finished, he flew off right over my head, but I was so stunned that I didn’t capture any more.  I looked at Tom, who was sitting in the running car (remember I was just ready to call it a night).  We were both speechless.  Note:  Pardon the grainy/soft images, but I just had to share the experience.

Yep you could say we had a great time that night, though maybe not as much fun as that great horned owl couple.  😉_DSC5189Next up:  A date with a king … fisher, that is  🙂

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com