I began keeping a nature journal decades ago. Below are excerpts from those journals sharing my experiences with dogs, cats and horses, and observing the natural world in Austin, Texas.
The first week after the screech owls left the box I thought the backyard would seem empty. Instead, the new pond with its cascading waterfall has brought more bird activity and some unexpected visitors.
We woke to an empty owl box on Friday morning. Two owlets took off on Wednesday evening, the first at 8:40 p.m., the second at 9:03, leaving the other two owlets to follow, but they lingered in the box, shuffling the sawdust, hopping up to the entrance, squawking for their parents to bring food. On Thursday morning only one owlet remained in the box, his sibling having left in the middle of the night.
Mrs. Owl is leaving the box earlier and earlier each day. Yesterday she was gone by noon and didn’t return until evening when it was time to begin feeding. We sat outside and watched the adults fly back and forth to the nest.
The owlets are now two weeks old. I watch them on the owl cam, waddling around the box, shuffling through the sawdust, looking up at their mother who is sitting in the box entrance. She is waiting to leave, anxious to leave. As the owlets grow larger each day and spring days get warmer, the box is becoming crowded and uncomfortable.
The owlets are all almost one week old now. The first egg hatched on Thursday, April 9, and the last on April 11, bringing the final count to four owlets. At one week old, the owlets are no longer amorphous blobs; they have wings which they stretch out as they awkwardly push out from under their mother and wobble around, all fuzzy round heads and tiny beaks and black eyes.
The first owlet hatched yesterday. Last night around 9 p.m., F20 was shuffling the sawdust, spreading her wings and spinning around in the box when tiny chirps could be heard.
Ellie foaled a gorgeous black and white filly last Monday (March 23) night, probably between 10 p.m. and midnight. The filly is mostly a dusty charcoal gray with white spots and markings, a puzzle on a tiny pony.
The last day of winter doesn’t feel like winter. Growing up in New Jersey, today might have brought snow. Back then we wished for signs of spring. Here in Texas, especially decades later, the signs of spring have been with us for weeks. Redbuds in bloom, primroses, bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush all over the hillsides along 290, Blake Manor Road and the pastures at the barn.
The owl huddles over her clutch this morning. She has laid three eggs so far and there may be a fourth egg hiding under her now. The first egg appeared on Tuesday morning, March 10, and each subsequent egg has been laid a day apart; so Thursday, Saturday and today, if she has laid another.
The female screech owl has been in the owl box for over a week now. I was convinced it was the female when she began trilling before she left the box each evening. Each night she leaves a little later. Last night shortly before 7 a second owl (probably the male) dropped into the box, so we know now there are two owls, that this is a pair, and the female is now in the box. Instead of names we have given them numbers like wolves: M20 and F20, “20” for the year. Waiting for the first egg begins.
There was something different about the owl this week. On Wednesday, instead of sitting tall and upright in a corner of the box the owl was bent over, tearing at something along the edge of the box. This is the first time the owl has brought food into the box.
The Harris hawk, a female, sits on the gloved hand of her handler. She is a deep chocolate brown with splashes of chestnut on her feathers. Her legs are rusty brown also, stretching to white feet marked by black tips. She is remarkably social, if a bit nervous, and doesn’t seem to mind the crowd of people edging toward her.
It snowed tonight; fat, wet flakes that coat bare branches of the Monterrey oak and Bradford pear and layer a quarter inch of snow on the lawn furniture. Winter has returned and so has the owl.
The owl was not in the box this morning. Or yesterday. And probably not the day before either (when I didn’t check) because he did not poke his head out of the entrance as the sun set. It was too dark to see clearly then, but usually I can detect a shadow, the outline of his face protruding from the box.
Where is winter? The early cold snap in November has faded, forgotten in the month’s 70-degree temperatures. Each front brings a welcome drop in temperature, but I sit here and think of snow in Montana and Wyoming and I am envious. Poor Willis in his heavy coat. We ride in breezy, sunny afternoons and his fur is damp with sweat.
When I step outside the cold air brushes my face. 38º. Winter. This is how the last day of the year should feel: cold. The owl is tucked into his box. He is the best gift to us this year. To be able to watch him guard the place we have made for him and raise a family will be the best gift of 2020.
Willis was treated to a myofascial release session yesterday from Chase of Cadence Therapy. It is deep work, but at the same time light work. Watching, it doesn’t look like Chase is doing much, but Willis obviously feels something judging from his licking, chewing on his crossties and lead rope, turning his head sharply to the side to watch her.
The owl huddles in the owl box, curled up in a corner against the cedar wall. He has been in the box each day now for over a week, even on warm days when the temperature rose into the 70s.
Summer’s heat is smothering us. Day after day of temperatures above 100º with an even higher heat index slowly wears us out. We were cruising along nicely through the summer with mornings in the low 70s when the heat and humidity suddenly shot up. Plants and grass are drying up.