What Do Baby Owls Look Like?

A Tale of Baby Owls
Guest Blogger, R’becca Groff

The first sign of an owl living back on our acreage happened late last summer when I heard a rabbit being taken late one night. A rabbit sounds like a human baby when it’s in trouble, and it is the painful reality of the food chain.

Throughout this past winter, my neighbors and I have been listening to two owls living across our adjoining properties – a very large one and his smaller mate — we assumed.

I was the only one who wasn’t getting outdoors in time to see them, however.

The other day I heard the hooting midday and ran outside, determined to see where this owl was perched. It sounded so close to my office window. And there it was…staring down at me from one of the old Austrian pine trees between my house and my neighbor’s.

I spoke softly to it, hoping it wouldn’t mind but it wanted nothing to do with me, and promptly vacated its branch perch, gliding gracefully across my neighbor’s back yard to a safer distance.

As I’d been hearing about a huge hawk nest way at the back of our property line, I went to have a look for myself. Studying the tree line as I walked, I came upon an owlet watching down from one of the lower branches of another pine tree. I couldn’t resist it. I had to try and converse with this beautiful creature. It sat there watching back at me, unhinged by my presence. Just for fun, I circled the tree, and the baby followed my every move.

Of course, I texted the neighbors, only to learn there are two new owlets as my northern neighbors have been watching that hawk nest through binoculars. They’ve been observing as mama owl hunts and feeds these babies around dusk. She obviously is doing a fine job as we all have plenty of owl pellets on the ground around our trees.

Throughout the day I couldn’t keep away. I kept walking back out to view this new baby living in my yard. Later that day I finally caught a glimpse of its sibling perched near the top of the pine tree at the end of our acreage’s property line.

The neighbors and I had a chuckle, as we’ve noticed the rabbits seem to have moved across the street —
out of our yards!

How Does a Controlled Burn Help Forests and Prairies?

For the past few years, Marion and I have conducted managed burns on our prairie and woodland areas in the fall.  We let the fire rise from the woods up into the prairie near our home. This followed removing some maples a few years back to allow more light to reach the ground. I’ve attached a photo taken this week.  In the foreground is the burned area. Behind is the unburned. The impact on wildflowers is amazing.  The density and diversity of wildflowers in the burned area are much greater than in the unburned and they emerged sooner. In nearby Faulke’s woods, we removed maple understory several years ago but it has not burned.  With the elimination of additional shading from maples, wildflowers are certainly increasing, but this area has not been burned so they are not nearly as prolific as in the burned area on our property. The dark, bare ground free of leaf cover warms more quickly and the woodland and prairie plants access the ash nutrients and receive the warmth of the sun. So, they grow more quickly and robustly.

Are You a Weather Spotter?

Guest Blog by Jacki Hull of Bedford, Virginia

Written about April 19 and 20 storms

“Well, two ugly storms in one week is enough for us for a while. Today has been full of dark clouds, winds, rain. Then as we
were sitting on the porch for a quiet read of the daily paper, I could see rapidly rotating clouds, some heavy rain and heard
a roar of the wind.

Tornado Safety

“I told Peter (spouse) that we needed to get inside. As we moved ourselves to the living room, I prayed that it would not come
our way. (In 2002 a tornado did set down on Kelso Mill Road not far from us.) Well, the funnel stayed about a mile west of
us, but what a mess. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but our friends were really shaken. Buildings down along with trees.
It was duly noted by me how fierce the wind was because the bark was stripped off branches and 200-year-old trees twisted
and shorn of their branches. Electricity was out because poles were down and the lines were broken.

“I called the electric company to report no electricity on Solaridge. The gentleman asked me my location which I told him. Then he
told me there had been a tornado, the crews were on their way and it would be a few hours before everything was back online.

“Because (at the time) Channel 13 didn’t seem to know for sure if it was a tornado, I called the National Weather Bureau to let them know what I had seen. I love the weather and clouds and have been a weather spotter for years since taking a weather class at CVCC. Anyway, Ben at NWB told me the investigators would be coming to Kelso Mill Road and Sharp Mountain Road to check the damage and make an assessment tomorrow which would be on the news Saturday night. I asked him to call me and let us know what their findings are.

“Well, that’s all the excitement for today. Like I said two ugly storms in one week is enough all ready.”

What is Spring?

What is that? A Patch of green!

This spring the upper Midwest languished in browns, blacks, and slate landscapes underneath piles of grimy snow with grey skies blanketing overhead. Meanwhile, the South was vibrant in green expanses of fields and brilliant bursts of blooms of every hue. Pinks. Yellows. Fuchsias. Lavenders. Blues. Chartreuses. And, the sun!

All were simply amazing and so welcome to winter-weary eyes and bodies.

Here are a few reflections from our recent journey into the emerging spring.

  • Farm fields were dotted with John Deeres tiling up the soil. Such a part of Iowa’s economy.
  • Emerald green lawns almost blinded us the first few times we spotted them.
  • Mississippi has one of the most beautiful welcome centers I have ever seen. A southern feel, magnolias in bloom, kindly attendants, refreshments for visitors.
  • Tucked in the emerging forest greens were dogwoods and wisteria. I remember Mrs. (Lady Bird) Johnson’s lilting Texas description of wisteria – one of her favorites – when I interviewed her many years ago about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
  • Down along waterways, in between piney forests and rolling hills, were miles and miles of raised roads above flood waters sloughing off the upper Midwest’s frozen landscape inundating the south with a toxic mess.
  • Foods are fantastic! Skip the chains and take in the local flavors. Real gumbo, etouffee, plates of mudbugs, beans and rice, baking powder biscuits and Southern cornbread. Sweet tea is popular with some. And, for me, Chicory coffee, again!  Yeah!!!
  • Hobbling around in a boot was made easier as kindly folks opened doors, hauled around my materials and took my arm walking.
  • Veriditas Council encountered movie makers at the Solomon Episcopal Conference Center. Fun characters in costume. Diligent technicians constructing sets. Safety crews on call – just in case. Lights. Tractor-trailers….An experience. And rain, naturally.
  • Our motel and café stops in tiny towns. OK accommodations and friendly folks.  Then, the casino stop along the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, MS. Efficient, non-engaging.  But the view of the flooding river was great.  Barges laboring upstream and almost flying downstream in the rising waters. Navigating the shoals and bridges. What skill.
  • Following the Mississippi Mound Trail and stopping at some of the noted mound sites. Last year the archeologist at Effigy Mounds estimated that most mounds built by indigenous people across the country had been destroyed. So, seeing the signs marking existing mounds in the South was rewarding.
  • Did you know that Kermit the Frog was “hatched” in Leland Mississippi? We detoured to see the remains of Windsor Ruins – an elaborate plantation home with only pillars standing. The story is that a careless guest dropped cigar ashes in a construction site in the home. Well, that guest is not popular! Moral of the story is to keep guests and hot coals away from flammable materials. A group of Michigan high schoolers on a mission trip stopped by with us and took in the ruins and a group photo. Then, we turned back to the main road because the smaller road near The River was under water.
  • Vicksburg, Mississippi, was a turning point of the Civil War. We drove the loop past monuments to regiments and men on both sides of the conflict. Upon entering the visitor center, I felt the anguish from a siege of more than 150 years ago.  It was overwhelming.  So, right in the middle of the visitor center, I paused, spread out my hands and held space, inviting the lost souls to release and find their way to a safe place beyond this world. This experience has happened before – encountering lost souls and inviting them to pass through the veil completely. While I do not know if they chose to go, I do know that after a time, peacefulness began to flow in. “When will we ever learn?” We do have options besides anger and anguish. “In the end, only kindness matters.” (Jewel)
  • The sunrises and sunsets were delightful. The air was balmy. So, we retreated back north into winter. Now, we are in spring green, too, and our plants popping up.  Vultures nesting next door. Songbirds calling. It’s coming. Spring.

Wren Antics

As lingering snow banks melt we look forward to the arrival of our favorite spring guests.  They arrive in late April, but we put out the welcoming mat a month ahead.

Wren

We welcome the wrens each spring

For many years a pair of house wrens have nested right outside our dining room window.  We laugh at their bubbly energy and enjoy watching them bring caterpillar after caterpillar into their home to feed growing babies. In some years we get to watch as the youngsters peer outside their nest box before taking their first awkward and short flight.

How Many Species live in the United States?

Carolina Wren

Sometimes the Carolina wrens stay around in winter.

House wrens are only one of six wren species that live in the United States. We’re fortunate to have both house and Carolina wrens in our

yard. Carolinas don’t migrate, so we sometimes see one feeding on suet in winter. House wrens are, perhaps, wiser and leave Iowa each October to winter down along the Gulf Coast.  

It’s almost magical when the house wrens return each late April. Suddenly the air is filled with their delightful song. We usually hear them before we spot their nervous energy as they seek a nesting location. The nest boxes we set up in March are their welcome mat.

Making a Birdhouse

Few birds are as easy to lure into a nest box as house wrens. In winter we make new ones out of scrap lumber. Wrens aren’t fussy. Many elaborate nest boxes can be purchased but all it takes to make one is a four-foot section of 1X6 inch pine lumber, a few nails, and simple tools. We like the plans posted on Birdwatching Bliss.   

We’re crude carpenters but the birds don’t seem to mind if the joints aren’t perfect.

Many wren house plans call for a circular opening of 1 1/8th inch but we’ve had great success with a one-inch hole. Larger holes welcome messy house sparrows. We also never place a perch in front of the entry hole. Wrens are acrobatic flyers and have no trouble entering a hole without a perch nearby.  

Entertainment

Few birds are as entertaining as bubbly house wrens, but there’s another reason we love having them around. They’re voracious predators of insects that love feasting on our garden crops, so our wren tenants help boost our vegetable crop.  

Wrens start nesting almost as soon as they arrive. Their nest is carefully made of small sticks that nestle a few reddish spotted eggs that hatch in about two weeks. Babies grow like fury and leave the nest by the end of June. We then clean the nest out of the box, and often the eager parents produce a second brood in the late summer.

No bird is as likely to fascinate a child as a pair of bubbly wrens nesting in full view just outside the window.