Monday, November 24, 2008

Taking Classes

So what's happened in the last four months since I've last written? Hmmmmm......

The most notable thing is that Alice got left home alone again quite a bit in October. I received a Leadership Fellowship from the Bush Foundation (the 3M Bush family, not G.W.). The fellowship consists of taking three months off from work (fall 08, spring 09, and fall 09) to pursue training to help me create a North American or International owl center in Houston, MN.

All of the courses I wanted to take fit neatly into my month this fall. That's pretty amazing in and of itself, since each course was 3-5 days long and they were only offered once or twice a year.

My first two classes were on festival and event management, to help me with the International Festival of Owls. Each course was three days long and in St. Paul. And Alice was good for Bridget while I was gone.

The next course was a week long course on raptor field techniques, offered by Gene Jacobs at Linwood Springs Research Center outside of Stevens Point. That class was both FABULOUS and GRUELING!! We did everything from climbing trees with tree climbing spikes to banding Saw-whet Owls every night to running a hawk banding station, doing roadside trapping, building traps, drawing blood from pigeons, checking out Gene's totally cool mechanical owl, rappelling, etc., etc., etc.

We stayed up until 1-3 AM banding Saw-whets, then started class again between noon and 1 PM. But the day we ran the hawk banding station we left town at 6:45 AM, after having gotten to bed at 2 AM. Then when we got back from banding hawks, we banded Saw-whets until 3 AM. Can you say UFF DA???!??? Absolutely totally awesome, though. And Alice was a good girl.

The last class was a four day long workshop on Care and Management of Captive Raptors at The Raptor Center in St. Paul. We learned to cope beaks, give fluids under the skin, learned training techniques, made equipment, handled a variety of birds, learned about housing and diet and more.

I came back from this class with a long list of "to-do's." I got a clicker and am using it when Alice eats so she starts to associate it with food, which will help with later training. I'm checking into other food sources, since it's important that Alice get a variety in her diet, which is not something she's been gung ho on in the past.

I also was ready to cope (trim) her beak myself for the very first time. I had a bit of confidence since I worked on first dead owls then a partially anesthetized owl at The Raptor Center (that's what the photo's from).

Since I didn't have my own dremmel, an Alice News subscriber had sent me a pet nail trimmer that's kind of like a big dremmel. I decided that it was too big in diameter to grind the upper surface of the lower mandible, and since I couldn't replace the head with a smaller one, I loaned it to my ex-husband (who needed one for his dog) in exchange for him buying a special head for his dremmel to cope Alice, and helping me do it.

Coping Alice has always been a three person job. Me on the feet, Ken holding the wings, and the other person holding Alice's head and running the files or dremmel. But it was just Ken and me this time. So Ken grabbed Alice with a towel from the back, pinning her wings to her body, I got the towel wrapped around her, Ken held her feet while cradling her in the towel, and I held her head and ground.

It actually went fairly well! Slow, because I didn't want to go too deep and hit blood, but still pretty good. I could have used to take some more off the tip of her upper mandible, but I figure I can do that another time, now that we know how to do this.

It's a good thing Ken is still up for stuff like this. It's not like there's an abundance of people who know how to handle a Great Horned Owl while she gets her bill trimmed around here....

I was really hoping the Great Horned Owl breeding cages would get built this fall yet, but my builder all of the sudden got a bunch of good paying jobs. Not like I can fault him for wanting to earn a living and put food on the table! So hopefully in the spring.

And I promise I won't wait another four months to send out the next Alice News. Alice is starting to get clucky and nesty again....

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Next Phase of My Owl Research

I've been working on a vocal study of the Great Horned Owl since 2004. It will be a lifelong study (love affair with owls?) since I'm looking at documenting the complete vocal repertoire of the species, vocal development, identifying individuals by their territorial hoots, comparing the hoots of offspring to their parents, regional and sex variation in territorial hooting, and I'm sure I'll get off on some other tangents as opportunities present themselves.

I'm now planning to move ahead with the next phase of my Great Horned Owl vocal study: having a cages built to house an unreleasable pair of owls for breeding purposes.

As many of you know, this is an idea I got started on last fall. But then there was the flood, the World Owl Conference, the International Festival of Owls, Bush Leadership Fellowship interviews and planning, my divorce (we parted on peaceful terms, and no, Alice wasn't the problem), a budding new romance, and issues with the well and septic system. So those are my excuses for just FINALLY getting back to this wonderful project. Feels good to be back at it!

I'm the first to admit that I don't know diddly squat about building anything. But I hope to learn a thing or two in this process. Thankfully I know people who know how to build things, though! My best friend Julie's husband, Tat, has signed on to the project as chief cage builder extraordinaire.

I drew up the plans for the cages last fall from recommendations given by Kay McKeever, the Owl Lady of Canada and head honcho of The Owl Foundation ( Probably no one in the world knows more about breeding cage design for permanently injured owls than Kay. (She spoke at the Festival of Owls in 2004.) Tat has some questions I need to clarify with Kay, and then he'll work up a list of materials needed, potential deals (he's good at finding deals!), and costs. The goal is to get everything built this fall so the owls can be in place by winter with hopes of them breeding by spring. Marge Gibson of the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, WI (where Alice came from, already has a suitable pair of owls ready and waiting. I just need cages for them!

When this project started rolling last fall, donations started to come in. I've already received $2,200 so far, which will likely cover the materials for the breeding cage. Since these cages will be ideal cages and not just bare-bones-scrape-by-minimum-standards cages (the breeding owls will spend their entire lives in their cage), they will be spacious and allow the owls choices, making it more likely they'll breed. I'm expecting it will require at least $3,000 more to fund the release training cage and remote audio and video equipment. (OK, so it could cost more than that too, but I know I'll need at least a few thousand more to make this all happen.)

Ideally, the cameras in the cages will be infrared (so you can see the owls at night), and color during the daytime. There will also be microphones (exceedingly important for a vocal study!!) And I'd like to have the video and audio streaming online so anyone can log on and observe the owls. This is important because the more people who observe the owls, the more that can be learned.

There's a Little Owl webcam in Holland ( that has had great success using viewers to help with observations. Those die-hards who watch the cam at all hours of the day and night were given some training about which observations to record, prey identification, and more. Then they could post their observations. The researchers reviewed the posted observations, and found them to be quite accurate and useful. They even had a little party for the heavy duty observers at the end of nesting season.

I'd like to follow the Dutch example, partly to get more observations (since I can't watch things 24 hours a day myself ) and because it's great to get people involved and excited about research--you don't need a PhD to do this stuff! So, that's my goal!

I already received the Hall/Mayfield Award from the Wilson Ornithological Society to purchase night vision for wild nest observations a few years ago for my vocal study. I was also planning to personally put in a couple thousand dollars I had saved up for this project, but I had to kiss that money goodbye in the divorce settlement so I could keep the house and property. So much for that!

This project is being supported through the Owl Research Institute in Montana (, so donations for my research can be made to that organization and are tax-deductible. I'm also looking for skilled volunteer builders to help with cage construction, and hopefully I have some technologically savvy folks willing to help with the audio and video setup. Key supporters will be acknowledged in my published research.

If you're interested in helping out with this research in any way, please let me know. You can e-mail me at The more the merrier!

I still find it strange to think that no one has ever done a vocal study on such a common species as the Great Horned Owl, and laugh when I realize I'm probably the world authority on their vocalizations, even though there's so much I don't know!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Alice and the Tree Frog

Last night I was typing away on the computer and heard Alice's beak bonk against one of the windows in her room next to the office. I didn't think much of it, since sometimes she gets ants in her pants and scratches at the window to get my attention. But as she continued, I realized she wasn't scratching at the window with her feet...she was just bonking it with her bill, which isn't normal. So I poked my head into her room to see what was up.

Alice was standing on her perch in front of the small window in her room. And there was something on the window--not flicked gopher parts either. It was a gray treefrog sticking to the dead center of her window...on the outside! (Mind you, this is on the second floor of the house.)

As I watched, Alice would pull her head backwards for a better look (owls are farsighted just like all of you with arms that are a bit short), then she leaned forward, trying to eat the frog through the window, never quite seeming to figure out why that thing didn't come off the window.

Somehow I don't think my finicky eater would have swallowed it if she had indeed gotten it in her mouth...she probably would have just crunched it, tasted it, spit it out, and pulled her head back to look at it again. But as it went, apparently the tree frog was oblivious to the fact that there was an owl who wanted to eat him.

Needless to say I got a good laugh out of the deal, and Alice had gopher for supper instead.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Home Alone

June was a busy month for me. And as a consequence of my gallivanting around, Alice was left home alone….

As part of the Bush Leadership Fellowship I've been granted to help me plan an International Owl Center in Houston, I wanted to take a non-profit management course. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find one that would fit into my fellowship schedule, or one offered online that fit my schedule and had guidance. So since the Friends of the Houston Nature Center opted not to do their regular summer event this year and my nature center intern returned from last year (plus I have great volunteers to fill in), the Friends paid my way to attend a week-long Non-profit Management Mini MBA course through the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.
But that meant I’d be gone for a week. And Alice would be home alone.

Bridget Mullen was enthusiastic and brave enough to agree to take care of Alice during the time I’d be away. This involved a couple of visits to my house when I was still home to learn the ropes of gopher preparation, where the “gut bucket” and cleaning supplies are located, getting to know Alice a bit, instructions on what to do with molted feathers, etc. And I sent Bridget home with a pile of baggies filled with cut up gophers.

I was hopeful that Alice would take things all right since it’s not breeding season and she doesn’t demand so much attention now. Bridget called with an update after the first night, and e-mailed thereafter. I had intermittent e-mail access, so it was a relief to me to know Alice was being cared for so well.

Bridget and her kids, Nayelli and Roberto, would bow their heads and hoot a greeting to Alice from outside when they arrived. And they always gave Alice her personal space, and were careful to watch their feet, since Alice can get aggressive and pounce on feet (mostly just to startle, not to injure), but if there is a cached gopher head nearby, beware!

They saved her large molted feathers, and noted the date each one was lost. They even cleaned Alice’s room, which is a huge job, especially considering they emptied and refilled her bath pan, which holds 15-20 gallons of water (and there’s no running water on the second floor of the house where Alice’s room is located.)

As soon as I got home Friday night (after having left Sunday afternoon), I went upstairs to hoot with Alice, which we did. She didn’t seem overly stressed or perturbed. I was surprised that she hadn’t gone downstairs at all while I was gone. She’s as curious as a cat, and I had just rearranged the living room furniture before she left, so I was certain she would have been down to check it out (and make a mess.)

Alice was a bit owly about going to work the next afternoon, but I expected her to be crabby after I had been gone for a week. Then the next day the next leg of the adventure started. Hein Bloem arrived from The Netherlands.

Hein had been here in March for the International Festival of Owls. He was back for some research he was doing on the serrations on the feathers of owls. Key in his research was measuring Alice’s molted feathers that I had collected over the years as well as the feathers of Lady Gray’l, a Great Gray Owl that lived for 22 years in Winnipeg.

Alice seemed all right with Hein the first day. She hooted some, but not incessantly like she sometimes does with strangers. So I figured all was well. But then Hein and I left for several days to go to Winnipeg and the Twin Cities to visit several facilities for his research. Bridget again came to take care of Alice.

I only had very limited access to e-mail, and the first e-mail I received from Bridget made me a bit nervous—Alice had raked her leg. But Bridget assured me that she always wears pants around Alice in case something like this might happen, so she was fine. And she’d just give Alice more space in the future. Within a day or two Bridget e-mailed that Alice had hopped up onto her knee to hoot! That was certainly positive!

When Hein and I arrived back home at the end of the week, I didn’t give Alice the attention I should have. She had been downstairs in our absence, but hadn’t made too much of a mess. And Bridget and crew had done a great job cleaning. But Alice hooted at Hein and pounced at my feet. One evening she even came into the office and scooted around me to pounce on Hein’s stocking feet! Thankfully her foot pounces are more of a bluff than anything, but they certainly get the point across.

I figured I’d have some serious kissing up to do with Alice after Hein left, so I spent some extra time hooting with her in the mornings. And within a couple of days she was back to normal, thank goodness.

I won’t tell Alice that I’m going to be gone a lot more in October for my fellowship, but at least I’ll be staying home in the meantime.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Alice Eats A Cricket

OK, turn your head sideways for this video. It's vertical on my computer, but heck if I know why it's rotated here.

Owls have a natural hunting instinct, but becoming an efficient killer is a skill that must be practiced. Mom and Dad may help this process along by not feeding the kids so much and letting them get hungry enough to be motivated to hunt.

Alice has a hunting instinct, but since I feed her every day, she's not overly motivated to figure out the whole hunting thing. So even though I live in an old farmhouse that most certainly gets mice in it, they are pretty safe from being eaten by an owl here.

That being said, Alice, in her 11 year life span, has a whopping kill list of ONE item (as far as I know). One camel cricket several years ago. Pounced on in the kitchen, one leg torn off (which I kept as a souvenir), and she crunched the rest down. What a mighty hunter!!

I've noticed her watching some other camel crickets in the house when she's been downstairs late in the past few weeks. A couple of nights ago we got home from work really late (11:30 PM after visiting with Tex Sordahl, my college advisor and Robyn Kutz, a gal I skinned birds with for Tex in college.) Alice eventually hopped down on the kitchen floor and eventually I noticed her doing some head bobbing, looking at something on the floor. It was another camel cricket.

So I took out my camera and switched it to the video setting. I wasn't holding my breath, but I had the camera ready nonetheless. The cricket didn't move, and Alice was losing interest. (That not moving thing is a really good defense when you're up against an owl.) So I pushed the cricket toward Alice. It acted dead and didn't move a muscle. Nothing from Alice. I pushed the cricket closer again.

I was about ready to give up when Alice launched into some serious head bobs, with her chin just about hitting the floor each time. I started the video recording, and wouldn't you know Alice walked right up to the cricket, reached over, picked it up in her beak, crunched it and swallowed it, just as if I had said "Lights, camera, action!" Again, she left a souvenir cricket leg.

Thanks to perfect timing, I have the video clip of Alice making another brilliant kill for your viewing pleasure. Go Alice!! May you eat many more camel crickets in this house.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Going to Wisconsin

Alice the Great Horned Owl is from Antigo, Wisconsin. But for her to go back to Wisconsin (even just to La Crosse) to do programs is quite a trick.

Each state has its own permitting procedures. I have a permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (Special Permit #1) to possess Alice for educational purposes. If I want to go to Iowa to present a program with Alice all I have to do is call the conservation officer for that region and let them know when I’m coming. Piece of cake. Wisconsin is a whole different ballgame.

When I first got Alice all that was required was a $10 permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and I had to let them know where I was going to be and when. Not a big deal. But one year when I sent in my $10 check for the annual permit it was mailed back to me with a copy of the new regulations.

Ever since then if I want to go to Wisconsin to do programs with Alice I now have to get a health certificate first ($40) then get a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ($50.) That wouldn’t be too bad if it was for the whole year, but it’s not. Both health certificate and permit are only good for 30 days. Ouch!

So since the Houston Nature Center is funded only by the City of Houston, I need to add these costs on to the fees I would normally charge for programs. This results in programs in Wisconsin costing nearly double what they cost in Minnesota. But I do still get a few groups that can handle the cost, and thankfully they often are grouped in spring so I can combine them onto one permit.

This year a couple of schools, a boy scout troop, and a retirement home in Wisconsin all wanted programs, so I e-mailed the Wisconsin DNR permit guy I normally deal with. He wanted me to talk to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to make sure they didn’t want me to have an additional permit. They never had before, and when I left messages with the Department of Ag guy, they weren’t returned, so I figured that must mean I didn’t need a permit.

But the DNR guy sent an e-mail to the Dept. of Ag guy and copied it to his supervisor and several others, asking if I needed a permit from them. Well wouldn’t you know I got an answer pretty darned quick! Yes, in fact, I was also supposed to have a permit from the WI Department of Agriculture. Good grief! But at least there was no charge.

After all this discussion (and WI DNR office moving) my first program was rapidly approaching and I still didn’t have my permits yet. So Alice and I went to Appletree Pet Clinic in La Crescent so Dr. Laura Johnson could examine Alice and issue a health certificate, which she did. She wanted me to keep an eye on Alice’s lower mandible, though, since there was a slight crack in the left side, and the right side needed to lose a piece.

So I went back to the nature center, faxed copies of the health certificate to the WI DNR and WI Dept. of Ag, and by the end of the next day I had my DNR Non-Resident Temporary Wildlife Exhibitor Permit in hand as well as my Circus, Rodeo, and Menagerie Import Permit from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. Dead serious…these are the permits I need for a single Great Horned Owl who was hatched in Wisconsin to bring her back to her home state just 20 miles away.

The program went great, a few weeks passed, and it was time to get health certificate #2 to go with my second Non-Resident Temporary Wildlife Exhibitor Permit from the DNR and to fax to the WI Dept. of Agriculture so they could issue another Circus, Rodeo, and Menagerie Import Permit.

Alice stood on my gloved fist in the vet’s office again for her exam like a trooper. She did some really loud annoyed chitters and nipped a couple of times, but overall did an excellent job of allowing herself to be poked and prodded during the exam. But she needed her bill trimmed, and that’s not something she’ll tolerate.

Dr. Johnson wrapped a towel around Alice’s back and wings, then firmly grabbed her off my fist. Her assistant held Alice’s feet as Alice lay bundled in the towel like a burrito with Dr. Johnson holding her head and filing her beak (they didn’t have the dremmel around that day, which is what they normally use.)

Alice screamed some at first, then resigned herself to being manhandled. It took a bit longer than usual using a file instead of a dremmel, but all went well and Alice was perched back on my fist panting in a matter of five minutes or so. A few minutes later she shook all of her feathers and really got settled again. What a trooper!

So I went back to the office, faxed off copies of the health certificate to the WI DNR and Dept. of Ag, got another Circus, Rodeo, and Menagerie Import Permit and we’re now cleared to do three programs in Wisconsin during Earth Week.

Does anyone have any friends in high places in Wisconsin who have the inclination to work to make it easier for a single owl to go back to her home state to educate people about her kind??? I’ve gotta ask…I never know who reads this…or who a reader might have connections to.

Washcloths and Shades

I just realized I haven’t written much about Alice the Great Horned Owl lately. Sometimes I think I just get used to her antics and don’t think much of them (other than laughing when they happen.) But it’s time to share some again.

When Alice and I get home from work, as soon as I open the door and set foot into the kitchen Alice jumps from my gloved fist to the back of the closest kitchen chair. Heaven forbid the chair not be in its normal pushed-in-to-the-table position, or she might wind up landing on the floor. (This has actually happened when the chair was not even close to where it normally sits.)
From there I take the leash off the leather jesses that Alice always wears around her ankles, and Alice is allowed to do as she pleases. This almost always involves some hooting (she likes me to hoot back), then she usually heads upstairs (with my pajama tops if I forgot to bring them upstairs after my morning shower) where she passes the time watching the wildlife out the window at the top of the stairs.

Lately Alice has developed a new twist. When she finishes hooting, she hops/flies the short distance to the kitchen sink from the back of her chair and grabs the washcloth. From there she stays put, takes the washcloth to the floor, or takes it out into the living room. No matter where she winds up, she always clutches it tightly with her feet, reaches down to grab it with her beak, and with a solid tug proceeds to shred it.

You can’t just take something away from a Great Horned Owl who’s bound and determined to hold onto it. I’ve tried substituting an already-shredded washcloth by putting it on her feet over top of the intact washcloth. No go. She just tosses it aside and proceeds to shred what she has. There’s not too much I can do about it aside from really being mean about the whole situation. So I’ve taken to using half shredded washcloths to do the dishes rather than leave out any more intact washcloths (although I’m not sure I even have any….)

Another thing Alice started doing with some regularity before the washcloth episodes is to head upstairs into the bedroom after work. The shades are normally kept closed in there to discourage Alice from going in to watch out the windows (she can open the door since it’s warped just enough that it doesn’t latch well.)

Closed shades no longer stop Alice. I assume out of frustration Alice started biting and scratching at the shades. Well wouldn’t you know, if you bite or scratch just right (and give the right tug), the shades magically fly open! And then you can watch the goings-on out the window.
What this means is that the shades are kind of getting shredded. I’m would assume the long tears in them are from talons, but I’ve got to believe she also grabs the edges with her beak too, which results in less damage.

At one point I took the shredded shades down, intending to replace them. But then I thought “What’s the point?” New ones would get shredded too. So I just used a lot of packing tape to patch them back together and put them back up as is. And Alice still goes into the bedroom sometimes to open them up, but hopefully since they’re almost solid tape she won’t be able to rip them so easily.

These are just more reasons normal, sane individuals would never let a Great Horned Owl live in their house no matter what the circumstances.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

2008 International Festival of Owls

"Hooston", our new owl mascot having fun with some kids.

World Bird Sanctuary staff doing a flying demonstration with a Barn Owl.
Photos (c) Alan Stankevitz

Despite the long, cold, snowy winter, Mother Nature offered up some excellent Minnesota March weather for the 6th Annual International Festival of Owls. There was minimal snow leading up to the festival, none during it, and the temperatures hit around 50 F on Sunday!

The festival really got started for me late Wednesday evening, February 27, when Johan de Jong and Hein Bloem arrived from The Netherlands. They were organizers of the World Owl Conference last November, so I already knew these two wonderful fellows, and was thrilled to be able to see them again so soon. As expected, Hein was wearing his signature red scarf.

Thursday saw the arrival of Eastern Screech-Owl researcher and photographer Christian Artuso from Winnipeg (whom I had ironically first met in Holland last fall), Lisa Wadley from California (her second festival), and Dorothy Purge from Jamaica (also her second festival.) My dear friend David Johnson, Director of the Global Owl Project, met us all that evening for supper at Ron and Rae Evenson's home, where the Evensons had concocted a veritable feast for us all.

Friday our biologist guests scouted for roosting owls and owl nests. And I got a call for an on-air interview with BBC Radio in England, believe it or not!! Charlotte Kerrigan, volunteering to man the phones that afternoon, had trouble with the accent, but thankfully I've spent enough time visiting with Tony Warburton, founder of the World Owl Trust in England, to have no troubles understanding a word that was said.

The banquet was delicious, and folks from five different countries attended (U.S., Canada, Jamaica, The Netherlands, and Ethiopia.) Dr. C. Stuart Houston's keynote address was delightful. Can you imagine climbing a huge, metal electric tower to band young owls, jumping into ice cold water to save an owl, or climbing trees at age 78? Uff da...what a man.

My favorite part of the festival is always the World Owl Hall of Fame award presentation. Since we had so many incredible nominations from around the globe this year, the Global Owl Project instituted a new Special Achievement Award in addition to our Champion of Owls and Lady Gray'l Awards. Johan de Jong received a Special Achievement Award for his work restoring the Barn Owl population in The Netherlands and gave a short presentation on his work. It was extra fun to be able to surprise Dr. Houston with his Champion of Owls award since he was coming anyway! Five other awards were also announced (see for details.)

Saturday was a fun-filled family day, with 400-500 people attending. “Hooston”, our new owl mascot costume, made his debut to the delight of many kids and adults who got big, fuzzy hugs. The World Bird Sanctuary's flying Barn Owl stole the show as it repeatedly skimmed the heads of those in the crowd. But the massive Eurasian Eagle Owl was impressive, and where else can you see Tawny and Spectacled Owls??

The live native owls from the Raptor Education Group are always great, and Little Bit the Northern Saw-whet Owl is always a star. His baby picture was featured on the festival button. A whopping 37 kids participated in the owl calling contest, and everywhere you looked kids (and adults!) had their faces painted like owls.

Since the whole festival started as a hatch-day party for Alice the Great Horned Owl, we all sang a round of “Happy Hatch-Day to You” and ate owl cake.

A boatload of boy scouts from the area participated in a special program by Jen Lilla of Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge to earn their owl belt loop. Then kids and adults headed out in buses to call in wild owls. The first bus got skunked, the second got a screech-owl, and the third, led by David Johnson, called in two Barred Owls and three screeches!

Sunday offered up perfect sunlight for the outdoor owl photography sessions and birding bus trip. If you know naturalist and author Stan Tekiela, ask him how he liked his “Stanwich.” With so many important owl folks in one place, the Houston Nature Center also hosted a planning meeting to develop a World Working Group on Owls for the IUCN. Just goes to show the caliber of people who speak at our festivals!

We're already scheming for next year with plans for Norman Smith, Snowy Owl researcher from Boston, to be our keynote speaker as well as adding a medallion hunt. There seems to be no end to the kinds of owl activities and events we can dream up!

Me cheezing it, and David Johnson reading Johan de Jong's award to him.

C. Stuart Houston and his Champion of Owls Award
Photos (c) Alan Stankevitz

Monday, February 18, 2008

Alice's Latest TV Gig

I certainly haven't written much lately! Not much overly exciting going on here. Alice ended her super-nesty phase in early December, and other than that the only excitement has been gopher parts of poop in a few unexpected places and more beak trimming.

But a couple of weeks ago we spent time with Boyd Huppert and his cameraman, Jonathan Malat from KARE 11 TV in the Twin Cities. They were doing a segment on Houston County, Minnesota, and somehow got the idea that owls figured prominently in that picture. Go figure.

This year we're actually having a real old-fashioned winter with lots of snow and wind and cold temperatures. So the first date we had scheduled to meet with Boyd was cancelled due to a blizzard. The second date had a small amount of freezing rain, but they came and did the shoot anyway. True Minnesotans.

They came over to our house in the late afternoon, after Alice was up for the day, and did some filming of Alice in the house. She hooted and hooted and hooted for them, which I'm sure meant "Hey, there are strangers in my territory!" She did well with the cameras until they got REALLY close to her, then she turned tail and tried to push her way into the bedroom to escape.

By that time it was owling time anyway, so we left her to chill out a bit. Boyd had asked me to get some friends together to go out calling wild owls after dark. Although I had called several people, everyone said it would depend on the weather, and when it came right down to it, the only ones who came were my friends Julie and Tat from Hillsboro, Wisconsin an hour and a half away! Freezing rain, schmeezing rain.

At our first stop we all piled out of our vehicles and while I set up the CD player, Boyd and Jonathan set up lights and such so they could film us. I started with a screech-owl recording with no luck, then moved on to a Great Horned Owl recording, and then just imitated the Great Horned Owl with my own voice (which I'm quite comfortable doing after hooting for years with Alice.)

And an owl answered me! Julie and I couldn't see worth a hoot due to the flashlights necessary for filming, but Ken and Tat were having too much fun playing with the night vision we had brought along. The owl continued to call from the same location for quite a while, and the crew even managed to record the call.

We tried a second stop where Julie did a kick-butt Eastern Screech-Owl imitation (she used to live with one when she was a naturalist.) I chimed in later with Northern Saw-whet and Barred Owl imitations. All we got were a couple of short contact calls from a screech and a single whinny. But the crew had what they needed.

The next morning Boyd and Jonathan came back to our place to film Alice's commute to work. They taped a little camera on the dashboard of my Tracker, did some filming outside of the vehicle as we drove, and partway there Jonathan hopped in with the big camera. Alice was distracted by Bald Eagles feeding on a dead White-tailed Deer carcass, so she wasn't overly perturbed by the big camera in the car.

We finished off with filming just a bit in the nature center, then I took them up to the hill that overlooks Houston for some scenic shots

At any rate, the segment aired last night on KARE 11. You can view it online at to see what this area looks like if you haven't been here before.
Alice is featured throughout, so don't stop watching when they switch topics.

We're also gearing up for our big International Festival of Owls February 29 - March 2. Not even two weeks to go! Full details are at