Friday, February 12, 2010

Alice lays an egg!!

All I can say is I wasn't expecting it!

Last January Alice laid the first egg of her life at nearly 12 years of age. But she ate it three days later. So much for that experience.

She starting acting like she was going to lay an egg this year the beginning of January. She sat on her nest 24 hours a day, only getting off to poop and get a drink about once every other day. She stopped eating. I was sure she was going to lay an egg. But after several days of this, she gradually reverted to leaving her nest at night, and she started eating again. Oh well. Hein was here then, so maybe she wasn't quite ready to lay an egg with him around (although she got along with him great!)

Then immediately after Hein left in mid January, Alice started in on the eggy behavior again. Sitting flat on her nest like she was incubating an egg. Not eating. Staying on her nest 24/7. But each time I stuck my hand under her to feel for an egg, all I felt was her feathered toes.

Throughout all of this she hooted with me a lot and wanted to "copulate" a lot. The male owl would normally fly in and land on the female's back to do the deed, so for Alice "copulation" means me putting my hand on her back and nuzzling her neck with my nose. It's kind of nice that I can actually touch her like this, because I can't the rest of the year.

Since she wasn't laying an egg, I decided her "maternity leave" from work was over. The City Maintenance guys had built her a cool new perch in the nature center office, complete with its own poop catcher. So I brought Alice in to work last Saturday.

She was soooooo uncomfortable. I don't think it was the perch, but she just didn't want to be away from her nest. She pooped a lot (which she only does at work when she's scared or nervous), she stood on both feet the whole time (she tucks a foot up when she's comfortable), and she didn't sleep a wink (she normally dozes all day.) And when we got home she went straight upstairs and sat on her nest.

And then she started being nesty again. I didn't think a thing of it. Wednesday morning when I went to work she was squatting in her nest instead of sitting. I thought maybe she was going to get past the nesty thing. But when I came home she was flattened out on her nest in her incubation posture. I still wasn't surprised, but I stuck my hand under her just to check anyway.

I felt around, but what I felt didn't feel like toes! I had to part her feathers to confirm that yes indeed, my dear Alice had laid an egg!

I think it's bigger than last year's egg, and a bright white. She sat on it straight through until this morning when she got off at 6:30 AM to get a drink and poop. (WOW did that poop STINK after holding it for two days!!!) After being off for no more than 5-10 minutes, she was back on her egg. A devoted Mom.

This time she's changing position a lot when she incubates. Sometimes she faces to the back, sometimes to the side, sometimes kitty corner. She never did that before. And now she hisses at me whenever I enter the room. She chitters a greeting first, but then she's telling me to leaver her alone with some hissing.

She always sits low in the nest. No wonder it's so hard to see wild owls when they're incubating. All you'd ever see are ear tufts.

I half expected a second egg to arrive today, but nope, there's still only one. I'll keep you posted when something of note happens. But watching an owl incubate eggs can be incredibly unexciting.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A New Man in Our Life

Alice getting attention from Hein first thing in the morning.

Let's face it. If you're single and have a Great Horned Owl who thinks you're her mate living in your house, dating becomes quite interesting. And the number of interested men is severely limited from the get go.

I met Hein Bloem in Holland in 2007. He was one of the organizers of the World Owl Conference, and I went to present a paper on Great Horned Owl vocalizations. I met him as soon as I walked into the hotel and felt like I had known him forever from the get-go. Then he came to the International Festival of Owls I coordinate in 2008, and we got along magnificently. So after my marriage ended shortly thereafter, we gave things a try and were very happy together.

Alice, however, didn't like being ignored and tried to pounce on his feet at least once or twice. But with 4,000+ miles between us, we most certainly didn't see much of each other, and although we were the best of friends and loved each other dearly, the relationship ended.

So I started seeing someone who lived just a little bit closer. Like one mile down the road.

Alice wasn't overjoyed with this situation either. At least three times she came downstairs to pounce on his feet. But over the course of several months she seemed to more or less get used to his presence. But he was pretty ambivalent about owls (how is that even possible???), and he wasn't looking for a serious relationship. In the meantime, my dear Dutchman had decided he was going to make our relationship work no matter how many times I told him no.

To make a long story short, I ended things with my neighbor and got back together with Hein. He spent a month here from the middle of December to the middle of January. This time we knew things would work out for us, but I was unsure of what Alice would think of the whole situation.

So crazy as it sounds, I spent lots of time talking to Alice, telling her Hein was coming, and that he was a good man. And when Hein and I would Skype, Alice often joined in. She hooted and Hein hooted back. It was a good thing.

When Hein arrived, he had the perfect mixture of respect and appreciation for Alice. He gave her her space at first, hooted with her, and just spent time with her (hours on end scrubbing the floor of her room!) Eventually he was able to put his forehead to her forehead to hoot with her.

I had no idea how close their bond was becoming until one evening when Alice was hooting on the hall railing. Hein leaned down and put his elbows on the railing, and Alice ran into his arms to be cuddled!! No joke.

A. Alice doesn't run to anyone for attention. B. Owls don't particularly like to be cuddled. But Alice did it. No less than three times (it might have been more.)

Like Hein says, all women like attention (feathered or not.) He's right. And we think he's the right man for us.

England Again!

Me with Chocolate the European Eagle Owl during "Meet the Birds" (photo by Trystan Williams)

Wow, it's been ridiculously long since I last posted. A lot has been happening in my life as well as Alice's! So I'll begin to start catching up on my sorely belated posting.
I spent the second half of October in England as part of my Bush Leadership Fellowship. I stayed with Tony Warburton (founder of the World Owl Trust) and his partner Jenny Thurston. The goal of my trip was to see a variety of owl centers, from good to bad, to give me some very clear ideas of what I do and don't want to do when I create a North American Owl Center in Houston, Minnesota.

Tony put a lot of thought and effort into crafting my itinerary, and when all was said and done I had traveled about 1,000 miles. But wow, was it worth it!! I got all kinds of great ideas, talked to phenomenal and passionate people, and had great discussions about it all with Tony.

While I was there I visited Furness Owls, Yorkshire Dales Falconry Centre, the Hawk Conservancy Trust, the International Centre for Birds of Prey, and Dave Bellis (the best private owl breeder in the UK.) But I spent the most time at the World Owl Centre...the facility Tony started.

The World Owl Centre is located at Muncaster Castle in Ravenglass in the Lake District. It is phenomenally beautiful there, between the castle and the grounds. Throw in the owl centre and it's like I was in heaven.

I was lucky enough to spend two days working with the keepers there (Wulf, Michelle, Trystan and Vicky), learning how they care for the owls, observing (and even getting to participate in!) the daily Meet the Birds program, asking them all kinds of questions about Great Horned Owl behavior and vocalizations (they breed South American Horned Owls there, so this was awesome from my perspective of conducting a vocal study on the species!), and more.

I spent time with their Conservation Officer, Hilary Lang. While I was out with her she checked on some Barn Owls at a mining museum along the sea and in a farmer's barn. It was interesting to see how the people there all seem to be so interested in helping owls!

I also spent a lot of time on the road with David Armitage, the Collection Manager. He was the one who did all the driving to all the other facilities I visited. I do have to say it's a whole different ballgame in England since you can buy, sell and trade owls there. And since the owls are captive reared, it's much easier to train them to fly for audiences. It gave me lots to think about.

I can't even begin to give details on this whole trip or I'd find myself writing a book. Suffice it to say it was a trip of a lifetime (although I think this is the third time I've had a "trip of a lifetime!") I owe an ENORMOUS thanks to Tony for arranging this all and for graciously and generously hosting me in his home the whole time (and thanks to Jenny too!!)