Friday, May 28, 2010

Site Preparation

Tim Nelson leveling the site with his bulldozer.

We all had to be patient and wait for the road bans to go off so work could begin on the cages. Step one was to level the site to provide for adequate drainage, and that involved a bulldozer. Thankfully we had a dry spring so things were dry and the road bans went off several weeks earlier than usual.

Tim Nelson was the man with the machine. He was over at my place with his bulldozer and son to do the job just days after the ban went off. He ripped out lots of small trees that were in the way, put a crown on the future floor of the cages, and left everything just right so the water will flow away from the cages and down into a ditch when it rains. And talk about a great guy--Tim didn't charge a penny for his work!

Steve Hoskins digging the trench.

Next up was the trenching and electrical work. Steve Hoskins of Hoskins Electric was here the second the rain ended. He dug a trench from the cages to the garage so he could run an electrical cable and also trenched to the house so we could bury the cables for the remote cameras and microphone in some conduit. Although the owls themselves don't need the electricity, the security cameras do, as does Roger's cage building equipment!

Besides digging those trenches, Steve also trenched all around the periphery of the cages (mind you one cage is 12x36' and the other is 10x60'.) This trench is necessary so we can put wire mesh two feet down into the ground to prevent digging critters from getting into the owl cages. Thank goodness for Steve's trencher, as it would have taken forever to dig otherwise!!!

Not only was Steve great to get the job done ASAP, he donated all of the trenching work.

The fine folks from Tri-County Electric Cooperative digging the holes for the footings.

Next up was getting the holes dug for the footings. We had one person lined up, but he was having equipment issues. After trying a few other options I called Brian Krambeer, CEO of Tri-County Electric Cooperative. I knew if they had the equipment, they would do the job, as Tri-County installed an artificial Great Horned Owl nest in a tree for me several years ago. (Unfortunately I haven't gotten owls to nest there yet.)

Now THAT'S how to dig holes!!! A huge auger on a big truck and two guys who do this every day. They made short work of a job that would have taken forever and a day with a post hole digger. By the time Tri-County was on the scene I had realized that I had young screech-owls just about to fledge in a nest box in my yard, so I treated the guys to a peek at the two remaining owlets.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Getting Started

The good folks at Badger Corrugating in LaCrosse loading up Laurel's trailer.

My yard now looks like a lumberyard. My dear neighbor Laurel Oien has been Roger's indefatiguable assistant. Roger hauled the steel from Badger Corrugating (half of which was donated) and Laurel hauled two loads of lumber they sold us at cost for the project. Laurel also hauled another load of Quikrete from Badger (again at cost) and we had a bit of an eventful ride home. It seems in an effort to make it easier for us to unload the 60 lb bags by hand, they were loaded in the back of the trailer, behind the wheels. Needless to say 80 bags of this stuff lifted up the hitch a bit, and with it the back end of the pickup. Let's just say there was some serious fishtailing followed by some manual moving of many of the bags to the front of the trailer, and we all arrived safely.

Here Roger Meyer, Laurel Oien and my fiance Hein Bloem unload the trusses by hand.

Then it was off to West Salem to get the trusses from Select Trusses and Lumber, which they sold us at cost. Thankfully it was a totally uneventful trip.

Then there were pallets purchased from a surplus store that Hein Bloem, my fiance, disassembled for the wood. He took apart 10 pallets and it took an hour each, but we got some great (cheap) lumber out of the deal.

Hein patiently taking apart a pallet.

The Great Owl Cage Project

Roger Meyer giving directions to bulldozer operator Tim Nelson.

For two and a half years I've been planning The Great Owl Cage project. The goal is to breed a pair of non-releasable Great Horned Owls and observe them using remote cameras and microphones to learn more about their vocalizations. I've been studying Great Horned Owl vocalizations since 2004 using Alice and my wild neighbor owls as a base along with a few nest observations. But there are some things that are darn near impossible to record in wild owls.

I want to know what kind of behavior (and associated vocalizations) happen in the nest selection process. Who picks the nest? I want to record vocalizations during copulation. I want to record Mom talking to her eggs. I want to record the first sounds an owlet makes while still in an egg. I want to find out how long it takes a young owl to develop its normal territorial hoot and how much practicing is involved. Do Mom and Dad's territorial hoots stay the same over the years? Do the offspring have hoot characteristics inherited from their parents? Much of this can best be learned with captive birds.

So in 2007 I got permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to breed a pair of non-releasable owls. Marge Gibson of the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, WI came up with the perfect owls for me not long after--a male and a female with eye injuries that prevented their release, but certainly wouldn't prevent them from breeding normally. And even better...the two owls seemed to LIKE each other and get along well. (You can't just plunk two birds in a cage and expect them to breed. They might...but then again they might not like each other!)

The main holdup for the project was finding someone to draw up plans for the cages and come up with a materials list. Oh, and they had to do it as a volunteer.

The first person I lined up got too busy, then his health took a downturn. The next person didn't pan out either. And then finally, after two years, I found the man for the job right under my nose: Roger Meyer.

I knew of Roger's reputation. He's retired and involved in all kinds of volunteer projects from Habitat for Humanity to the maple syrup project at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church to the Houston Community Garden and more. And Roger isn't just "a volunteer" in these projects. He's a mover and a of the main people making things happen. And not just happen...happen at lightening speed. And guess what?? He loves owls, and is a retired builder. Too perfect.

So I met several times with Roger to discuss cage requirements and he drafted plans. Once the material list was done we were off tracking down donations. The Houston Nature Center runs heavily on donations, so I was quite used to this. Roger was no stranger to the game either with all the projects he's been involved in.

To make a long story short, the building market is slow, so businesses didn't have big profits from which to donate. But we were able to line up nearly everything at cost and got some items donated. Plus people were generous with their cash donations. (See the donor and volunteer list on the right...and we're not done yet!)

The last thing I need to track down is security cameras and microphones. I've put in a few calls and e-mails to security companies and manufacturers, but nothing yet. Key word is YET. In case you've got connections, I'm looking for day/night cams with audio and infrared illuminators in outdoor housing that can be streamed onto the internet. Kind of high end stuff! But it's very important, as I want the video to stream online so anyone can watch it anywhere in the world and help make observations.