Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What's going on? 11-26-13

Although Rusty and Iris were successfully hunting and killing rats in the flight pen when the owlets were still there, mice seem to have complete and total impunity in the breeding pen. Here's a field mouse running around all over the nest again. Are these mice pets or what?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rusty and Iris' Happy Reunion

Iris definitely missed Rusty when he had his eye surgery and was recovering in a dog carrier for nearly a week.  Rusty still heard Iris over the monitoring system, and he always hooted back immediately whenever he heard her. He also hooted back when he heard Alice, which certainly startled Alice to hear Rusty IN her house!

In Rusty's absence Iris had to deal with Rhett and Delilah's nightly intrusions.  Besides hooting on and around their aviaries, Rhett and Delilah figured out how to get INTO the open flight pen.  The door had been left open so the owlets could return to mooch food if needed, but they didn't.

It seemed a long wait to get through Rusty's medication dosing so he could go back with Iris.  I was only too happy to close the outside door to the flight pen to prevent the wild owls from coming in and to put Rusty back out there.  He was disoriented at first, probably from a combination of being in a dog carrier for almost a week and from the effects of missing his right eye.  Their eyes are huge, so missing that much weight on one side of his head could easily affect things.  

Rusty didn't fly much once he got up onto a perch, but he did hoot some, as did Iris.

It wasn't until the next night, after Rusty had eaten his last pill-laden food, that I could open the door between the pens so Rusty and Iris could be together again.  And what a happy occasion it was!!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rhett and Delilah on the window ledge 11-12-13

This one is Rhett on the window ledge with Delilah flying in to hoot with him. They've been pestering Iris the last several nights, flying INTO the flight pen.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rusty's Surgery

Rusty is in captivity because he was hit by a car and left blind in his right eye.  His bad eye has been bothering him lately, though.  A vet checkup led to a determination that his bad eye needed to be removed.  He had a large corneal ulcer, dislocated lens, and a big honking cataract.  His eye pressure was normal, so we were given the option of no surgery and trying to treat the ulcer.  This would involve catching and treating his eye three times a day for two weeks.  No guarantees it would work, and the cataract could still cause swelling and issues in the future.  We decided surgery to remove the eye would be far less stressful for Rusty, and would certainly take care of the issues.

We were anxious to get the surgery done so Rusty could be feeling good for the upcoming breeding season.  He and Iris normally start copulation by mid to late November, so that time is essentially upon us!

The day of the surgery we caught Rusty up, put him into a dog carrier, and drove him 2.5 hours up to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center in St. Paul.  We caught Rusty up and left at about 8 AM.

Dr. Henriksen and her staff were excellent to talk to.  Drew from The Raptor Center assisted, since they don't usually handle raptors at the Vet Medical Center.  Needless to say we didn't get to stay for the surgery, but they did take photos for us and got special permission for us to post them.  Thanks!!

Here's Rusty down and out for the count, under anesthesia.

Since owl eyes are so huge, you can see the side of them in their ears.  Because of this the incision to remove the eye was made from the ear over to the eye.  The surgical site had to be plucked of feathers first.  I think owls look a LOT nicer with feathers!!

I do have photos of the surgery itself, but I won't post them because I think most people wouldn't want to see them.  The photos show how they held the eyelids open, the eyeball itself coming out, and sewing up the large gaping hole.  This is a major surgery for an owl since one eyeball is about the size of its entire brain.  That's almost 1/3 of the stuff in the head being removed.  Dr. Henriksen said owls will sometimes hold their heads tilted after eye removal surgery.

Here's Rusty, all sewn up but still knocked out.  

We kept him in the carrier overnight.  He didn't eat anything and thumped around some.  In the morning I switched him to a larger carrier and quick snapped this photo.  Looking much more handsome than the last photo!

Tonight he needed his first dose of antibiotics and pain meds from us (he got them at the vet's the day of surgery.)  Hein held him, I put his pill in his food, and I fed him bits of food.  He ate VERY well, although Hein's sweatshirt got a nice amount of gopher blood on it (and Rusty got some blood on his bib.  Owl bibs aren't made for blood....)  He was full of spunk, but took his meds like a good owl.

Hein did a great job holding Rusty, even when he decided he didn't want to be held anymore.  But for the most part he resigned himself to being held and doing what we needed him to do.

Four more days and then back to Iris!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Delilah Comes to Visit

Now that the owlets are out and on their own, I'm leaving the door to the flight pen open for a while.  This is so I can still put out food on their regular feeding tray and they can come and mooch if needed.  So far no takers, although Patrick was back in the neighborhood for a bit this morning.

So with the door open, I'm hoping that the wild owls will make an appearance.  Tonight we had a heck of a hootenanny going on with Rhett and Delilah in the yard, Alice hooting in her outdoor patio, and Rusty and Iris going nuts trying to defend their little territory.

I knew it was going to go on forever, so I left since it was time to make supper.  As I was making supper I kept peeking at the cams, saying "One of these owls simply has to go into the flight pen!"

So when I got back on to my computer after supper, I saw that critterwatcher had sent me a photo of an owl standing in the open door!  Whoa!!!!  So who was it?  I can only tell by voice, not by seeing them, so I immediately pulled up the video.  Thankfully the owl in question hooted repeatedly: it was Delilah!

After I went to bed at least two owls came INTO the flight pen.  I haven't had a chance to review and figure out who it was, but they didn't eat the gopher on the food tray.

Today's the big day for Rusty's surgery!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Map of the Owlets' Travels

View Pandora, Patrick and Patience Locations in a larger map

Pandora is yellow

Patrick is blue
Patience is pink

Pushpins mean a pretty close location
Round pins are only ballpark

Please be respectful of the owls, us, and our neighbors.  This map is intended for you to share in the explorations of the owls, but not as an invitation for you to visit the area to try to see them.  The owlets will fare better if they don't have to deal with any more humans than the few that live here.  Thank you for your kindness and consideration.

The Release of the Owlets, 11-8-13

The day finally arrived for the owlets to fly the coop!  My criteria for releasing them was that they had to have developed their full adult hoots and could hunt respectably.  At nearly 8 months of age, they were there.

Bob Anderson and Amy Ries of the Raptor Resource Project had come a few days ago and put the transmitters on the owlets' tails so we could track them using radio telemetry.  We held them a few days to make sure the owlets didn't have any issues with their new "bling", and they didn't even seem to notice them.

Friday, November 8, 2013 was THE DAY.  I wanted to send them off with full tummies, so I fed them at 5 PM.  I wasn't going to give them any live rats that night, since I didn't want rats running around in the pen with no one to catch them if they weren't all eaten immediately.  But I caught a few deer mice in a live trap that day, so I plopped them in the flight pen along with the big chunks of pocket gopher.

The owlets went for the mice first, then ate their gopher, just as I had hoped.

At 7 PM, the appointed hour, I got onto chat, along with Hein, and did a little talking about the project, goals, and what we've all learned.  (I can't resist giving a little "program" when I have an audience of over 100 people like that for such a momentous occasion.)

Then finally Hein and I put on our jackets and headlamps and headed outside.  Hein had two ladders already stashed at the far end of the flight pen by the exit door.  He set up the wooden ladder for me so I could climb up and unlock the door and open it.  On my way up one of the rungs snapped.  Thankfully I didn't have much weight on it.  I guess that's what happens when you store a wooden ladder outside with one side on the ground!  (The ladder was originally bolted into place by the exit door, but we took it down to prevent animals from climbing up it.)

So Hein set up the folding aluminum ladder for me and up I climbed.  The padlock was easy to unlock, but the door took a little tugging to get open.  Bear in mind it hasn't been open since the building was built three years ago!

I climbed down and Hein took the ladder and put it up on the other side of the door.  He needed to install a new hook to hold the door open since the hook originally installed was bent open and wouldn't hold.  He had all the tools so it went fairly easily, but while he was getting set up the first owlet flew out!  That was unexpected, but the girls sometimes just fly around not knowing what to do when they're scared.

When we finished we simply laid the ladder down and walked away.  As we were leaving girl #2 flew out.  These owls flew out in fear, I'm sure, not because they were curious and ready to go.

So we went inside to assess the situation.  A sweep of the cam revealed Patrick snugly tucked into a hide box on the wall as faaaaar away from the exit door as possible.  He was staring out the open door, wide-eyed, and you could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears because he was thinking so hard.  I've seen this look from Alice before: something so new it's mind-blowing and requires a loooong time to process.

He tucked up a foot and I knew he had no intentions of leaving anytime soon.  Bets were on that moderator rose would be the only one to stay long enough to see Patrick leave.

I watched until 10 PM and then went to bed.

I woke up early the next morning to the sound of owlet begging calls in the trees outside the bedroom window, and I got up quickly to see if Patrick had left.  YES!  So I quickly reviewed the video so see when he left.  I watched at 64-speed as he sat there, got a snack, went back to his box, flew to the V-perch, went back to his box, and mostly did nothing.  But at 5:13 AM he finally was ready, and flew slowly out the door to the big world outside.

The owlets got an immediate lesson in Crows 101: they all got mobbed and chased and swore at by the resident murder of crows.  (Yes, that's what you call a group of crows.  A group of owls is a "parliament" which sounds much nicer.)

At any rate, the owlets all settled in nearby and we'll track them daily to see where they're going.

This post would not be complete without the creativity of wyoranch and teachcon.  Below are poems they composed for the occasion.  Thanks!

3P’s Farewell by wyoranch

Our 3 little P’s are quite grown up and ready to leave
                We’re so happy to see them go, so why do we bereave?

They have delighted us with their antics, demonstrated their hoots,
                Raced with rats, tinkered with toys and cached various loots

They have enriched our lives, these precious three.
                We wish you to grow strong, live long and to be free.

Find a mate, settle down and have a clutch of your own.
                Remember, wherever you are wherever you go, you’re never alone

Etched in our thoughts and forever in our hearts you will always remain
                Know the door is always open if you’re hungry and Karla won’t complain

Pandora, Patrick and Patience we love you with all our might
                Now away to the outside, to the sky take flight!

Alternate Ending:

Hmmm, hey you Patrick – did you miss your cue?
                It’s time to leave home, look at that view!

Fly out and back and do it over and over again
                Your future is waiting and a whole new life to begin!

A poem by teachon:

There was a great disturbance, in the land that day
The stores were overrun with people, in states of disarray
Shelves emptied of their stock
Leaving managers scratching their heads
What would cause this sudden rush, of folks running in their Keds
Unknown to the people in the land
There was some rhyme and some reason 
It had to do with the season
The owlies were leaving their little home, out into the world they were going
The run on Kleenix at the store? 
"Cuz sad chatters, all  their noses were blowing!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

One of the Girls Swallows a Rat Whole

This morning at work I had the cams up and heard a noise that sounded suspiciously like an owlet hitting gravel.  I saw one owlet missing from the perch, so quickly logged into the PTZ cam and waited an agonizing amount of time before I had video.  I panned to where the other owlets were looking to find one of the girls on the ground with a rat that she had just caught.  Right after I panned over she proceed to swallow the rat WHOLE!  First time I've seen one of the owlets swallow something whole since they were 10 days old.

She proceeded to look for another rat in hiding, and a few hours later caught another one.  That one she tore into bits to eat, as usual.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Putting on Transmitters

When it came time to put the tail-mounted transmitters on the owlets before their release, I really wanted someone with some experience to help put them on.  I knew they were supposed to be sewn onto the central two tail feathers, but I figured a voice of experience could make the process go so much smoother.  Thankfully Bob Anderson and Amy Ries of the Raptor Resource Project were willing to take a good chunk of time to lead this project, despite being busy with the Decorah Eagle Cam.

Bob is a very thorough person.  He brought along an extremely solid thread used to repair wetsuits that "you can tow a car" with, according to Bob.  It simply won't break down.  He asked for all kinds of materials from us: alcohol, a squirt bottle, epoxy, towels, needles, boxes, and more. He walked all four of us through how the process would go before we ever went out to get the first bird.  We were ready.

Catching the owlets wasn't too hard, although more difficult than their parents.  The owlets didn't stay in the net when they flew in...they tried to get out right away, and all succeeded at least once.  Patrick was the first to be caught and telemetered, if that's a verb.

I carried him in, his feet were taped with painter's tape to make sure he didn't foot Amy, who would be doing "foot holding" duty.  His head was covered with a towel, he was laid on his belly, and I gently restrained his wings and upper body while Amy held his feet.

Bob separated the central two tail feathers and exposed the lower portions of their shafts. Hein sewed the thread through the four holes of the transmitter around the feather shafts, one piece of string wrapped several times around each shaft per hole.  This was seriously a four person job.

Bob put epoxy on each knot at the end, we let it dry, and then Patrick was put into a box until we finished with the girls.

Each of the girls went through the same process.  Bob was amazed at how well behaved they were compared to Peregrines.  Patrick didn't struggle at all, and each of the girls only had one squirm session.

When all of the owlets were outfitted with their new bling and we had recorded which owl had which frequency transmitter, we carried them all back to their flight pen.  We saved Patience, the last of the bunch, the insult of going into a box...I simply carried her out with a towel on her head.

We released them one by one and they all settled immediately onto their perches, ear tufts straight up to tell us they were not happy campers.

We'll keep the owlets a few more days to make sure there are no issues with them wearing the transmitters.  Then on Friday evening we'll open the door to the world and let them go.  I expect they'll come back into the flight to mooch food for a while until they're confident on their own, so we'll probably still get glimpses of them.  And there's also a chance we might finally get to see Rhett and Delilah on cam too.

It'll be exciting and a great learning experience to see where they go and how far they stray...and if Victor hooks up with one of the girls.  He's been single over a year, so he should be in the market....

Friday, November 01, 2013

Getting Ready for Release

Now that all three owlets have their full adult territorial hoots, it's time to get them on their way. I have the radio telemetry equipment, but wanted to have someone with some experience put it on.  I contacted a couple of experienced folks who would have been happy to help but were just simply too swamped. Thankfully Bob Anderson, although very busy himself, was willing to do it with Amy Reis on Monday or Tuesday.

The transmitter itself will be mounted on the central two "deck" feathers of the tail.  It will be sewn on to the feathers, and will fall off the owls when they molt those feathers next summer.  So the trick is to then get the transmitters reattached to the birds so I can track them for a full year as the MN DNR requires.

Here you can see the transmitter positioned on a dead owl (dead owls are great for practicing things like  attaching transmitters).

These are not satellite transmitters, and I'll need to track the owls with a receiver, pictured below.  Basically I tune it to the channel of each transmitter, move it around, and go in the direction that gives the loudest beeps.  I hope the range on these transmitters and the good receiver I got will be able to handle the travels of the owlets.

Now before the transmitters are put on the owls we need to practice using the receiver to locate the transmitters, and involve the man who has agreed to help us track the owls.  Kind of like playing hide-and-seek.

Once the transmitters are attached to the owlets, we'll keep them a couple of more days to make sure everything is going well with owls and transmitters.  Then we'll open the door to the big wide world and see what happens!

From Baby to Teen to Adult Hoots!

Patrick has finally gotten his hoot! The girls both were doing full-blown adult territorial hoots before Patrick, but he has finally caught up with his sisters. All owlets were doing "emphatic hoots" (hoots with extra notes in them that indicated they are not happy campers) before they did their real territorial hoots.

Now that they have gotten their hoots and have practiced on rats, they are ready to meet the world. I hope to get their transmitters put onto their tail feathers this weekend, then give them a few days in their flight pen to make sure everything is working well, then I'll open the door to the big, wide world outside. And I'll be crossing my fingers that Victor takes a liking to one of the girls so we have one that stays very close by.

Once I've opened the door to the wild, I'll still provide dead gopher in their flight pen so they can come back and mooch until they are self-sufficient hunters. This is called a "soft release" or a "soft hack."

We'll be able to track the owlets using VHF transmitters. This isn't like satellite transmitters (which are very expensive) that just transmit locations that you can download every day. These transmitters require human beings to go out with a receiver and pin down the owls' locations by the beeping. Thankfully we have one person willing to help us with this task. We need to track them for a year to see where they settle and how they fare.

I'll let you know as we pin down dates for putting on the transmitters and for release, but it will be SOON!"