March 17, 2014 – Great Horned Owl


Dredge and Rainey Report
Ground-nesting Great Horned Owl

May 03, 2013

All through the winter, there have been a pair of Great Horned Owls in the vicinity of the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary headquarters. In January, the Senior Sanctuary Manager, Timmy Vincent, discovered that they had established a nest on the ground at the base of one of our big oak trees. It wasn’t much of a nest, but soon there were two white eggs to watch.

Figure 1. January 14, 2014, parent owl sitting on the nest at the base of a large oak tree on the Rainey headquarters grounds.

Figure 2.On January 31, 2014, we found there were two eggs in the depression used as a nest.

With this opportunity thrust at our feet (pun intended), we endeavored to establish an online streaming video feed of the nest and related activities. I emailed every contact in Audubon for help. Meanwhile, we bought an off-the-shelf surveillance system with a DVR that was supposed to have online access.

We have been researching how to do this for some time now, but kept getting thwarted by the remoteness of the Sanctuary and limited power, internet, and even cellular access. With the nest only 100-ft away from the guesthouse we’ve been working on for so long, power was no longer an issue. With a new wireless router and a range extender, an internet connection was also not a problem. So, on January 31, 2014, we had a surveillance camera with night vision setup roughly 20 feet from the nest, and could watch it on the computer screen in the main headquarters building a good 400 feet away.

I did my best to configure the system for online access, but could not access it through my phone as the documents stated. Thus began a long running series of phone calls between the DVR manufacturer and our internet provider, both of which required long waits on hold. The final concluding result of several days/weeks discussion and research was that we could not stream video through our satellite internet connection. Thus, an external hardrive was purchased to transfer all video downloaded from the DVR for later viewing/streaming.

Figure 3. We set up a surveillance camera on the nest (shown by red arrow) on January 31, 2014

Figure 4. With a surveillance camera set up, we could watch the nest from inside the headquarters.

Figure 5. Night-vision allowed 24-hr surveillance

Sometime during the weekend, probably on February 2, 2014 by best we could tell on the video recordings, the eggs hatched. We have no clue what happened to the other egg or chick, for by the time we got pictures 3-days later, there was only one owlet. This was during the most hellacious winter weather south Louisiana has seen in a long time, with a week of below freezing nights, including sleet and freezing rain. These are some tough birds!

Figure 6. On February 5, 2014, the owlet was roughly 3 days old, and sits beside a leftover meal of teal.

We discovered that our video surveillance cameras just weren’t of a resolution to let us see what was actually happening at the nest, and we were reluctant to move the camera any closer and disturb the new family. Another camera, meant for nest boxes, was procured and installed on the tree above the nest area. This allowed two views to watch activities, one just of the nest and one of the surrounding area.

We were captivated, and each one of us would watch the video whenever we were in the headquarters. We dubbed the owlet “PJ” (for the Paul J Rainey Sanctuary), and soon caught on to the daily routine. Not much happened during the daylight hours. The male would bring food in, the female would meet him and take it from him to return to the nest around 5-6 AM. It was almost exclusively birds: teal, coot, snowy egret, black-necked stilt. Luckily, I never saw a Green Heron. The meal would stay in the nest area and be fed to the owlet periodically. The parent would either eat the rest or take it away after a day or two.

We were worried about predators until Timmy witnessed, twice, the adults chasing a full grown bobcat away. As the owlet grew, the parents became more and more aggressive. They were somewhat used to us wandering around taking care of the grounds, but when we approached the nest to deal with cameras or take pictures, they would hover ominously nearby, clacking their bills loudly. I even carried a laundry basket over my head and shoulders one day, just to make sure!

Figure 7. A second camera was installed above the nest for a more intimate look into the life of a growing owlet.

Figure 8. On February 12, 2014, PJ was 10-days old and sits next to leftover meal of coot.

Figure 9. February 13, 2014, meals were coot and snowy egret.

Figure 10. On February 18, 2014, PJ is 16 days old and looking more like a toddler.

Figure 11. February 19, 2014, 17 days old. Notice the feathered feet.

Figure 12. February 28, 2014, 26 days old and starting to develop ear tufts.

Figure 13 .On March 1, 2014, PJ was 4 weeks old and had developed his parents glare. He also started clacking his bill when I came too close.

Figure 14. March 6, 2014. This was the last picture I got of him before he became mobile, left the nest, and I couldn’t find him.

An example of the owl video from the overhead camera can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMDQ_8Ll1FI&feature=youtu.be

It is almost 6 minutes long, and a parent brings in a coot around minute 2.5. There are many vocalizations from all birds, including the other parent that is apparently nearby. Background buzzing noise I think is the water pump.

I still hope to overcome the challenges of an online streaming video feed from the Rainey Sanctuary. Proper equipment, such as that with the Eagle Cams and Puffin Cam, cost $20K just for one system. The internet is probably our biggest obstacle, and until we can establish a link to a landline, decent video resolution and live streaming can not happen. I think there is a system that uses solar power and cellular data uplink for $5K, but that is limited in bandwidth as well and involves a hefty monthly data plan.

So, until that time, I will continue to bring Rainey to the public through the blog, website and Facebook.

 

 

Karen A Westphal and Timmy J Vincent, National Audubon Society
Audubon Louisiana and the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Refuge
6160 Perkins Road, Suite 215, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
225-768-0921x202 office, kwestphal@audubon.org
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