Monday, December 31, 2012

May 3, 2012: A Most Unusual Food Delivery

What makes this food delivery unusual? First it happened during the day. Second, it was a whole mouse (wondered where my bold bird feeder mice went to). Third, Mme. Owl was spending daytime outside the nest due to the heat, but showed-up, called to her mate, and eventually he arrived with this mouse, still in daylight, a time when screech owls especially do not want to be seen. So this is one of the oddest food deliveries I can remember seeing.

Fortunately, the S2071 automatically recorded these events. Unfortunately, it was set to start recording six seconds before motion was detected in the entryway, and to stop sixty seconds afterward, so you don’t so much get a slice of owl life from this movie, as slices. When there's been a meaningful gap between consecutive recordings, you will notice breaks in the video (some very obvious, some less so). Those correspond to periods when there was no motion in the entryway to trigger recording. Nonetheless, take all the fragments for a 56 minute period, even though they capture only 18 minutes of it, run them together into a single movie, and the result is still of interest (IMHO). The sound was a problem however: my nightmare hum was present at the time all of this occurred. I've filtered it out, but the side-effects of doing so are over-emphasized high frequencies, and the addition, at times, of what sounds like an echo, which is definitely not a sonic characteristic of the nest box.

May 3, 2012, 7:24 to 8:21 PM CDT
266.7 MB MPEG-4 movie, of 17:56 duration.

As this movie begins, the eldest owlet was 9 days, 4 hours and 20 minutes old, ±16 minutes, while the youngest owlet was exactly 6 days, 3 hours and 31 minutes old. No idea how old the mouse was, or even its species.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

December 29/30 Mme. Owl Visits Again

Mme. Owl visits the nest box once again, complete with egg depression work. Not sure what more to say, except that, if all of these visits start to look the same, the frequency of them is well worth observing and recording. Also, at some point, we should witness the male owl call to his mate from the nest site, as part of, what I believe to be, the start of the mating ritual (“See: I found you a good place to nest. Can we have sex now?”).

December 30, 2012, 6:09 AM CST
19.7 MB MPEG-4 movie.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

December 28/29 Nest Site Preparation

Mme. Owl stopped by the nest box at 6:04 AM CST to do a little nest site prep. That consists, as usual, of kicking around the bedding material to make a depression for the eggs she’ll eventually lay. Another means to the same end, not seen here, is for the female to push the bedding material around using her breast like the blade of a bulldozer. That behavior, however, may be reserved for looser material than that currently present in the nest box.

December 29, 2012, 6:04 AM CST
40.6 MB MPEG-4 movie.

The material in the nest box, BTW, is what was left after last season's breeding. I haven't made any effort to replace it. One reason is laziness; egg laying shouldn't begin in these parts until March, and the last time I went looking to buy wood shavings (as used in hamster cages, for instance) all I could find was something resembling cat litter. The other reason is that I need to move the nest box to a living tree before nesting commences (a project I admit to putting off due to the fact that it's going to be a major pain in the ass), and leaving the old bedding material, rich with familiar owlet smells, in the box should help reassure the adult owls that this is the same nest they've trusted for who-knows-how-long, just miraculously relocated. I have no evidence that that will be considered significant by the owls, but it seems like a reasonable possibility with no downside.

Friday, December 28, 2012

December 27/28 Mouse Withdrawal

Whichever of the owls (I suspect Mme. Owl) deposited the mouse in the nest box last night (December 26/27) was back tonight to make the withdrawal. Think of it as getting dinner from the leftovers in the fridge.

December 28, 2012, 3:14 AM CST
29.6 MB MPEG-4 movie.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

December 26/27 Owl Visits

There were two screech owl visits to the nest box last night, December 26/27, 2012.

In the first visit, at 1:54 AM CST, Mme. Owl gives herself away by briefly kicking around the bedding material, which is a classic female screech owl behavior: making a depression for her eggs (even though there shouldn’t be any until March).

December 27, 2012, 1:54 AM CST
29.6 MB MPEG-4 movie.

The second visit is more interesting, because it demonstrates the all-year utility of nest boxes to the owls: one of the owls stops by to deposit a dead mouse for safe keeping, i.e. later eating. This prey caching behavior is normal, and, while all manner of locations may be selected as caches, a secure cavity like the nest box would have to be somewhere around the top of the list. And that is one of the reasons I invariably tell people who ask “when should I put up my screech owl nest box” that the correct answer is always: “now.”

December 27, 2012, 6:07 AM CST
37.9 MB MPEG-4 movie.

In this particular case, the nest box will be functioning like a freezer, as the thermometer on the wall clearly shows a temperature in the mid-twenties, fahrenheit; significantly colder than predicted. I went out shortly after this visit finished, and rapidly made two observations: the first was a screech owl perched on a tree limb about ten feet from my back door (after looking away for a moment, it was gone), and the second was that the thermometer was correct.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012 Owlet Family Portrait

I gather some loyal followers have been waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for the official 2012 Owlet Family Portrait. Well, happy Christmas, and merry holidays; wait no more.

From left to right, that’s owlet 4, 2, 1 and 3 (ages in days: 25.16, 28.15 ±16 min, 28.2 ±54 min, and 27.19). Owlet no. 1 tested its wings on a number of occasions by flying away from the photo shoot, forcing me to drop whatever I was doing to go retrieve the scamp before he/she could go anywhere unreachable (under the nearby brush pile that was the preferred target, for instance). After seeing that no harm came from flying away or being retrieved, owlet no. 2 soon started doing the same thing.

Feeling obligated to return to the nest the same number of owlets I’d borrowed, lest the adult owls decide I’m completely evil (as opposed to my normal status as a mere pest), those test flights, while very sensible on the owlets’ parts (what better time to test those wings properly?), were a bit stressful for me. Mme. Owl, who observed this whole process from a nearby tree, calling to the owlets from time to time, seemed to prefer that they be kept together as well. (Was her message “put up with the annoying monkey; it does this kind of thing, but you’re safe … or the monkey gets my talons in its head”? That was the translation I settled on at the time.)

Anyway, everyone was returned to the nest safely, and Mme. Owl did not swear a vendetta against me, so, as usual, it all worked-out. However, owlet no. 1 must have liked what it saw of the outside world (all of the owlets did) along with the feel of air on its open wings (“a prince of the power of the air”, if my Emerson is coming back correctly), because it decided to leave the nest that very night, shortly after sunset, as is traditional. Owlet no. 2 waited an additional three days before leaving. Was that unusual enthusiasm in owlet no. 1, or was it because he/she was laid three days before owlet no. 2, even though they ultimately hatched within hours of each other? I have no idea.

Study all you want, but never forget that the closer you look, the more mysteries nature offers you. I can’t imagine a better deal than that.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Owls from the Archives: Being Pushed Around

Yesterday’s video showed the owlets, almost ready to leave the nest, competing for food deliveries. This video shows them a month earlier. A lot can change in a month.

April 23, 2012, 3:07 AM CDT
16.7 MB MPEG-4 video.

Mme. Owl is seen here engaging in one of her routine brooding duties: shuffling and rolling eggs. The former you can see, at least for two eggs. The latter is being done when Mme. Owl is vigorously moving around after the shuffling. Turn the volume up high enough, and you can even hear the eggs moving.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Owls from the Archives: How to Get Fed

Here's something from the video archives that accumulated during this year’s nesting season: owlet food begging, and two food deliveries. As one of the owlets has learned, and demonstrates with the second food delivery, the best way to make sure that you’re the one who gets fed is to be the owlet nearest the entryway.

May 23, 2012, 9:21 PM CDT
17.5 MB MPEG-4 video.

If you’re remembering that there were four owlets this year, and wondering why there are only three here, that’s because the eldest owlet had already left the nest at this point (three days ahead of the sibling who hatched on the same day, if memory serves).

Friday, December 21, 2012

December 20/21 Owl Visit

The owls (or at least one of them) continue to monitor the nest box. Since live owlets emerged from this nest site this year, it will be their first choice for a nest site this coming year. Therefore, they probably give it far more attention than any other cavity in their territory. It’s been a long time since I was able to gather data on the frequency of owl visits to their would-be nest site over time. I'm looking forward to collecting such information again, in the lead-up to this year's nesting.

Nothing about the behavior shown here is a clear indicator of the sex of the owl. My guess, at this time of year, is that it is the male, making sure that he'll have a nest site to offer his mate a few months from now. The pair are mated for life (although screech owl life expectancies in the wild are sufficiently short that it's hard to know how meaningful that is in practice), but it seems to be the male’s responsibility to secure a nest site as part of the yearly mating ritual (and to defend it while nesting is in progress), so he’ll be anxious to ensure that he can hold-up his end of that bargain.

December 21, 2012, 6:56 AM CST
23.4 MB MPEG-4 video.

I can’t say this video is exciting, but if you need your screech owl fix, or just want to see what these quick “status check” visits are like, have a look.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Owls Return After Nest Box Maintenance

Last Sunday, December 16, I brought the screech owl nest box down, removed the long-since unnecessary owlet rail in order to discourage squirrels, and gave the camera windows and compartment interiors a thorough cleaning, so the cameras could acquire clear pictures again. Also, as part of my eternal, and perpetually failing, quest to eliminate hum in the audio signal, I added some ferromagnetic cores (AKA chokes) around various internal wires I thought might be susceptible to picking up electrical noise and feeding it back into the system.

(At first the ferromagnetic cores seemed to have done the trick; now I know they haven't. So, the score stands at unwanted, intermittent audio noise: ≈10 years; Chris: zero. I'd scream if it would make me feel any better, but at this point I think sinking into deep depression is the way to go. That and ripping every piece of analog electronics out of the system and replacing it with digital gear; but that's still somewhat expensive, and public university salaries are somewhere between poor and disgraceful here in Texas, and, not being adjusted for inflation, they only get worse. Still, I'm better off than a lot of my fellow Americans, which is a sad commentary, right there.)

This nest box work was motivated by the acquisition of a new S2071 unit from SuperCircuits to replace the two previous units (one purchased, one generously loaned by SuperCircuits) that had bricked themselves during the nesting season. SuperCircuits has been great about replacing the gear with no hassles about my tardiness in returning the original equipment, but neither they nor I have any clue what the problem is/was, so whether the new unit will do any better than its predecessors, I have no idea, though things aren't encouraging thus far. The manufacturer, 3S Vision Systems has, of late, been unresponsive to elementary queries about obtaining the latest firmware. So, I haven't even had the chance to try to obtain contacts with their engineers about the bugs in their RTP implementation (specifically the RTCP sub-protocol). That's all a shame, because, if it were reliable, it'd be a very useful unit to those of us still using analog closed-circuit video gear.

Anyway, with the box cleaned, the owlet rail gone, and an S2071 to constantly monitor the video feeds (and automatically record movies when it detects motion), I set about waiting for my owls to put in an appearance. Their interest in nest sites is proportional to the nearness of the next nesting season (or predators, or weather from which they need shelter), so their interest at the moment isn't high, but they are periodically checking-out the would-be nest cavities in their territory to make sure they're still available.

On December 18th, the owls finally put in not one, but two, appearances, as may be seen below. (Click the images to see the movies.)

December 18, 2012, 1:14 AM CST
22.6 MB MPEG-4 video.

December 18, 2012, 6:40 AM CST
18.3 MB MPEG-4 video.

So, if you're wondering whether the nest box cam’ will be returning next year, I think we can safely assume that it will (hum, or no hum).