Daily News Archive 2005

May 1 - Same as the day before. The youngest owlet now seems to be able to reach not only the perch, but the entryway.

April 30 - Same as yesterday; seemingly constant activity, lots of climbing, and so on. It's clear now that even the youngest owlet is climbing.

Thanks to Gary & Jan C., and Cheryl B. for their postcards! And to Liz & Julie M. for their postcard, which, if memory serves, is only the third international card.

By the way, working with the H.264 codec (AKA MPEG-4 part 10) it has proved possible to compress a day of frames into a high-quality, streaming, time-lapse movie that occupies as little as 66 MB. This compares to the Motion JPEG-B codec which could only manage to get the same down to 263 MB, and the MPEG-4 part 2 codec at 346 MB. (The ~5,700 JPEGs from which the movies were built only occupied 190 MB.) I knew H.264 was meant to be impressive, but I didn't expect it to be that good. This makes offering daily time lapse movies more practical than ever, once OurMedia gets past its teething pains.

April 29 - Another day of seemingly non-stop owlet activity: cimbing, digging, walking, staring at things, etc. Just like yesterday. The owlets frequently stare at the camera, for which I'm grateful, because it makes for lots of interesting images. I have two suspicions about why they do this so often: (1) They want to a find a way into the interior of the camera compartment which they can see through the camera's window, but can't reach. (2) At times they might be seeing their own reflections in the glass. Make that three theories: (3) They're bored, and anything they haven't stared at a thousand times already is due for some fresh staring. It's around this point each year when I begin to think idle thoughts like "What if I got them a ball to play with, or a wheel to run in? Maybe a train set...."

The only thing I did get for the owlets, around 4 AM, was an extension to the owlet rail that will permit them to walk around the nest box and reach the major limb on which the box is mounted. I was able to do that without bringing down the box, or opening it. I worked from a ladder parked against a nearby limb, and tried to take the attacks by one of the adults with equanimity. Past experience suggests that most of the owlets will ignore the extension, but I'd hate to think that I hadn't given them the option.

Sunset arrived at 8:08 PM, and at 9:57 PM, Mme. Owl showed-up with the first large prey item in two days. Not sure what it was, but the owlets liked it enough that whatever it was was gone in under six minutes. After that, things settled back into their usual routine.

April 28 - The owlets are more active than ever. Climbing, flapping, digging, or walking; there's nothing new, just more of all of it - a lot more. The climbing is most noteworthy, as at least the three eldest owlets can climb to the perch, and at least two of them can routinely, if inelegantly, get themselves into the entryway, either to have a look 'round, or to monopolize food deliveries until their bellies are full. The latter behavior causes considerably consternation among the owlets who are still waiting for their first food item of the night. They will sometimes nibble at the backside of the owlet in the entry, or try climbing up next to it, but they haven't found an effective strategy for solving the problem.

A more detailed, blow-by-blow account of their activities has become pointless due to the sheer number of activities, and the fact that the only new trick left for one of them to demonstrate is to leave the nest. That could happen tomorrow, or it could be up to three days away. I think sooner rather than later, but everytime I think I know what to expect, they prove me wrong, like last year when they all left at once. It isn't supposed to happen that way, but trying telling the owlets.

If you're trying to observe an owlet leaving the nest, your best bet is to watch starting at sunset. You will probably have seen an owlet sitting in the entryway most of the afternoon, or even the whole day. Around sunset, the owlet will gradually edge farther and farther into the entyrway until you can just barely see its stubby tail feathers, and then it'll be gone. This usually happens around 15 minutes after sunset. Ordinarily, they leave at one day intervals in order of age. But, like I said above, try telling that to the owlets.

By the way, I will start posting movies to my page on the OurMedia site, once they're far enough along in their debugging that the site can accept uploads of the size required. I've made a few test uploads, but they've all failed. Such problems are to be expected from systems still in alpha-test. Whenever the uploads happen, I'll be sure to mention them here, in the Daily News area.

News Item: The Ivory-billed woodpecker, America's largest woodpecker, believed to be extinct for at least 50 years, is still clinging to life in the "Big Woods" region of eastern Arkansas.

April 27 - At 12:51 AM, Mme. Owl arrived with a small bird. She tore it apart and distributed it amongst the owlets until only the hindquarters remained. She let one of the eldest owlets have that. The owlet began an iterative process of trying to swallow it, finding it was too large, trying to tear a piece off it to reduce its size, and then trying to swallow it again. After four or five iterations, Mme. Owl took the remainder from the owlet, tore it apart and distributed it. Apparently she's willing to let the owlets experiment with large prey items, but the experiments are cancelled unless they produce results. She was out of the nest box by 1:08 AM, and the remainder of the pre-dawn hours passed in the now typical fashion of small food deliveries competed-for by owlets stretching for all they're worth toward the adult in the entryway. Usually the first one to come close to grabbing the item gets it, but sometimes the adults ignore that and deliver the food to another youngster.

Sunrise was 6:50 AM. Early on, the owlets kicked aside all of the new bedding materials and began sleeping directly on the floor, looking a bit like they were hiding behind a snowdrift. Of course, between naps there was the usual owlet activity, including climbing practice for the two eldest.

Photos of the nest box with owlet rail, and the nest box in-context, were requested, so here're two shot this afternoon:

(Any suggestion of crookedness in the orientation of the nest box is entirely an artifact of photos; the mounting bracket, designed around the principle of the indeformability of triangles, holds the box straight and level - no problem.)

Sunset fell at 8:06 PM. Between around 8:40 and 9:10 PM, the eldest owlet discovered that the best reason for sitting in the entryway isn't the view; it's the all-you-can-eat food delivery service you get from your parents. The other owlets seemed a bit aggravated by missing out on all those deliveries, but couldn't think of anything to do about it. Another owlet also found that sitting on the perch inside the box gets you preferential treatment from the adults; not an absolute monopoly on food delivered, but a definite bonus.

April 26 - This morning, Mme. Owl brought a small bird to the owlets at 6:11 AM. She spent the next ten minutes tearing it into pieces and distributing them amongst the kids. That was the most exciting event of the pre-dawn hours, but the usual variety of small prey items were also delivered, so everyone should have ended-up well fed.

The sun rose at 6:51 AM. The owlets are more active each day. The eldest climbed to the perch, and looked out the entryway repeatedly. Mme. Owl dropped-by at 1:49 PM, but stayed for only four minutes. The smell from the soiled bedding material began attracting flies today. The owlets found them a bit annoying at times, but mostly they peacefully co-existed. There also appeared to be several lightning bugs spending the day in the box. By 7:21, the second owlet had begun climbing, and was already stealing a glance through the entryway.

Sunset arrived at 8:06 PM. By 9:57 I had begun bringing down the nest box in order to install the owlet rail outside the entry hole. While it was down, I removed the owlets, and replaced the highly soiled bedding material. One-by-one the owlets were then photographed and returned to the box. Though the youngest played dead throughout, the others all found the process of being photographed very interesting, since it gave them their first opportunity to have a good look at the outside world. It was often hard to get them to look toward the camera because so many other things were far more interesting than me. The eldest owlet was the first photographed, and therefore the first returned to the nest box. He seems to have found being back in the box dull by comparison to seeing the outside world, so he/she climbed into the entryway to watch me photographing the other owlets. When I opened the box to return the second owlet, I left the top partly open, since I couldn't use the entry hole as a handle while the eldest was sitting in it. He took advantage of the arrangement by climbing to the top of the front door, from which he/she watched the rest of the activity.

While all of that went on, one of the adults protested by making occasionaly attack passes (most just warnings) at my head. This is another indication that at least one of the adults this year is not the same as those that have nested here before, since they tolerated this sort of intrusion with hardly a clack of a beak. In any case, the new, defensive adult has my stamp of approval. He/she will be a fierce guardian once the owlets leave the nest, and that's just what an owlet needs.

By 10:26 the box was back in the tree, the cables stowed, and the adult owl was sufficiently satisfied to return to the hunt. By 10:51, the first post-disturbance food delivery was made. Soon the adults had adjusted to the owlet rail, made a few more food deliveries, and everything was back to normal.

The photos were a disappointment. I was working too quickly and not paying attention to the shutter speeds the camera was choosing, which were uniformly lower than what I needed. Consequently, most of the photos are uselessly blurred, but the following were salvageable:

April 25 - The pre-dawn hours were a banquet in three parts for the owlets. Mme. Owl delivered, and fed to the owlets, a mouse, a small bird, and something big that I couldn't get a clear look at. Those were at 1:59, 4:03 and 5:52 AM, respectively. In addition, the usual array of insects and lizards also was delivered.

Sunrise dawned, so to speak, at 6:52 AM. At the very same time, the eldest owlet managed to climb to the entryway and get its brief, first look at some small portion of the outside world. It couldn't hang on there for long, but getting there was a major accomplishment, regardless. (How do I know it's the eldest owlet? I don't. But the owlets normally leave in the same order they hatched, so it stands to reason that the first owlet to try to reach the entryway is also going to be the eldest. Of course, with only about eight hours age difference between the two oldest owlets, it may be a toss-up between them.) There was another climbing attempt at 12:01 PM, and at 12:06 PM an owlet reached the perch in the nest box for the first time. As is customary, it fell off as soon it tried to turn around, but better here than outside. The rest of the day was the usual mix of owlet antics: streching, staring at things, sleeping, wandering around, loitering here and there, stealing cars.

Sunset fell at 8:05 PM. By 8:22, the eldest owlet was doing his best to get back to the entryway, a feat that earned it a lot of interest from its siblings. It made very good progress, and with its beak hooked on the lip of the entry hole, it got a look outside, but soon gave up and dropped back to the floor. After that, things went back to normal: enthusiastic owlets waiting on the floor, and struggling to seize each food delivery, albeit with frequently lousy aim. (I suspect, though I can't be sure, that with an adult in the entryway blocking any ambient city light that might otherwise enter, the interior of the box is pitch black to the owlets, and therefore they can't see the delivery.)

Thanks to Diana & Gary K., Denise F., and Joan & Alex A. for the postcards! Also thanks to Melo for the miniature owl artwork!

Picture of the day: Mme. Owl, wet from passing rains, pauses as she feeds a small bird to the owlets.

Note: Sometime in the next few days or nights, I'm going to have to bring down the nest box to install the owlet rail on the outside. (Since it could aid climbing predators trying to raid the nest, I leave it off as long as possible.) While I'm at it, I'll probably take the opportunity to open the box and photograph the youngsters. (I may replace the soiled bedding material, too.) Don't panic, if you see that sort of thing going on. I need to attach the owlet rail before the owlets try to leave the nest, because, without it, they'll have to leap directly from the entryway to some near-ish limb, and some of them will inevitably judge the leap wrong and end-up in the yard, where they're highly vulnerable until they climb up the tree. Even with the rail in place, some will still choose to make that leap, but the rail will get them off to a better start. I'll try to be around when they leave, in order to take care of any knucklehead who ends-up in the yard, but the date of the first exit is a little hard to predict. For any owlets that fall when I'm not around, I have mowed and cleaned-up the area beneath the nest box tree to make the going as easy as possible.

April 24 - In addition to the many small prey items delivered before dawn was a mouse which Mme. Owl brought in at 5:46 AM. She spent the next 21 minutes feeding tearing it up and feeding it to the enthusiastic owlets. Sunrise arrived at 6:53 AM, and Mme. Owl stopped by to tidy-up the nest five minutes later. By "tidy up" I mean that she literally cleans the nest by swallowing the piles of feces that the owlets depost in the corners of the box (they favor the two corners nearest the camera). Offhand, I don't remember whether I've observed this behavior in previous years, and a check of Gehlbach's book reveals no obvious reference to it. The value of it is obvious enough, of course: nest cavity hygiene should influence the health, and thus the survival rate, of the nestlings.

Mme. Owl stayed with the owlets until 7:35 AM, and then left for her usual daytime roost, wherver that is. The owlets occupied themselves with the usual business: sleeping, staring at things, walking, stretching and doing wing exercises. Sunset arrived at 8:04 PM and began a typical night of small prey deliveries to the enthusiastic youngsters. One noteworthy event did take place shortly after the first food delivery: one of the owlets (probably the eldest) made it's first attempt to climb to the entryway (or anywhere else, for that matter). Once the first owlet reaches the entryway, it'll only be a matter of two or three days before he/she leaves the nest.

Picture of the day: Owlet stretching time. Note the developing flight feathers. They won't be large enough for the owlets to fly even when they leave the nest (that'll take another week), but they will ensure the owlet a soft landing should it fall out of the tree, and they'll be an aid to climbing. Runner up: Food, Please! - When food arrives hungry owlets reach up for it, while issuing food begging sounds. Note that the owlet is standing about nine inches high, and that this owlet and its siblings ordinarily fit comfortably in the five inches under the perch. Posture is the key, and screech owls can look very different depending on the postures they assume. The adults take advantage of that fact as part of their comouflage.

April 23 - Another day much like that last, with one notable difference: Mme. Owl didn't spend any portion of the day in the nest box. The owlets didn't seem to mind. Two things that have become noticeable in recent days are: (1) Caterpillars and grubs have become routine food items (presumably it's only this late in the season that caterpillars have grown large enough to interest the owls). (2) As the afternoon warms-up, two of the owlets at some point will decide to dig into the bedding material on the floor, until they reach the actual floor surface. They then lay in the crater they've created and sleep. One possible motivation is that the floor surface may be a bit cooler than the bedding material; another is that the vent holes in the floor may provide some welcome ventilation once they are exposed.

Picture of the day: Gecko delivered, one of the parents returns to the hunt. Runner up: An owlet's perfect devotion - all good things in life come from the hole - watch the hole - wait - the hole will provide.

April 22 - By the standard of recent days, this was quite an ordinary day. There were no exceptional food deliveries between midnight and dawn, but it was good to see the youngest owlet receive a Texas blind snake and a large gecko in consecutive deliveries, so he/she must have had a full belly. The sun rose at 6:55 AM, once again without Mme. Owl. However, like the day before, she put in an early morning appearance by dropping by at 7:12 AM and staying until 8:45. I'm not sure why she left then, because she was back three minutes later (maybe some nearby birds gave her a hard time). This time she stayed unitl 10:19 AM. The rest of the days, the owlets were on their own. Sunset fell at 8:03 PM. Food deliveries began around 8:20 PM, and all that followed looked very much like the same period of any other recent night. The owlets haven't started climbing attempts, yet, but I'm watching carefully for that.

Picture of the day: The kids won't all fit under Mom, anymore, but sometimes they still try. In this case they're satisfied with just getting their heads under Mom.

Thanks to Nick C. and Nancy S. for their postcards!

This year I've saved every frame recorded from the nest box (that's one every 15 seconds, or 5,760 images a day). Needless to say, it adds up. What I haven't quite been able to figure-out is how to make them available to people (or if people would even be interested in all that material). One thought I've had is to do a re-run of all the frames about six months after nesting finishes, but for the sake of University bandwidth that probably means showing only one frame a minute, or a quarter of the frames gathered. If you missed a big part of this nesting season, that'd let you fill in the gap, but it wouldn't show any new material. Today, I came across a potential solution: Ourmedia.org. Using that site, I can make all of the accumulated images available at no cost, provided I wrap them up in time-lapse movies. There's still a catch, though: One day's footage, represented as a high-quality, full-resolution, time-lapse movie is between 260 and 350 MB in length. (I hope to be able to try the H.264 codec within a month, but even if it lives up to its amazing reputation, the movies are still going to be very large.) Obviously, such large downloads aren't going to be useful to everyone, but would they be useful to anyone? And would the mid-year re-run be desirable? Opinions welcome.

April 21 - Between midnight and dawn, the adults were very successful hunters. It appears that at least two different mice were delivered (one at 12:27 AM, the other at 5:44 AM) and distributed amongst the owlets. One other large item seems to have arrived in between, and the adults appear to have divided it between themselves somewhere outside the nest box. Also, another Texas blind snake was among the morning's food items.

Sunrise arrived at 6:56 AM. As has become common this week, Mme. Owl greeted the dawn from some place other than the nest box. She did drop by at 7:54 AM, however, and stayed until 8:27 AM. She also made a brief visit to the owlets between 3:22 and 3:30 PM. Otherwise, they were on their own, with that much more room to stretch, try their wings, sleep, etc.

Sunset fell at 8:03 PM. A lot of small items, up to and including geckos, were delivered, but nothing to compare with the morning's mice.

Picture of the day: Mme. Owl begins her brief afternoon visit to the owlets by taking advantage of the perch to stay above the inevitable hubub. (If there were a better perch, would she be more inclined to stay with the owlets throughout the day?)

April 20 - At 12:19 AM, Mr. Owl delivered a small bird to the owlets, then he realized that that wasn't going to work, and exited with the bird. Mme. Owl return to the nest box at 1:28 AM with the bird (or some other small bird), and spent the next twenty minutes feeding it to the owlets, then she left. She came back with a small portion of a bird (probably the leftovers of the previous one) at 4:14 AM, fed that to the owlets, and was back to the hunt. At 5:45 AM, the male showed-up with another small bird and, for a change, he chose to leave it in the nest box with the owlets. The owlets understood that it was food, and wanted to eat it, but their efforts to swallow various portions of it were always defeated by the rest of the bird insisting on coming along for the ride. Before long, they will begin to figure-out how to tear-up large prey items, but not yet.

The sun rose at 6:57 AM, and for the first time, the owlets greeted the dawn without Mme. Owl. She didn't put in an appearance in the nest box until 9:02 AM. Upon returning, she quickly set about tearing the small bird into pieces, and distributing them to the youngsters. After breakfast was complete, she hung around for a few more hours, but left the nest box at 11:46 AM. The owlets slept, stumbled and stretched their way through the remainder of the day, without any hint of concern about mom's absence.

Sunset arrived at 8:02 PM, and Mme. Owl was back in the nest box by 8:22. She tidied-up the place a bit, then resumed the hunt. She and her mate spent the rest of the night delivering mostly small prey items to the owlets. At least one large gecko, and another Texas blind snake were also delivered.

Thanks to Annette P. for the postcard!

April 19 - The infrared emitter in the entryway that allows me to track comings-to and goings-from the nest box has become unreliable. I've checked the circuit as far as the junction box at the nest tree, and it was fine up to that point, at least at the time I was testing it. This suggests that the problem may be in the wires leading to the nest box, or in the emitter itself. In either case, the problem can't be corrected while nesting is underway. While the entryway sensor remains unreliable, I can't produce even halfway accurate food delivery numbers, so there'll be none of those today.

After devoting most of her pre-dawn hours to hunting for the owlets, Mme. Owl returned to the nest box at 7:09 AM, eleven minutes after sunrise. The owlets were highly active after her return, and so her efforts to sit on them didn't meet with much success, and even sitting with them was a lot of trouble. So, it's not surprising she spent much of the day sitting in the entrway, where things are calmer. What surprised me was that at 2:18 PM, she left the nest box entirely. The owlets continued waddling, stretching, and testing their wings until about 2:35 PM when they were finally tired enough to sleep. They continued sleeping more-or-less peacefully for two hours, then the circus started-up again, albeit at a lesser pace. Mme. Owl returned at 5:40 PM. She devoted the next 15 minutes to tidying-up the nest box and interacting with owlets. Then she was back to sitting in the entryway. She stayed there for most of the remainder of the day. She left the nest box at 8:09 PM, eight minutes after sunset, and devoted the hours from then until midnight hunting for food for the owlets, just as her mate always does. The owlets are now large enough to regulate their own body temperatures, so she can leave them for extended periods, provided the weather isn't too cold. And, of course, the larger the owlets grow, the more food they need, so its takes two hunters to keep the family fed. Also, I suspect that spending most of her time in a box for the last month and half was awfully dull, and the chance to return to more normal owl activities is welcome, though that's pure speculation.

April 18 - There were 26 food deliveries between midnight and dawn (8, 3, 1, 5, 1, 3, and 4). The most notable was a small bird delivered first by the male at 4:18 AM, then by Mme. Owl at 4:20. At this age, the owlets don't know how to tear up large prey items for themselves, so feeding the bird to the owlets had to be the female's job. (Males lack the instinct to do this for the young; they just concentrate on hunting.) The feeding session lasted about 18 minutes. Most other prey items continued to be moths, with an occasional gecko thrown in, and a Texas blind snake for variety.

Sunrise arrived at 6:59 AM. By 7:24 Mme. Owl was already spending time sitting in the entryway. Until now, she's generally started that in the afternoon. Today, however, hardly an hour went by without her spending some of it sitting in the entry hole, watching the world go by. When observed, she would retreat into the box.

Sunset fell at 8:01 PM, but Mme. Owl didn't wait for it; she was out of the nest by 7:52 PM. Since much of the day was overcast, and she probably judges time at least in part by light levels, this probably seemed perfectly natural to her. The first food delivery was at 8:20 PM, it was the first of 37 (15, 9, 10, and 3).

Thanks to Mary, Sandra, Pauline T., Nancy, and Michelle K. for their postcards! Five in one day is a record.

April 17 - The pre-dawn hours saw 46 food deliveries distrubeted across those hours as follows: 5, 7, 5, 8, 4, 11, and 6. The prey items continue to be small moths, or other insects, but one snake, and a few geckos arrived, too. Sunrise arrived at 7:00 AM.

Sunset fell at 8:00 AM. Mme. Owl was out of the box four minutes later. The first food delivery didn't arrive until 8:21 PM. There were a total of 43 deliveries between then and midnight. They were divided amongst those hours as follows: 13, 9, 10, and 11. That makes it 89 food deliveries for the day.

Picture of the day: One of the owls, probably the male, offers the owlets food from the entryway (a useful time saver), but the owlets sit clueless. They still expect to have the food offered more-or-less directly to them.

Runner-up: A brief period of peace in the nest; Mme. Owl gets a bit of shuteye while the temporarily tired owlets nap on the floor around her.

April 16 - Betweem midnight and dawn there were 49 food deliveries. The hourly break-down looks like this: 6, 3, 15, 12, 3, 2, 8. Most items continue to be small, like moths, but the occasional gecko, and a blind snake or two find their way into the mix.

Sunrise arrived at 7:01 AM. In an unusual move, Mme. Owl left the nest box for ten seconds around 2:24 in the afternoon. I don't know what motivated her, but her brief appearance outside of the box agitated a number of nearby songbirds; a reminder, if any were needed, that owls have to keep a low profile during the day, because most other birds (even those small enough to make easy meals) have an instinctive urge to drive them away upon discovery. In the later afternoon, as temperatures peaked in the low-90s, the owlets became quite active. There was a lot of stretching, hints of interest in climbing, and some practice with their wings. They also often open their eyes now.

Sunset arrived at 7:59 PM. Mme. Owl was out of the box by 8:10 PM. The first food delivery of the evening arrived at 8:23 PM. A total of 44 food items arrived before midnight. Hour-by-hour, starting at 8 PM, the delivery counts were: 12, 17, 9, 6. Those food items included a live Texas Blind Snake that was fumbled by the receiving owlet, and is now roaming amongst the two inches of wood shavings on the floor, where it is eating any insects it comes across, and thereby doing its (accidental) part to keep the nest box clean and free of pests. As Gehlbach has described, this happens in a lot of screech owl nests.

April 15 - Between midnight and dawn there were at least 57 food deliveries, still mostly small items like moths, but with some geckos thrown in for good measure. The hourly totals were as follows: 8, 2, 6, 7, 11, 14, and 9.

Sunrise dawned at 7:02 AM. Mme. Owl's interludes in the entryway began in the ten o'clock hour, earlier than usual.

Sunset fell at 7:59 PM. Mme. Owl was out of the nest box by 8:09 PM. Between then and midnight, at least 51 food deliveries were made, making the day's total no less than 108 deliveries, the largest number recorded this year. The bulk of the evening's food, 31 items, arrived during the eight o'clock hour, as the adults worked to fill the bellies of owlets who've waited through the day without food. In the nine o'clock hour there were 14 deliveries, while both the hours of ten and eleven saw only three each.

Thanks to Gwendolyn B., and Diane K. for their postcards, and to Jennifer S. for both of hers!

Picture of the day: Both adults in the box at once.

April 14 - There were at least 46 food deliveries between midnight and dawn. (Up to five more if Mme. Owl brought food with her every time she returned to the nest box to spend time with the owlets.) The hourly break-down goes like this: 2, 11, 8, 3, 6, 6, and 10. The most notable food item was a Texas Blind Snake brought in at 4:39 AM. There were also at least two geckos, but most items appear to be small, and most of those small items seem to be moths.

Sunrise occurred at 7:04 AM. As has been her habit in recent days, Mme. Owl spent several significant periods of the afternoon sitting in the entryway.

Sunset fell at 7:57 PM. Mme. Owl was out the box by 8:09 PM. The first food delivery arrived at 8:14 PM, and at least 49 more followed. The hourly break-down, starting at 8 PM, went like this: 24, 16, 5, and 4. The types of food items were very much like those delivered before dawn, though without anything as notable as a snake.

Thanks to Kael (sp?) & Bev H. for their postcard, and Backy S. for hers!

April 13 - Between midnight and dawn there were 46 food deliveries, the largest items appear to have been geckos, while the majority seem to have been moths. Mme. Owl spent most of this time with the owlets due to the temperature inside the nest box dropping into the mid-50s. She was absent for only four periods, the only long absence being about 45 minutes. That one ended 16 minutes before sunrise, so it included her pre-dawn break. The food deliveries broken down by hour are as follows: 8, 2, 3, 7, 7, 13 and 6. So, the five o'clock hour was the busiest with 13 deliveries.

Sunrise arrived at 7:05 AM. As temperatures climbed in the afternoon, Mme. Owl spent periods of up-to 50 minutes sitting in the entryway. The owlets were sometimes quite active, and but most of the time they slept, looking like fuzzy debris scattered around the nest box floor.

Sunset arrived at 7:57 PM. Mme. Owl was out of the box by 8:06 PM, and the first food delivery arrived at 8:16. Fifty one more food deliveries followed before midnight. Broken down by hours (beginning with eight o'clock), the food delivery totals are as follows: 11, 28, 5, and 8. So, the nine o'clock hour was the busiest with 28 deliveries. Mme. Owl was out of the box most of the time this evening, undoubtedly lending a hand with the hunting.

April 12 - Between midnight and sunrise there were 55 food deliveries, with both adults hunting. Food items appear to be predominately moths, but there were also some geckos, and probably a few other things, too.

Sunrise was at 7:05 AM. During the day, temperatures reached the low 80s inside the nest box. Mme. Owl sat in the entryway for two periods, totalling about 80 minutes.

Sunset arrived at 7:57 AM. Between then and midnight, there were 47 food deliveries, of the same sort of prey items as seen during the pre-dawn portion of the day. Once again, both adults were hunting, though the vast majority of food is supplied by the male. Mme. Owl still spends significant time with the owlets in the nest box, dividing large food items amongst them, keeping them warm, etc.

Thanks to Lisa P. for the card!

April 11 - It's taking a long time to tally-up the food delivery information, so this update will be a bit short. In the pre-dawn hours, Mme. Owl was was absent on eight occasions. She returned with food on almost all of those occasions. In addition, there were 31 food deliveries, mostly moths, but notably including a snake (presumably another Texas Blind Snake). So total food deliveries between midnight and dawn were almost forty.

The sun rose at 7:07 AM. Mme. Owl spent five periods throughout the day sitting in the entryway.

The sun set at 7:57 PM. Between then and midnight, Mme. Owl was absent only twice, for a total of around 50 minutes. She returned from at least one of those absences with food (a moth). In addition, 34 food deliveries were received. Most, again, seemed to be moths. Because the moths are usually alive when delivered, the owlets often fumble them, and the moths then wander around the nest box. Sometimes they escape (though they seem to be in no hurry), sometimes one of the adults will notice them and grab them for the owlets. In any case, you're likely to see them wandering around in the nest box from time to time.

I have witnessed Mme. Owl specifically feeding the youngest owlet on several occasions, even when older owlets were begging for food, so I'm feeling a bit more optimistic about his chances. It's possible that Mme. Owl's parenting skills have improved since last year. Here's hoping.

April 10 - Between midnight and sunrise, there were at least 22 food deliveries, and Mme. Owl was absent on six occasions, probably returning with food more often than not.

Sunrise was at 7:08 AM. Mme. Owl sat in the entryway on five occasions, for up to forty minutes. Warm daytime temperatures were probably the motivation. The owlets frequently crawled out-from-under Mme. Owl, and slept scattered around the nest box floor in order to stay as cool as circumstances permitted.

Sunset arrived at 7:56 PM. Food deliveries are happening so often, and so quickly now that the number can only be estimated from the entryway sensor log. There were at least 31 food deliveries, including geckos, many moths, and a small snake (presumably a Texas Blind Snake). Mme. Owl was absent on ten occasions, and seemed to have returned from most of those with food, so the total number of food deliveries between sunset and midnight probably reached 40.

April 9 - Some of the owlets now occasionally open their eyes, but they don't keep them open, yet. Between midnight and sunrise, there were 24 food deliveries, including three geckos, and a moth. Quite a lot of those deliveries were probably moths, in fact; they're quick and easy to catch, and they thrive in the small "meadow" area next to the nest box tree. Mme. Owl was absent for a total of 45 minutes during three absences.

The sun rose at 7:09 AM. Due to temperatures in the '80s, Mme. Owl was able to take five breaks from brooding, or herding, the owlets during the afternoon; she spent a total of almost two hours sitting in the entryway, watching the world go by.

The sun set at 7:55 PM. Mme. Owl took her usual post-sunset break from 8:17-8:31 PM, and returned with a small bird to feed the owlets. Between then and midnight, there were 7 food deliveries, and Mme. Owl was absent on three occasions for a total of 31 minutes. The modest number of food deliveries wasn't a problem because the bird supplied many feedings, before Mme. Owl carried it out of the nest box. I'm not sure why she did that; possibly she's maintaining a food cache outside the box (seems pointless), or she may have shared the remainder with her mate.

April 8 - Food deliveries began at 12:23 AM, and recurred at 12:25, 12:45, 1:11 (gecko), 1:15, 1:19 and 1:24 AM. From 1:24-1:26, Mme. Owl investigated the camera for the first time this year. The next food delivery was at 1:41 AM. That was follwed by deliveries at 3:05, 3:09, 4:47 (insect), 4:49, 5:01, 5:02, and 5:18 AM. Mme. Owl was absent from 5:52-5:54 and 6:37-6:52 AM. Her mate came by to deliver a gecko at 6:47, but finding her to be out, he exited with the lizard.

Somewhere between 5:07 and 6:36 AM, egg no. 4 hatched. The following table summarizes the egg data for this clutch. Where time ranges are involved, the mid-point of each range has been used for the calculations.

1 March 5/6, 11:30 PM-2:00 AM April 3, 9:48-10:31 PM ≅28.9 days
2 March 8, daylight hours April 4, 5:30 AM ≅26.7 days
3 March 10, daylight, maybe 3:18 PM April 5, 7:00 AM ≅25.7 days
4 March 12, 7:21-9:14 PM April 8, 5:07-6:36 AM ≅26.4 days

The only bad news is that owlet four is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.3 days younger than the eldest owlet, and 3 days younger than its next youngest sibling. So it is at a significant disadvantage relative to its siblings. Mme. Owl will see that it gets food, but the competition amongst the owlets means that if any owlet is going to end-up under-fed, it'll be this one. Of course, even if every owlet always has a full belly, this youngest owlet is going to be much smaller and weaker than it brothers and sisters, and that can be dangerous. Here's wishing him the best of luck.

Sunrise was at 7:10 AM. The day was quiet, at least in terms of visits to the next box, of which there were none. Sunset was at 7:54 PM. Mme. Owl was absent from 8:14-8:27 PM and 8:31-8:34. Food arrived at 8:41, then she was out again for less than a minute at 8:48 and for four minutes starting at 8:54 PM. There were food deliveries at 9:04 and 9:06 PM (grasshopper). She was then absent from 9:38-9:43 and 9:46-9:52 PM. At 9:49, Mr. Owl attempted to deliver food, but finding his mate absent, he exited with whatever he'd brought. Mme. Owl was out from 10:07-10:29, then food arrived at 10:45 (gecko), 10:48, 10:51 and 11:26 PN. She was absent once more from 11:32-11:37, and accepted the last food delivery of the day at 11:52 PM. If it seems like Mme. Owl was gone quite a bit, it's worth bearing in mind that she may have returned with food on any of those occasions.

Thanks to Matt R., Dot K., and Amanda B. for their postcards! Thanks to Charlene A. for an entire collection of 'em!

April 7 - Food deliveries arrived at 12:12, 12:50, 1:06, 1:08, 1:49, 3:36, 3:38, 5:01, 5:03, 5:07, 5:30, 5:50, and 6:24 PM. Mme. Owl's pre-dawn break ran from 6:38-6:48 AM.

Sunrise was at 7:12 AM. A starling looked into the nest box at 8:43 AM, but didn't hang around. At 11:00 AM, Mme. Owl fed a cached gecko to the owlets. From 4:13-4:33 PM, she sat in the entryway, and perhaps enjoyed a breeze, or the view, or just not sitting on three active hatchlings.

The sun set at 7:53 PM. Mme. Owl was absent from 8:14-8:23 and then from 8:32-8:44 PM. While she was out, the male stopped by with food twice, first at 8:39, then at 8:43 PM. Since it's the female's job to feed the owlets until they're old enough to swallow, or tear up, most prey for themselves, he left with the food each time (adult males don't have the instinctive knowledge of how to feed owlets of this age). After her return, the male delivered food at 8:52 (gecko), 9:15, 9:28 (insect), 9:31, 9:35, 9:53 and 10:13 PM (gecko). Mme. Owl was absent from 10:14-10:28, and for about thirty seconds at 10:30 PM. Food was delivered again at 10:55; Mme. Owl received it while sitting in the entryway. She was absent from 11:14-11:31 PM, and that was that for this day.

April 6 - Food arrived at 12:40 (gecko) and 12:59 (gecko). Mme. Owl was then absent for five minutes, as best I can tell she was sharing the latest gecko with her mate; at any rate, she exited with it, and it didn't return with her. Her return was almost immediately followed by a food delivery at 1:07 AM, and that was followed by deliveries at 1:11, 2:27 and 3:22 AM. At 3:38, a gecko cached on the 5th is fed to the owlets. Then food is delivered again at 4:57 (gecko), 5:27 and 5:30 AM. Mme. Owl is absent from 6:44-6:46 and 6:56-6:58 AM.

Sunrise arrives at 7:12 AM, and the day is a quiet one; no visits to nest box by starlings, or anything else.

Sunset falls at 7:53 PM, and Mme. Owl is out for her usual break from 8:13-8:20 PM. (See this time-lapse QuickTime movie of the owlets, 1.2 MB.) Food deliveries begin at 8:59 with a gecko. That's followed by deliveries at 9:01, 9:04, 9:13, 9:49 (gecko, which is cached in a corner), 9:52 and 10:01 PM (gecko). Mme. Owl is then leaves at 10:02 carrying the just-delivered gecko and returns six minutes later without the gecko. I continue to assume she's sharing with her mate, though I also continue to be surprised that something as small as a gecko rates sharing. Ordinarily, an adult screech owl would swallow whole a lizard like that. The next food delivery was at 10:32 (gecko), after that more deliveries arrived at 10:35, 10:36, 10:50, 10:53, 11:29, 11:30 (small insect?), and 11:39 (gecko). Mme. Owl follwed her mate out of the bax while carrying that last gecko, and returned two minutes later. Not longer after, midnight rolled around, and that was that for the 6th.

Thanks to Mirely T. (sp?) for the postcard!

April 5 - The first food delivery of the 5th arrived promptly at 12:09 AM (gecko). After that Mme. Owl left the nest box for three minutes. The next food delivery was at 12:33 (gecko), and that was followed by deliveries at 2:00 (gecko), 2:38, 3:32 (gecko, cached in a corner), 3:51, 4:02, 5:58 and 6:02 AM. Mme. Owl took her pre-dawn break from 6:53-7:00 AM, and upon returning she began assisting the third owlet with hatching. (You can see a section of broken egg shell beneath Mme. Owl in this image.)

The sun rose at 7:14 AM. At 9:45 AM, something poked its head into the nest box, but didn't stick around. At 10:59 AM, the gecko that had been cached in a corner of the nest box at 2 AM was fed to the owlets.

Sunset happened at 7:53 PM. Mme. Owl was absent from 8:07-8:17 and 8:23-8:24 PM. At 9:10, the first food delivery of the night arrived. Another arrived at 9:14 (small insect), then others at 10:16, 10:33 (gecko), 11:18, 11:46 (gecko) and 11:56 PM.

Thanks to Bob & Marilyn T. (and family) for their postcard, and to Margaret M. for hers!

April 4 - Food deliveries arrived at 12:22, 12:49, 1:18 and 2:11 AM, then Mme. Owl went out for nine minutes, from 3:31-3:40 AM. The next food delivery was at 4:36 AM. Egg no. 2 hatched at 5:30 AM, and Mme. Owl spent the next seven minutes disposing of the eggshell, by eating it. This is important for two reasons: (1) If a section of discarded eggshell were to partially surround an unhatched egg, it would reduce the oxygen available to the would-be hatchling, and could suffocate it. (2) Eating the eggshell allows the female to reclaim the calcium and other useful minerals that she lost while growing the egg. As she ate it, on two occasions she gave tiny pieces of it to the first hatchling, who was food-begging at the time. Undoubtedly, it's good for growing bones.

Before sunrise, there was one more food delivery at 6:05 AM, and Mme. Owl took a pre-dawn break from 6:53-7:00 AM. Sunrise followed her return by fifteen minutes.

The day was quiet; there were no visits to the nest box. The weather was warm, and at times the owlets were active enough to crawl out from under Mme. Owl. Their eyes won't open for a while yet, but they give the impression of being curious, already.

Sunset arrived at 7:52 PM. Mme. Owl took her usual post-sunset break from 8:08-8:11 PM. She may have returned with food. Normal food deliveries commenced at 8:41 PM. After that, food was delivered at 8:57, Mme. Owl was absent again from 9:06-9:14, then deliveries took place at 9:55, 10:08, 10:14 and 10:23 PM. That last delivery was a gecko, and Mme. Owl exited the nest box with it, returning at 10:30 PM. I assume she shared it with her mate, though I don't generally expect items of such modest size to be shared. The next, and final, food delivery of the day was at 11:55 PM.

Thanks to Julia I., Lois G. & Family, and Conni S. for their postcards!

By the way, in the "Live Views" area above, I've added links to new, experimental, "live" image pages. The experimental images should be—under the majority of circumstances—cleaner, sharper and of greater contrast than the normal images. (Due to hideous limitations in my office network, please watch either the new images, or the old ones, but not both at the same time.)

While I try to keep this site about the owls, and not about myself or the technology, I'll make an exception here to describe a little bit about the new software, since I've been working on it for so long ... three years off and on (mostly off). It represents a huge advance, in every respect, over the original image capture software I wrote when this project began. One big change behind the scenes is that it's no longer written in C for Mac OS 9; the new software is written in Java and runs on Mac OS X. In terms of visible changes, the original software used frame averaging to reduce noise in the final image. The new code uses a far more sophisticated algorithm of my own invention (and probably independently invented by a hundred other people before me). In the course of noise-reduction it develops far more information than a JPEG image, for instance, can represent. The "surplus" information is put to good use in adjusting and maximizing the dynamic range, and the virtual exposure, of the image. The new algorithm also works to avoid distorting portions of the image that are in motion, while continuing noise-reduction on those that are static. The original software couldn't handle deinterlacing of the video; this software can, although you'll still see some interlacing artifacts from time to time. The new software also employs a flexible XML templating engine to produce its web pages, and a custom file transfer protocol that emphasizes security, and low-latency operations; both my own creations.

Ironically, a lot of the improvements provided by the software aren't especially obvious, because the new camera setup in use this year produces images that are intrinsically much cleaner than those of previous years, so all that nice noise reduction code has a great deal less to do. Last year, this code would have been more impressive.

The new software was delayed all these years by amazing, crashing bugs in the sequence grabber portion of QuickTime for Java (QTJ) for Mac OS X, and the total lack of documentation and sample code to assist developers in coming to grips with those problems. My frustration with that situation knows no bounds. So, let me thank Chris Adamson, author of QuickTime for Java: A Developer's Notebook for posting example code illustrating a sequence of incantations that work around the worst of the remaining bugs in the current QTJ implementation, and thereby allowed me to resume work on this new software. Even so, bugs remain, and my software could still be killed by them at the drop of a hat. It's written to recover from such situations, but having to write software that way doesn't inspire confidence, and that's the main reason I regard it as experimental.

April 3 - Mme. Owl was absent from 12:57-1:01 AM, then received food deliveries at 1:05, 3:22, 4:45 and 5:00 AM. (Daylight savings time kicked-in when 2 AM became 3 AM.) Her pre-dawn break was from 6:31-6:36 AM.

Sunrise arrived at 7:16 AM. The day was quiet; there were no starling visits.

Sunset was at 7:51 PM. Mme. Owl took her usual post-sunset break from 8:08-8:20 AM, then received food deliveries at 9:14, 9:48, 10:31, 11:11 and 11:36 PM.

A number of people have asked when the eggs will begin hatching. My estimate is April 9 or 10. This is based on brooding not having begun in earnest until the third egg was laid on March 10, and Gehlbach's studies which found that the first egg should hatch 30.3 ±1.8 days after incubation begins. This is a fine estimate; one you could take home and introduce to mother. However, it suffers in one key respect: Somewhere between 9:48 and 10:31 PM this evening, the first egg hatched. And judging by the sounds, I'm expecting the second egg to hatch tomorrow, April 4.

April 2 - Mme. Owl was absent from 1:50-1:53 AM, then received food deliveries at 2:58, 3:32, 3:55 and 5:00 AM. She took a pre-sunrise break from 5:56-5:58 AM.

Sunrise came at 6:17 AM. There was a single starling visit at 9:14 AM.

Sunset was at 6:51 PM. Mme. Owl was out for her usual break from 7:16-7:26 PM, then again from 7:40-7:42, probably to receive food. Her mate delivered at 8:15, 8:38, 9:24 and 11:29 PM.

April 1 - Mme. Owl was absent from 1:16-1:23 AM, received a gecko at 3:28, and was absent again from 5:47-5:53 AM. The sun rose 25 minutes after her return, at 6:18 AM. A starling had a look into the the box at 8:29 AM, but that was as close to being eventful as the day could manage. Sunset arrived at 6:50 PM, and Mme. Owl was out for her usual nightfall break from 7:22-7:29 PM. While she was out, her mate dropped by with food, and presumably he left with it, too. A minute later Mme. Owl was back. After that, she was abset for a minute at 8:04 PM, then received food deliveries at 9:38 and 11:54 PM.

March 31 - Mme. Owl received food deliveries at 12:24, 1:43, 2:48 and 4:34 AM, then she was absent from 5:04-5:10 AM. She received the next, and final, food delivery of the night at 5:43 AM. It must have been large enough to share, because she followed her mate out of the box, taking the kill with her, and didn't return for eleven minutes.

The sun rose at 6:19 AM, and the day was starling-free. Mme. Owl did diverge from her usual routine by sitting in the entryway of the box for about six minutes in the neighborhood of 5:40 in the afternoon. She was also more active than usual inside the box in the late afternoon. This may have been a response to the temperature reaching 90 degrees and making brooding somewhat redundant, or the later disturbance caused by a passing thunderstorm that brought temperatures down 20 degrees by sunset. Or it could have been something entirely different.

Sunset arrived at 6:49 PM, and Mme. Owl was out of the nest from 7:07-7:16, 7:21-7:27 and 8:01-8:43 PM. Food deliveries followed at 8:42, 8:50, 9:28, 11:32 and 11:48 PM.

Thanks to Laurie, Andy L., and Dan for their postcard, to Jane G. for both of hers, and to John & Debbie Z. for theirs!

March 30 - There wasn't a single food delivery to the nest between midnight and sunrise, but Mme. Owl was out of the box for five short periods: 12:18-12:23, 1:32-1:37, 4:03-4:10, 4:45-4:51 and 5:35-5:41 AM. If none of those involved receiving food from her mate, I'd be surprised (for whatever that's worth).

Sunrise was at 6:21 AM, and Mme. Owl's recent lucky streak with regard to quiet, starling-free days ended. There were at least three starling visits during the seven o'clock hour, and one more shortly after 9:30 AM. Mme. Owl didn't shift into a threat posture, so she must not have been too concerned by the visits. The remainder of the day was quiet.

After sunset at 6:49 PM, Mme. Owl was absent for two periods, 7:08-7:22 and 7:32-7:36 PM, then her mate resumed food deliveries to the nest box. There were five deliveries in all: 7:54, 8:48 (grasshopper), 10:29, 10:48 (insect?) and 10:50 PM.

March 29 - Most of the pre-dawn events were Mme. Owl's absences. She was gone from 12:13-12:20, 3:07-3:10 and 4:58-5:03 AM. There was only one food delivery. It arrived at 3:51 PM. I suspect that during some of those absences she received food from her mate, but I that's only speculation.

The sun rose at 6:22 AM, and nothing at all happened during the day, for the fourth day in row.

Sunset arrived at 6:48 PM, and Mme. Owl's absences once again dominated the events. She was out from 7:05-7:13, 7:16-7:43 (she took a bath during that absence), and 10:10-10:13 PM. There was one food delivery at 7:59 PM. Then midnight arrived, and that was that for the 29th.

Thanks to Andy & Julia B. for the postcard!

March 28 - Mr. Owl delivered a small bird at 12:48 AM. It was accepted with enthusiasm, and Mme. Owl followed him out of the nest box, carrying the bird. They probably met on a nearby tree limb to share the kill. She returned eleven minutes later at 12:59 AM. Mr. Owl delivered the remainder of the bird at 3:57 AM, and Mme. Owl promptly began the process of swallowing it whole. That was the last food delivery of the night. Mme. Owl took a break from 5:40-5:44 AM.

The sun rose at 6:32 AM, and another quiet day (three in a row) ensued.

Sunset arrived at 6:48 PM, and was followed by Mme. Owl's usual post-sunset break which ran from 7:22-7:31 PN. The first food delivery of the night came at 7:41 PM. The next, and last, food delivery followed at 9:46 PM (gecko).

Thanks to Nancy C. for the postcard, and Hannah M. for the card (hello to your students).

Random news item: The arrival of three new chicks has boosted the number of kakapo in the world to 86.

March 27 - Mme. Owl was out of the nest box from 1:44-2:01 AM, then received a large food delivery at 3:26 AM. She left the nest for five minutes to share it with her mate. Thirty minutes before sunrise, she took her more-or-less usual pre-dawn break for seven minutes. The sun rose at 6:24 AM, and nothing came to the nest box to disturb Mme. Owl all day, for the second day in a row. Sunset came at 6:47 PM, and Mme. Owl took her usual post-sunset break from 7:04-7:13 PM. She received a food delivery at 9:38 PM, and another at 11:09. And that was that.

March 26 - Mme. Owl was out from 12:15-12:28 AM, received food deliveries at 2:53 and 3:57 AM, and was absent again from 4:59-5:07, and 5:58-6:03 AM. The sun rose at 6:26 AM, 23 minutes after her return. Nothing happened during the day. The sun set at 6:46 PM. Possibly due to the combination of wet and cold weather, there were no food deliveries as of midnight, but Mme. Owl was out of the box on three occasions: 7:01-7:07, 8:34-8:40, and 11:48-11:53 PM. During some or all of those absences she could have received food from her mate, or done a bit of quick hunting for herself.

March 25 - The first post-midnight food delivery arrived at 1:28 AM. After that, Mme. Owl was absent from 1:30-1:35 and 3:51-3:55 AM, then another food delivery came at 4:21 AM, and she was out of the nest again from 5:15-5:23 AM.

Sunrise arrived at 6:27 AM, and the day was quiet apart from a single, short visit by something (one guess again) at 7:59 AM. Mme. Owl didn't get worked-up about it, and that was the excitement of the day.

Sunset was at 6:46 PM, and Mme. Owl was out for a break from 7:08-7:22 PM. The first food delivery of the night was a gecko at 8:20 PM, she was absent from 8:21-8:27 PM, another gecko was dropped-off at 8:51, and at 9:22 PM all hell broke loose when the most intense hail storm I've experienced swept through the area. (I'd never seen the sky light-up green/blue from lightning before. Wow.) Mme. Owl bolted for the entryway intending, it seemed, to flee for her life, but she quickly realized the situation was vastly worse outside. She considered the situation for about a minute, then decided to hunker-down with the eggs and wait for the sound and fury to run its course. By 9:35 she was satisfied that it was done, and went out for three minutes, perhaps to see how her world had changed. I inspected both of our homes around that time, and found that, apart from being covered with hail stones, everything appeared to be much as she'd left it.

She was absent again from 10:47-10:53 PM. Her mate put in his first post-storm appearance at the box at 11:00 PM when he made a food delivery. The sky was clear, the moon full, and the night quiet from then 'till midnight.

Four postcards today! (That's a record.) Thanks, in no particular order, to Brenda D., Jan W., Islie K., and Shirley R.!

March 24 - Mme. Owl received food deliveries at 12:36 and 1:14 AM. Later, she took two breaks, first from 1:15-1:21 AM, then 4:17-4:27 AM. Two food deliveries finished-off the night at 4:37 and 4:41 AM.

The sun rose at 6:28 AM, and by 9:28 something (one guess what it was) had stuck its head in the box and sent Mme. Owl into her threat posture. Another visit at 1:10 PM got her attention, but evidently wasn't deemed threatening.

Sunset arrived at 6:45 PM. Mme. Owl began the night with two breaks, one from 7:03-7:16 and the next from 7:28-7:32 PM. Food deliveries followed at 7:44 and 8:36 PM, then another absence from 8:37-8:42 PM. There were two more food deliveries: 11:03 and 11:52 PM.

Thanks to Nancy O. for the postcard!

By the way, a few people have asked about the fuzzy, dark item in the rungs in the lower-left portion of the images. I'm very confident it's a tuft of downy feathers that've become caught there, probably leftovers from the cedar waxwing dinner on the 17th.

March 23 - Mme. Owl received four food deliveries before dawn. They came at 12:04, 1:04, 2:35, and 3:10 AM. None the prey items showed-up in the frames from the nest box, so they all had to be things that could be quickly swallowed (nothing much bigger than a than gecko). She was absent from the nest box twice: 2:35-2:43, and 6:06-6:09 AM; the latter being a surprisingly short instance of the typical pre-dawn break.

Sunrise arrived at 6:29 AM, and the day that followed was entirely quiet; no starling visits for the second day in a row. She must have really made an impression on them, back on the 21st.

At 6:45 PM, the sun set and Mme. Owl was off for her usual break between 7:02 and 7:17 PM. The male made his first food delivery of the night at 7:46 PM, and followed that with deliveries at 8:44, 10:07 and 10:46 PM. Again, there was no indication that any of them were large prey items.

Thanks to Cheryl for her postcard, and Anne H. for hers (I'm relieved to learn that Pale Male has been reinstated; I'm always on the lookout for the pair of red-tails on the U.T. Austin Tower).

March 22 - In the hours before sunrise, Mme. Owl was absent twice, first from 3:54-4:02 AM, and then a pre-dawn constitutional from 6:04-6:13 AM. There were only two food deliveries: 12:46 and 1:30 AM.

Sunrise arrived at 6:30 AM, and, to my surprise, the day that followed was starling-free. Possibly, Mme. Owl gave them something to worry about yesterday. Long experience says the deterrent won't endure, but you take a quiet day when you can get one.

The sun set at 6:44 PM, and Mme. Owl was out of the box by 6:59 PM. Her mate showed-up with food at 7:11, but she didn't get back until 7:12. He showed-up a minute later with his first (successful) food delivery of the night. Other food deliveries followed at 7:26, 9:22, 9:37, 9:41, 11:12 and 11:39 PM. She took a break, or, at any rate, she was out of the nest box, between 9:51 and 9:58 PM. And that was that.

Thanks to Meri V. for the second overseas postcard!

March 21 - Mme. Owl received four food deliveries before sunrise: 12:29, 1:00, 3:08, 5:31 (gecko) and 5:45 AM (gecko). She was absent for three periods: 2:10-2:19, 4:59-5:07 and 6:14-6:18 AM.

Sunrise was at 6:32 AM. Starlings trespassed into the nest box between 7:58 and 8:02 AM. Mme. Owl was very annoyed. Apart from that four minute period, however, they left the nest box alone all day.

Sunset happened at 6:43 PM, and Mme. Owl was out of the box by 7:03 PM, returning ten minutes later. She was absent again from 7:28 to 7:36 PM. She stayed put for the remainder of the pre-midnight hours, receiving six food deliveries: 7:44, 9:11, 9:34, 10:13, 10:24 and 11:32 PM.

Thanks to Alison for the first foreign postcard. And equal thanks to Donna H. for the second postcard of the day.

March 20 - Mme. Owl received seven food deliveries, none visible in the frames captured, before sunrise. They occurred at 12:26, 1:40, 1:57, 3:23, 3:24, 3:31 and 5:34 AM. She was absent from the nest box for 11 minutes beginning at 4:53 AM, and she considered a pre-dawn break at 6:16 AM, but decided against it for no obvious reason.

Sunrise came at 6:33 AM, and once again the starlings returned to investigate the box. They began around 7:30 AM and made at least five groups of visits over the next two hours. Mme. Owl appears to have taken them in her stride.

Sunset arrived at 6:43 PM. Mme. Owl was out of the nest box from 7:13-7:24 PM. After that, she received five food deliveries: 7:36, 7:46, 8:41, 9:09 and 10:00 PM. She was absent again from 10:47-10:52 PM, and nothing else happened before midnight.

March 19 - Prior to sunrise, Mme. Owl received four food deliveries: 12:14, 12:45 (gecko), 1:05 and 3:49 AM. She was also absent twice: 2:46-2:55 and 6:01-6:15 AM.

The sun rose at 6:34 AM, and the increasingly bold starlings investigated the nest box off and on between 7:29 and 8:40 AM. The remainder of the day was quiet.

Sunset arrived at 6:42 PM. Mme. Owl was out from 6:56-7:08 PM. Food deliveries followed at 7:12, 7:55 (gecko), 8:12, 9:50, 10:00 and 10:17. Between 11:53 and 11:59 she was absent. And that was that.

March 18 - Mme. Owl was absent from the nest box on the three occasions between midnight and dawn: 12:48-12:52, 1:00-1:05 and 5:38-5:43 AM. The first of these was caused by me checking wiring in the junction box on trunk of the nest box tree in an attempt to find the source of a loud hum that had suddenly begun interfering with the audio coming from the box. I never did figure-out where the hum was coming from (it spontaneously ceased hours later), and Mme. Owl returned to the nest as soon as she was sure I'd gone back to the house. I could only speculate about the purpose of her other absences this morning.

The sun rose at 6:35 AM, and a starling had look inside the box several times in the early portion of the eight o'clock hour. Mme. Owl kept an eye on the entryway, but otherwise didn't react. The other daylight hours were quiet.

Sunset was at 6:41 PM, and Mme. Owl was out of the box by 6:59 PM. She returned to her brooding duty after only ten minutes, even though it was a warm night and she could have been away from the eggs longer, if she'd wanted to do so. Food was delivered by her mate at: 7:11, 7:21 (small gecko), 7:42 (medium gecko), 8:07 and 10:32 PM (large gecko). Nothing else had happened as of midnight.

Thanks to the Martins for their postcard, and to Matthew, Mark and Martine for their postcard! (First time two have arrived on the same day.)

March 17 - Mme. Owl was out of the box for two minutes at the start of the one o'clock hour, and fifteen at the end. In the latter case, while she was out her mate came looking for her, probably with a small food item. Toward the end of the four o'clock hour she was absent for ten minutes. At a quarter past five, Mr. Owl came by to offer her the last of cedar waxwing leftovers. He invested a full minute in trying to entice her into accepting it, but she merely feigned polite interest and sent him away with his offering. She skipped her pre-dawn constitutional, and so that was that for the night of March 16/17.

Sunrise was at 6:36 AM, and sunset at 6:41 PM. In between the only event was somethign poking its head into the entryway for a minute or two early in the eight o'clock hour. It didn't come in far enough for the camera to see it, and Mme. Owl didn't bother to do more than stare in its general direction.

Mme. Owl was out of the box for her usual post-sunset break between 7:02 and 7:10 PM. The first food delivery of the night was two minutes after her return. Four more deliveries followed at 8:15, 9:26, 10:29 and 11:16 PM. The items were small, and nothing else of note took place before midnight.

Thanks to Sysliene T. for the postcard!

March 16 - At 1:05 AM another cedar waxwing was delivered by the male. Mme. Owl followed him out of the box, carrying the bird. Presumably they shared it. She was back by 1:19 AM. At 3:11 AM, she followed him out of the box for nine minutes after another food delivery. Same thing between 5:06 and 5:15 AM. In the latter case, the prey item was a partially eaten small bird, almost certainly it was the same prey item that had been delivered in the three o'clock hour, albeit a bit smaller. It's even possible that all of the deliveries this morning were the same bird that the male first showed-up with at 8:49 PM on the 15th. But it's hard to be sure. Mme. Owl's pre-dawn constitutional was a short one of eight minutes, thirty minutes before sunrise. It was probably short due to temperatures being in the low 40s.

The day was very quiet, except for a single visit by something at 4:06 PM. Whatever it was barely earned a glance from Mme. Owl and was gone.

Sunset was at 6:40 PM, and Mme. Owl was out for her usual post-sunset break from 7:04-7:16 PM. She was absent again from 9:58-10:04 PM. And that's all there was to the start of this night.

March 15 - There were two food deliveries in the one o'clock hour, and nothing in the following hour. In the three o'clock hour, there were two deliveries, with a 13 minute absence by Mme. Owl in between them. The four o'clock hour saw one delivery, as did the next hour, making a total of six between midnight and sunrise. Mme. Owl took a pre-dawn constitutional of twelve minutes duration beginning 29 minutes before sunrise.

For the third day in a row, there were no starling, or any other kind of, visits to the nest box during the day.

Sunset was at 6:40 PM, and Mme. Owl was out of the box by 7 o'clock sharp. She was back 21 minutes later. Five minutes after that, the first post-sunset food delivery occurred. In the eight o'clock hour there was just one food delivery, but it was the biggest yet for the year: a cedar waxwing. After a period of calling back and forth between the male who was perched in the nest box tree with his kill, and Mme. Owl as she brooded the eggs, her mate brought the bird to her in the nest box, which caused her great excitement. They had the traditional tug-of-war for a kill that the male hopes to share, and having lost the kill to her, he exited the box. She followed with the bird about thirty seconds later, and didn't return for 22 minutes, so both owls probably ate well. In the nine o'clock hour there was a typically small food delivery, and between 10:50 and 10:59 PM, Mme. Owl took a break from brooding. Nothing more happened before midnight.

March 14 - In the one o'clock hour Mme. Owl was away just once, for four minutes, probably to accept food from her mate. There were two food deliveries in the following hour, and one early in the three o'clock hour. Her final break before sunrise ended about 75 minutes before sunrise, and lasted only seven minutes. Not much of a break, but it must have been good enough.

The day was very quiet. Like yesterday, there were no visits to the nest box.

The sun set at 6:39 PM. Mme. Owl didn't go to the entryway until 6:46 PM for her usual dose of watching-the-world-go-by in the waning daylight. She exited the box at 7 PM, returning twelve minutes later. The first food delivery of the night came at 8:02, and the second at 8:03. The nine o'clock hour saw two food deliveries and a nine minute absence. Ten o'clock had just one food delivery, eleven had two, and that was that.

Thanks to Stacy L. for the postcard!

March 13 - In the one o'clock hour Mme. Owl made one short trip out of the box, probably to receive food, and accepted two deliveries in the box. She was out for 18 minutes beginning at 2:46 AM. In the five o'clock hour she was out for 16 minutes starting at 5:03, received a food delivery at 5:34 AM, then followed her mate out of the box, returning seven minutes later. That was her final absence before sunrise at 6:40 AM.

The day was quiet; no visits by starlings, or anything else.

The sun set at 6:38 PM, and Mme. Owl exited the nest box at 7:03 for an eleven minute constitutional. She received one food delivery in the seven o'clock hour, was out of box again between 7:49 and 7:50, probably to accept food from her mate. The eight o'clock hour saw another such short absence, and I continue to believe their purpose is to receive food from her mate perched nearby. Why he doesn't deliver it in these cases, I'm not sure. He may be offering to share a kill with her, and that may be most easily managed outside the confines of the box. There were two food deliveries in the nine o'clock hour, and a sub-minute absence which I assume also involved food. The events of the 13th concluded with a single food delivery at 11:44 PM.

If there's to be a fifth egg, we should see it early on the 15th. Up to six eggs are possible, but more than four is unusual, so the clutch is probably already complete, but we can't be sure for a few more days.

March 12 - The pre-sunrise hours included 3 absences by Mme. Owl, all less than 10 minutes in duration. There was at least one food delivery. She took her usual pre-dawn break 43 minutes before sunrise, and she was back in the nest box brooding her eggs after 17 minutes. The day was uneventful. The first food delivery of the night, a large gecko, was at 6:59 PM while Mme. Owl still sitting in the entryway prior to making her post-sunset exit. Another gecko was delivered at 8:50 PM, and one more at 9:14 PM. That delivery provided the first glimpse of egg no. 4. There were only three eggs at 7:21 PM, so the fourth egg was definitely laid post-sunset; best guess: 7:57 PM. Between 9:15 PM and midnight, Mme. owl received at least three food deliveries, and took one break for about two minutes.

March 11 - Mme. Owl took a twenty minute break from brooding at half-past midnight, and a ten minute break at 3:45 AM. Her mate showed that he has shifted into hunting-for-two mode by making a minimum of four food deliveries between then and 5:30 AM, when Mme. Owl took another ten minute break. In a divergence from her usual habit, that was her last absence from the nest before sunrise, which didn't arrive until an hour later. The day looked uneventful. Twenty minutes after sunset, she took twenty minutes for her usual post-sunset constitutional, and then was back to brooding. About ten past eight, she went to the entryway and called for het mate. He showed-up a few minutes later with a food delivery, which may, or may not, have been the first of the evening. Shortly after 9 PM she went out for ten minutes. At least three food deliveries occurred in the time between her return and midnight. Those that I saw were small, and not enough to satisfy Mme. Owl, if I'm interpreting her calls correctly. The male is trying, but he's plainly not the same mate she's had the last few years; that owl was an expert hunter. (Eastern screech owls mate for life, but few survive past age three in the wild.) My guess is that this fellow is a yearling who has never had to hunt for anyone but himself until now. We'll see how fast a learner he is. In the meantime, the weather is mild, so Mme. Owl will probably feel she can leave the eggs occasionally to do do a bit of hunting for herself.

The egg laying interval increases with each egg, but, if there's to a be a fourth egg (and odds are that there will be), it could very well appear tomorrow.

Thanks to Conrad and Yvonne for the postcard!

March 10 - Not quite a quarter past midnight, Mme. Owl sat in the entryway calling for her mate. He showed up in the entryway a few minutes later, and probably delivered food to her. She followed him out, and stayed out for the next fifty minutes. At 2:40 AM, she took an hour-long break. At ten past four, she was out again, but only for nine minutes, perhaps to call her mate. A few minutes after she returned to the box, her fella showed up with food. She took her final break of the night for fifty minutes starting at 5:30, and ending 25 minutes before sunrise. As is her habit, she entered upside-down. Her mate handles his entrances more gracefully.

Egg no. 3 appeared sometime during the day. My best guess at the time of arrival is 3:18 PM, but it's only a guess. Mme. Owl was out the box by 6:58 PM, roughly twenty minutes after sunset. Once she returned, about 35 minutes later, she made it clear that brooding has commenced: she left the nest box for only two minutes between then and midnight. Her mate must now get serious about hunting for two.

March 9 - Mme. Owl returned to the nest box seven minutes after midnight, just 16 minutes after leaving. Her mate made a food delivery a few minutes later, so she may have been out looking, or calling, for him. She took a half hour break from brooding starting at 1:04 AM, and almost a three hour break at 3:30 AM. She returned about 20 minutes before sunrise. The day appears to have been quiet. About 20 minutes after sunset, Mme. Owl exited the box, and was away for four and half hours, missing at least three visits by her mate. Thirty minutes later, at midnight, she was still in the box, brooding the eggs. With a bit of luck, we'll see egg no. 3 tomorrow.

March 8 - Mme. Owl returned to the nest box a bit past midnight, after a five hour absence. The first food delivery of the year (the first one to Mme. Owl while she was in the nest box, anyway) happened at 1:35 AM, when Mr. Owl dropped-off a nice, big gecko. Mme. Owl continued to brood her egg until around 3 AM when she took a break from an hour and a quarter. She went back to brooding for an hour and a half, then took a 25 minute constitutional before returning for the day, about 40 minutes before sunrise.

Mme. Owl's exit from the box about 20 minutes after sunset revealed that egg no. 2 had been laid sometime during the day. (I have no idea when.) She was back 50 minutes later, brooded the eggs for an hour and a half, then went out for an hour and a half. Her return lasted less than ten minutes.

March 7 - Mme. Owl returned to the nest box at 6:38 AM, ten minutes before sunrise, after a nearly 12 hour absence. During the day starlings disturbed her sleep from time to time, but they haven't worked up the courage to enter the box and challenge her directly (past experience says that'll happen before long, of course). The egg was brooded maybe half the day. By around 4:30 PM the beautiful, sunny day we were having here in Austin raised temperatures in the nest box into the mid 80s, leaving Mme. Owl gullar fluttering (the owl equivalent of panting). She was out on her evening rounds by 6:57 PM, 23 minutes after sunset. There were two brief visits to the nest box before midnight, probably by the male, but, otherwise, the nest was empty.

Thanks to Don S. for the postcard!

March 6 - Mme. Owl laid the first egg somewhere between 11:30 PM last night and 2:00 AM this morning. She hasn't been too concerned about incubating it, because she can slow its development by not brooding it. This simplifies later phases of nesting by reducing the effective age differences between the owlets. Thus the interval between egg hatchings can be reduced to something less than the interval between layings, and the same probably applies to some degree to the interval between owlets leaving the nest box. Normal brooding is unlikely to begin before the second egg appears, and is sometimes delayed even longer.

Mme. Owl left the nest box at 6:46 PM and hadn't returned by midnight. An owl, probably her mate, stuck its head in the box for a moment around 11 PM, but left at once.

March 5 - First daytime occupancy. While I haven't confirmed it to my complete satisfaction, it appears Mme. Owl laid her first egg somewhere between 11:30 PM and 2:00 AM, March 6.

March 4 - All of the important nest box repairs and upgrades are complete, at last. The work included swapping out the nest box chasis that's been in use for the last several years with its identical twin that was used during the first years of the cam'. The chasis now in use has had the infrared phototransistor and illuminator in its entryway replaced, because the the phototransistors in both chasis had ceased to work. Also, the mechanism holding the front closed has been replaced, and a new method of holding together the four-part entryway assembly is in place; in both cases, the new work is stronger and more maintainable than what it replaced.

More significantly, a new side camera compartment was installed at 5:30 AM. This is the result of years of considering the shortcomings of the previous camera setup, and weeks of work. I've taken time off from work to put in three consecutive 16 hour days to get it finished before nesting begins, and most of the things that could go wrong, have. Conceptually the new compartment is simpler than the one it replaces, but it was a lot more complicated to construct. Improvements include:

Having eliminated just about all of the problems I could think of, I can now sit back, relax, and look forward to being bedevilled by all of the problems I didn't think of.

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