Pat Hatch's PhotoJournal

Je Ne Regrette Rien, by Edith Piaf

This was my assignment out of pilot training, UPT Class 67E, Laughlin AFB, Del Rio, Texas, in February 1967. I graduated second in my class, but first in flying, for which I was awarded the Commander's Trophy, awarded each class to the student with the highest flying average. So I graduated high enough in class standing to hold the F-100, since there were 10 of the F-100 slots available and only eight training bases. Otherwise the most desirable slots were two F-106s and 3 F-102s--and I knew I had no chance for those--but that just meant that there were a total of 15 airplanes that I was bidding on. Assignments were awarded based on class standing, but also on date of rank. And being that I was a lowly second lieutenant, a Captain would outrank me in the case of a tie. But with eight bases, there were potentially 15 guys ahead of me. So it was close. The guy in my class that graduated first, due to his high academic scores, was Captain Dennis Sombke, may he rest in peace. He got one of the F-106s and went on to the ADC (Air Defense Command) which meant that he didn't have to go to Vietnam, an added benefit to the delta dart assignment. Dennis had been a navigator up until he got the pilot training assignment. Most of us were 2nd lieutenants but there were a few Captain ex-navigators in our class.

You will notice in the photo above that this is a 2-seat F-100. I was to report to Cannon AFB for gunnery school and then on to my F-100 unit. My T-38 instructor at the time had a friend who went this same route and it turned out that after gunnery school he was assigned to the back seat of an F-100 (call sign Misty) in Vietnam. The Mistys were FAC airplanes (forward air controllers) with a not too stellar survival rate in Vietnam according to my information at the time. Plus there were plenty of back-seat F4 assignments in my class, and I was not keen on any "back-seat" jobs. So based on that rumor, I was able to change to the next best airplane in our class lineup: the C-130. Later when I was in Vietnam flying C-130s, I ran into a classmate of mine that had probably gotten the F-100 assignment that I had relinquished, and he was happy to be flying single-seat F-100s out of Tuy Hoa--the same base that I was based at. So you can say that you have no regrets in your life, and you shouldn't, but to this day I wish I had taken that F-100 when I had the chance!

A footnote to this story is that an old friend of mine, David Tokoph from El Paso, TX, had acquired a 2-seat F-100 when I ran into him again around 2005. He and I had been in business off shore, he in Mexico and I in Costa Rica, when we first met and struck up a friendship based on our mutual experiences in Latin America. David had become very successful, and built quite a War Bird collection in El Paso and had kindly offered to take me for a ride in his F-100. Unfortunately, he was killed flying his T-28 on August 14, 2015, before we could arrange the ride.

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Three Owlets

Lighting was not optimal late this evening, but I'll take it, considering this was the first time that I've been able to get all three in one photograph. Mom and dad were hooting up a storm nearby, which I took to be the call for dinner on the way. They usually get fed just after it gets dark.

The oldest owlet on top, two younger siblings still in the nest.

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Three Owlets this Year, First Brancher

I can confirm that we have a brood of three this year!  The third one was hard to see until a few days ago and I still have not been able to get a photo of all three together.  It will come with a little patience.  Today for the first time one of the chicks was perched on top of the hollow.  Obviously they're getting well fed.  This guy is obviously the largest of the three, probably the first born.  It's a little early for them to be branching (usually they branch at 40 days), but I imagine things are getting really crowded in the nest so this is probably the reason they are branching early.  Stay tuned, I'll have some photos of all three together soon. (For a full-size giant image, click on the photo.)

Our First Brancher!

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2017 Owl Season is Here

Today was actually the first day that I was able to photograph the chicks this season. Mom is beginning to leave the nest for extended periods now leaving the two owlets by themselves to peek over the edge of the hollow. I went out around noon and saw mom and one of the owlets (picture below). I came back a couple of hours later and mom had departed. However, dad was nearby keeping watch over the little ones.

Mom with First Chick

This year's first owlet hatched on January 3rd followed by owlet #2 a couple of days later. I believe this is the third breeding season for this particular female. The first two years' brood was just a single owlet so this was her first year with two. The owls returned to their same hollow nest in the oak tree in our neighborhood. Last year the single owlet fell from this nest. We were fortunate that we were able to get a bucket truck from our tree service to drop by and help us put the little guy back up in the nest. I think one of the reasons he fell was due to the lack of access to the other branches in the tree. When the owlets begin to "branch", they hop along the adjacent limbs--half flying, half hopping. This is how they learn to fly. Since the large branch broke off a few years ago just above the nest hollow, we lost the ability for the owlets to branch out to nearby limbs. Instead the owlets were climbing on top of the concrete cap that we built in order to shore up the hollow. When the branch broke off at the hollow, we lost the branch network leaving the owlets isolated in their hollow. So last summer we came up with the idea to bolt an 8-foot fence post to the side of the hollow and lay it over the fork on an adjacent branch thus giving the owlets a new pathway to other branches.

This Appears to be the Firstborn Owlet Now Almost 4 Weeks Old

And then there were two.

Here's dad. He was in an adjacent oak tree nearby while mom was taking a break:

And here are a couple of photos of the work we did this past summer. The new owl platform is located in a hammock of old oak trees not too far from the current location of the nest. The idea is that the current nest hollow is in a state of deterioration so the new platform is our backup plan for when the hollow is no longer usable. According to the folks at the Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka, FL, the owls will eventually find their new nest--it might just take a few years. We built it to last. It is made of Trex and carbon fiber with stainless steel hardware.  And finally, we'll soon find out, but we're hoping the new fence post addition to the side of the hollow will provide a path for the branchers when they start the fledging process.

New Owl Platform with Protective Hood

Added Fence Post to Give Owls Access to Other Branches

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Mother Owl Feeding Her Chick

It was a nice day today:  fair skies, cool temperatures, light wind.  Feedings usually occur early in the mornings before daybreak and late in the afternoons just before sunset.  Today's lighting was excellent as the sun was setting and with a little luck I was able to find the owlet in a nearby tree not far from the nest tree.  The chick has been really branching out lately to nearby trees so it takes a while to find it, and today I was surprised when mom showed up shortly after I found the chick.  And as mom flew in, she had what looked like a small rodent in her beak and then she shifted it to her talon after landing.  Mom landed about 25 feet away from the chick and it was interesting to see the chick's reaction to mom's presence.  First, it ignored her; then mom began hooting and the chick sidled up to her in a series of jumps and short flights.

The chick looks well fed, no apparent ill effects from falling out of the nest earlier this year.

Mom arrives with dinner: a small rodent of some kind. (Please click on photo for full size.)

Mom departed shortly after this moment; so the chick is now feeding itself, apparently.

It's almost the end of the season, so I would expect that the owlet will be gone within the next two weeks. Sightings will be fewer and fewer and photo opportunities rarer. It's gratifying that we were able to rescue this one this year, to give it a chance for survival, so it's great to see it almost fully fledged.

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