Pat Hatch's PhotoJournal

The Owls Have Been Busy…

I was beginning to wonder if the owl family was coming back this year.

Although I had heard them in December as usual, the female did not lay her eggs until the middle of January, which is much later than normal.  Blame it on global warming, I guess.  I noticed the first chick about the middle of February, but something didn't look right to me.  It seemed like there might have been a new (younger) female just from the way she looked sitting in the nest.  It seemed like she was smaller than our regular mom, but I wasn't sure.  Perhaps the hollow in the tree that acts as their nest was getting deeper, who knows.

So we had some excitement on February 24th, a Monday.  I got a call early that morning from Vince, a neighbor, who had driven by and saw a baby on the ground at the base of the tree.  Ron and I went to investigate and found the little one not looking too well all balled up and shivering from the cold.  Vince said he had seen what looked liked two owls fighting in midair previously.  My theory about what happened is that the nest was probably attacked by a red shouldered hawk that got one of the babies but probably dropped it when it was attacked by the mother owl.  I noticed right away that both owl adults were nearby and highly agitated, hooting and clacking like crazy.  But it was obvious that they couldn't do anything for the baby on the ground.  Most of the wildlife folks I've spoken to, the owl experts, advise that the first choice is to try and put the baby owl back in the nest, if possible.  That gives them the best chance for survival.

Ron and I gathered up a 24-foot extension ladder, a pair of gloves, some towels, and a golf umbrella.  I knew from previous rescues that I would need the umbrella to fend off the adults when attempting to pick up the baby.  Both adults were extremely excited and agitated and watching our every move.  The nest is about 30 feet in the air, so the ladder wouldn't get me all the way up to the nest, and I knew I would have to climb the last 6 feet or so.  This was not looking good, but I decided to at least give it a try.  I got up to the top of the ladder, first to see if I could get to the nest, then I would return for the little one.  I got up to the top and was getting situated to climb on to a branch.  Both adults were in the tree nearby making a commotion, so I knew I would probably be attacked.  Out of nowhere, I felt what I thought was a branch falling on my head from above.  I saw my ball cap go flying off my head.  It took me a second or two to realize what had happened; I was stunned momentarily and because I had heard no approaching sound, I wasn't sure it had been the owls.  A moment later I felt the second blow, and like on 9/11 when the second plane hit, I immediately knew I had been attacked by the owls.  I now know why these attacks have been fatal in the past.  I felt like I had been mugged like on one of those knockout games that have been in the news recently.  As soon as I figured out what had happened, I made a hasty retreat down the ladder.

What we really needed was a 2-man cherry picker that could go that high, with someone holding the golf umbrella while the other person handled the owlet.

I can verify a couple of things that are well-known about owls:  one, their flight is definitely silent and stealthy, as I never heard the owls coming, and, two, the talons on these raptors are deadly, their prey have no chance, and I have the scars on my head to prove it!

Time for plan B.  Ron and I put a towel around the baby to keep it warm, got it into a canvas bag, and drove it to the local Humane Society.  Like before when this happened, the baby got transported to the Florida Wildlife Hospital near Melbourne, Florida and a few days later was moved to The Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka, FL, where it was united with a surrogate Great Horned owl mother.  Special thanks to Dee at the former and to Carol at the latter for the work they do in rescuing these beautiful birds.  Please consider donating to both of these organizations, they do great work.  You can visit their web sites to see some of their patients!  Check out Gulliver, the surrogate mother, at the Apopka facility.  Carol has advised that the little one is doing exquisitely with its new mom, and says she hopes to release the owlet here in Vero near the nest in about 4 to 6 weeks.

So, things have returned to normal at the owl residence.  Here are a few photos from yesterday:

The one remaining owlet, missing its sibling in Apopka!

Here is mom, head rotated 180 degrees to observe the camera.

This is dad, none too happy to see me, I think.

Comparing the photos this year to last, I now think this is the same mother owl. The dad looks the same, too. I've often wondered where the younger owls go. Once they fledge, it seems like we never see them again.

Thanks also to the rest of the neighbors who assisted in this rescue: Dennis, Garrick, Rebecca and Kristina.

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A Virtual Time Capsule

My sister, Dede, sent me this old envelope of black-and-white negatives that were part of a hoard of family photos she's been going through.  Here are a couple of gems.  This is her when she's obviously about a year old, would have been about the spring of 1946.  So that makes these negatives 67 years old.  We have been finding quite a few of these old photo processing envelopes full of negatives, sometimes they'll even have an address and a date on them.  These had my grandfather Pop's old address:  35 Pickwick Road, Newton, Mass.  So obviously my mom must have been visiting my dad's folks while my dad was overseas during WWII.  What is amazing about these negatives is that they are in perfect condition, probably in the same condition they were in when these photos were taken.  A veritable time capsule these are.

So I scanned these negatives on my Epson V700 photographic scanner, they measure 2 1/2" by 4 1/4". The processing envelope (Gordon H. Rhodes, Est., 1649 Beacon Street, Waban, Mass.) is dated 5-20-46 and the film type is Kodak 616, looks like 14 exposures. The cost of developing the negatives was $1.02, and with a "folio" print, the total was $1.37. The condition is remarkable, no dust or other imperfections found at all. Color slides first appeared around the 1950's and the ones we have are all in good condition but they are covered in dust that can't be physically cleaned. More noticeably, the color has almost uniformly shifted and/or faded. The black-and-white negatives seem to hold up much better. Here is another example from a later batch:

Buddy Hatch & Friend Circa 1946

This is a photo of my dad, probably home on leave or shortly after the war ended. I think it was common then for returning servicemen to wear their uniforms during their daily activities, I assume because of a greater sense of patriotism and pride after having won the war.  My dad was a pilot in the Army Air Corps and flew in the China Burma India (CBI) theater during the war.

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Bad News Today

One of our neighbors found the lifeless body of O-1 at the base of the owl tree this afternoon.  We examined it pretty closely (he's a doctor) and found that he had an injury to his beak that had resulted in a lot of bleeding.  Not sure if he had some kind of accident while trying to fledge or perhaps some sort of collision.  Otherwise, the body seemed to have been normally developed, beautiful actually.  I went over to the tree and found O-2 in an adjacent tree, so I can conclude that O-2 has fledged.  If there's any good news today, it's that O-2's eye injury appears to be improving.  As you can see, one photo shows how the right eye is still partially closed, but it appears from the other photo that the eyeball appears to be fairly normal and perhaps improving.

Sad day.

O-2's right eye appears to be improving...

O-2's right eye is still partially closed however ...

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Eye Injury Update

So today I was shooting solely to see how the eye injury looked on O-2. Not much change, really. It looks like she is keeping the eye closed so hopefully it is an injury that will heal itself. It doesn't look good at this point, but hopefully it is not as bad as it looks. Otherwise, O-2 appears to be quite healthy and growing by leaps and bounds. The injury doesn't seem to affect her branching ability, as you can see she is on the branch while O-1 takes it easy in the nest. It is pretty apparent that they are getting to the point where both don't fit in the nest hollow, and as a matter of fact, I have noticed that they appear to be roosting on the branch above the nest at night. Will check back in a few days for an injury update.

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Today’s Owl Photos

O-2, on the right, possible eye problem?

As you can see, looks like O-2, the smaller of the two owlets, may have a problem with its right eye. Hard to tell, actually; it could be just a minor problem. We'll see in a few days if there's any change.

Both these guys spend most of their day out on the branch now. Both appear to be developing normally with the exception of O-2's eye problem.

Mom perched high above her two branchers.

O-1 out on a branch, O-2 in the nest.

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