The Heroic Little Owlet of Cambridge

 The bird is the wild element we crave that erases the highway and the sadness of modern life.  Jonathan Rosen, The Life of the Skies   

  The winter season ended as it had begun – with the Snowy Owls.  Especially the one at Salisbury that we named STAR GUY because of its star-like tendencies.  It seemed to like people and ‘performed’ for birders and photographers day after day, even landing on the ground now and then,  It was a glimpse into this species unlike any other.  We had plenty of opportunities to see it fly and were able to watch it take prey occasionally. The antics of this owl even eclipsed the memorable Salisbury Snowies of 2014.  STAR GUY was a singular sensation.  The night before the temp reached the 80’s, STAR GUY was on his way back to the Arctic.  Snowy Owl with prey ) 
Snowy Owls, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by John Harrison.
Snowy Owls, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Photographer Kim Nagy (L) and photographer Peter Lewicki (R), Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by John Harrison.
  As is said, when one door closes, another opens.  In this case the other door was once again owls.  This time with the pair of Great Horned Owls at Fresh Pond in Cambridge.  This pair successfully fledged two owlets last year and had another two born in March of this year.  One of those two fell out of the nest early and didn’t survive.  The  remaining owlet, on April 12th, also fell out of the nest.  However, it was a bit older and stronger and instinct kicked in and its wings opened as a parachute and the little owlet made a soft landing on its feet, seemingly unhurt. 
Great Horned Owlet, Fresh Pond, Cambridge, the day it fell from the nest, April 12th (L) and on April 17th (R).   Photos by John Harrison.
 It sat on the ground, day after day, looking around curiously.  It didn’t seem hurt but we couldn’t be sure.  At this point, birder Susan Moses surrounded the area with ‘caution’ tape to keep watchers from getting too close and a sign was posted for dog walkers to keep their dogs leashed because of the ‘grounded owl.’ .
Fresh Pond Owlet site.  Photos by John Harrison.
This worked well and everyone could watch the owl without being too close to cause it undue stress.  And of course the parent owls were always up in trees nearby keeping watch over their kid.  If any predator were to get close to this owlet, day or night, the fierce adult owls would have dealt with it.  It was therefore safe to gain strength day by day without fear until it could ultimately fly on its own.  Slowly it moved and  five days later, on April 17th, was sitting calmly at the base of a tree about a city block in distance from where it fell on April 12th.   The following morning,  April 18th,  the owlet was on a branch four or five feet above the ground.  This was a good sign that it was progressing as it should.  
Owlet on April 18th, with mother owl on a tree above watching.  Photos by John Harrison.
Mother owl in flight with prey (L) and mother about to feed prey to the owlet (R).  Photos by Jim Renault.
 Certainly mom and dad were encouraging their owlet to move overnight.  Great Horned Owls are nocturnal so there was certainly much activity night after night getting the owlet stronger.  Two weeks after the fall from the nest, April 26th, it was obvious that the owlet was getting stronger.   

On Saturday, April 28th, a milestone was reached for the owlet.  We watched it take its first short flight. 

The owlet learning to fly.  Photos by John Harrison.

Mother and owlet together, May 3rd.  Photos by Kim Nagy.

On Friday, May 11th, the mother and owlet were together way up in a pine, triumphant after the month-long perilous journey.  In coming days the owlet will be harder and harder to find, which is as it should be.  As I have observed through the years, birds of prey are attentive parents.  The mother and father owls  were watching their offspring 24 hours a day.  They fed it over night and kept it from harm.  Therefore many of us had the rare good fortune to watch this drama unfold.  It is reminiscent of that other great Cambridge birds of prey drama, the Red-tailed Hawks, Buzz and Ruby, of 185 Alewife in 2010 and 2011.  The Cambridge Chronicle related the story of our heroic little owlet in its May 3rd edition.

  While watching our owlet drama unfold we would occasionally see a warbler land on a nearby tree.  The owlet fell from the nest on April 12th, which is the time of year when the early arrival spring migrants, the warblers, begin filtering in.  When May began, our owl-watching usually coincided with visits to Mount Auburn Cemetery to see if any warblers had arrived.  I would check on the owlet around 6:30am then go to Mount Auburn for a while and then go back to the owlet after leaving Mount Auburn.  The usual suspect warblers were arriving right on time – Yellow-rumped’s, Black-throated Blues and Greens, Chestnut-sided’s, Magnolias, Yellows, Pines, a couple of Blackburnians and a couple of Cape May’s.  I was lucky enough to catch a half hour with a Scarlet Tanager on May 9th, but missed the rare Cerulean Warbler that wowed a bunch of watchers a few days before early in the morning.  My one and only Cerulean was at Mount Auburn Cemetery in April of 2009.  It is uncommon around here.
Black & White Warbler (L) and Scarlet Tanager (R), Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.
The elusive Cerulean Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery, April 2009.  Photos by John Harrison.
  We had another uncommon visitor in late April and early May at the Arlington Reservoir,  A 1st year male Blue Grosbeak, which attracted birders from all over.  The bird pretty much stayed at the water’s edge on one path at the reservoir so was relatively easy to find day after day. 
Blue Grosbeak, Arlington Reservoir.  Photos by John Harrison.
  Plum Island was awash with warblers on Saturday, May 5th.  Photographer Kim Nagy and I intended to go to Hellcat Trail to look for them there but there was so much going on at various points along the road – especially the usually exciting S-curve area – that we didn’t get to Hellcat until a couple of hours later.
Prairie Warbler (L) and Black & White (R), Plum Island.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Magnolia Warbler (L), Black-throated Blue (R), Plum Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
Northern Parula (L), Yellow-rumped Warbler (R), Plum Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
  On May 9th and 10th photographer Kim Nagy was at Magee Marsh in Oak Harbor, Ohio on the southern shore of Lake Erie.  It is one of the premiere spring migration locations in the country.  She had many exhilarating moments at the marsh, adding several new species to her long list,
Magnolia Warbler (L), Bald Eagle nest, (R), Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Blue-winged Warbler (L), American Redstart (R), Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Yellow Warbler (L), Scarlet Tanager (R), Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Cape May Warbler (L), Blackburnian Warbler (R), Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Prothonotary Warbler, Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.