Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

From us all in 'Pot Plant Owl' land, I'd like to wish you all a very Blessed Festive Season and Happy Holidays.

Our owl family have been very active in the immediate area, over the past few days. We've seen both chicks hissing and bopping their heads - Timka, of course, is the loudest.

It's a wonderful Christmas gift to see how healthy they are, and to know they are doing well.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

PPO Family Sighting - 15 December

19h15 Central African Time: Do you ever get that nagging 'feeling' that you need to stop whatever you are doing, and move to another spot, or do something else? It happens to me a lot.

Sometimes it occurs when I am right in the middle of doing something I enjoy, and the 'disruption' confuses me. An inner monologue ensues of "No, I want to carry on with..." counter-argued with "but you should do this or that now". Inevitably, the nagging 'feeling' wins, and I stop what I am doing and move on.

This happened last night while reading a riveting book. I eventually put my book down and 'followed the feeling' upstairs, and out onto the balcony. And lo and behold, my nagging 'feeling' was right on the mark.

There, standing in all her splendid glory, was Pot Plant Owl on the rooftop right next to ours. Standing on the balcony, I could hear Pappa hooting in the distance. I stood watching PPO and softly talking to her. It was my first opportunity to chat to her about her award, and what it means. She seemed to listen to me for a while - probably thinking 'What are you doing on MY balcony?'

After ten minutes went by, I wanted to leave her in peace, and again, the nagging 'feeling' kept me standing on the balcony watching. As soon as I resolved to remain on the balcony until PPO left, not one, not two, but three owls flew past me, past PPO on the rooftop and down into the wetland. Pappa, Merlin and Timka did a fly-by to say hello.

It was magical watching the two chicks, led by their strong hunter father. They fly with ease now, and if I didn't know any better, I would have assumed I had watched three adult owls fly past.

As soon as they flew past PPO, she turned her head, and watched them fly into the wetland. Shortly after, she too flew off the rooftop to hunt.

So my advice?

Listen to your nagging 'feelings', your 'intuition', your 'sixth sense' your 'inner voice'or whatever label you see fit to use.

You are guaranteed to experience something of benefit to you.

I certainly did!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Press Release for PPO's Award

I've been asked to include a Press Release for Pot Plan Owl's Award win. It will be posted shortly under "Eco Angels" on our website -

Update on PPO's wetland

The day we received the wonderful news about Pot Plant Owl's "Lady Gray'l Award", we also received an email from the Government Department who will be deciding on the proposed development on the wetland site - Pappa's hunting ground.

We are meeting the decision maker on site this Monday morning - 12th December.

Fingers crossed that the original decision will be upheld, and the delineated wetland is protected!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pot Plant Owl wins International Owl Award

07 Dec 2012:
I have just received wonderful news!

We have just heard that Pot Plant Owl has won the Lady Gray'l Award. This is an award given out at the International Owl Festival in March every year in Houston, Minnesota. This is what the award is for:

The Lady Gray'l Award is named after a Great Gray Owl who was hatched in 1984. Thanks to caring biologists with an interesting plan, that same owl who would have starved as the runt of the brood. Lady Gray'l spent a 21-year career touching the lives of untold thousands of people and giving researchers new insights into the life of the Great Gray Owl. Lady Gray'l spent nearly her entire lifetime living and working with Dr. Bob Nero, raising money for owl research through their hundreds of school visits and day-long stints in malls. Thanks to Gray'l, Great Gray Owls were plucked from relative obscurity to become the provincial bird of Manitoba. Lady Gray'l flew from this world on October 13, 2005, and this award was established to honor her accomplishments by recognizing other owls following in her footsteps.

Pot Plant Owl and her family hold a very special place in our hearts. She has done so much in our lives, and it's amazing to know that 'her' reach is now worldwide - enough for her to win a special International Owl of the Year award.

The Pot Plant Owl story has reached thousands of people around the globe, instilling in them an awareness, not only about owls, but about garden birds and Nature in general too. Thanks to our sweet Pot Plant Owl, the PPO Facebook page and Africam's webcam have brought joy to thousands of people daily. The PPO webcam was followed in schools as part of a set curriculum. The wetland where PPO hunts has been saved (to date) from development with a 28 000 strong petition, and PPO campaigns to save ALL wetlands in South Africa. PPO is now publicising the plight of the Pels Fishing Owl, whose breeding sites in the southern Kruger Park are threatened by a hotel development.

I speak on behalf of Pot Plant Owl when I say a huge big THANK YOU for this award. I look forward to receiving the award in Houston, Minnesota on PPO's behalf. (Regret, she can't personally attend due to family commitments, but has asked me to accept the award for her).

To USA PPO fans - hope to see you at the 'International Festival of Owls' in March next year!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Have your say...

I don't mind criticism. In fact, I welcome it, if it is constructive, because it affords me the opportunity to learn and grow. And that's what we are all here for.

The thing about criticism is that those criticising need to be well-versed in the subject matter, otherwise their critique won't hold any weight.

I woke this morning to find an interesting email in my inbox where a person called Barbara wrote, and I quote, "I want to rain on your parade". Suffice to say that the contents of the email have been addressed, and the issue need not go any further.

My point in bringing this up?

Think carefully about how your message, however well meaning it may be, could be received. And to what end do you level your critique? Do you understand the whole picture? (And sadly, in this case, Barbara did not). Are you really trying to HELP another person and their efforts, or are you trying to break them down?

We are all struggling to make sense of this Life. Most people try to do the best that they know how to, and can do, with the resources available to them.

Remember that before you say anything - especially when you start "I want to rain on your parade".

Peace, Barbara.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Special Thanks to Bob in Canada

Just a quick note to say a very heart-felt THANK YOU to BobandtheOwls for his Google Map contribution to track PPO fans.

It has been labour-intensive for Bob, and I want to just say how Allan and I both appreciate his efforts.

Thank you, Bob. We look forward to hopefully one day seeing your owls too!

Take care

Saturday, November 26, 2011

PPO Fans

We will have a FINAL GOODBYE for the 2011 PPO season this Sunday at 6pm Central Africam Time (11am EAST / 8am WEST). We will be broadcasting live from the balcony. If you have any questions / comments, please email them to me on, or leave a comment after this blog post.

One of our PPO fans started a PPO Fans map. Please will you reply below with your first name (and last if you want to) and which city and country you live in the world. There is a wonderful Google Map done by Bob on where PPO fans around the world are located. We don't have any in South Africa which I just know is not correct. So please reply to my post and we will add your name to the Google Map. This will eventually be posted for all to see. Please do this asap so we can finalise map.

Day 54 and our chicks fledge!

I didn't expect to find the chicks on the balcony this morning, but I held on to a sliver of hope that a familiar hiss would wake me up. Alas, it was not to be. We searched the garden, the walls and the neighbours garden, and the owl family were nowhere to be found.

The funny thing is, writing this blog entry now, I am not sad anymore. Neither am I in an unconscious state of yearning for the past.

I have accepted, whole-heartedly, that the owls fledged at just the right time. I am grateful that both chicks are strong and healthy, and a little mischievious, with a good dollop of 'Stinky' thrown in. I look forward to seeing my beloved Pot Plant Owl and special Pappa again soon. And I hold on to the picture in my mind of Merlin and Timka making their mark in this world.

This year's breeding season was not only successful, but also truly inspiring. They have been many differences from previous years, which has made the season even more enjoyable.

"To Timka and Merlin! May you be happy and loved wherever you go!"

PM - Timka's Flight

We wait with baited breath each year, for the last of the chicks to fly upward towards the rooftops. Once that chick takes the plunge and successfully lands on a rooftop, we know the end is in sight. And with bitter sweet emotions, we prepare ourselves for the inevitable - the chicks will leave us, and soon make their own way in the world.

And so it is tonight, after having just watched Timka fly magnificently up to the rooftop to join Merlin. I didn't want to believe that Timka was ready. I was happier holding on to the thought that Timka needed 'just another couple of days'.

But that's not the way Life works. Life doesn't work on a clock of expectations set out by humans who are not prepared to let go. Life works exactly as it should - prefectly.

Timka flew perfectly because it is just Timka's time now. And however hard my mind tries to convince me that Timka is too little and should be back in the safe environment that is our balcony and their nest, deep down I know that Timka is ready.

I wonder if Merlin and Timka will return to our home tomorrow morning.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 53 and it's Thanksgiving in the USA

On this Thanksgiving Day:

Whether you are a North American citizen or not, I believe that the tradition of Thanksgiving is an important one in these challenging times we live in.By learning to be grateful for the myriad of small things you have in your life, you enrich the quality of your life tenfold.

This precious life lesson was brought home to us (literally)with the arrival of nesting owls in our pot plant. Instead of turning a blind eye, or worse still, trying to get rid of the owl visitors because of the 'inconvenience' they may cause us, we were, and still are, grateful that the owls chose our balcony.

And in that gratitude, many windows of opportunities have opened for us. The chance to learn more about these wonderful owls and share our findings, the chance to meet people through the talks we do, the chance to connect with people worldwide through the webcam and the chat site. It has given us the opportunity to work towards protecting the wetland where the owls hunt, and many bird, plant and small mammal species call their home.

So wherever you are today, take a moment to be thankful for all that you are, and everything that you have.

I know I am.

Day 53 and this is Timka

This is Timka on the wall. Our chick is not by its beloved Jasmine bush - it has moved out into the sun to dry those feathers

Day 53 and this is Merlin

24 Nov and Merlin is on Timka's shoe

A typical Highveld storm

This is the view Merlin and Timka have from the balcony pillar - the storm approaching.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 52 and all accounted for

Wonderful to wake up this morning and find one chick on the balcony, and one by the Jasmine bush. I'm starting to think that Timka has a real fetish for flowers - and cars.

Merlin delighted viewers during the day by playing with the shoe on the balcony. This led to some confusion and question marks over whether or not the chick on the balcony is Merlin or Timka.

If one has to look at how the chicks fly, Merlin is a step ahead of Timka. We see Merlin happily fly across to another rooftop, down to a wall, and back up again. Timka's flying (although very good for such a young owlet)doesn't have the grace and finesse of Merlin's. Timka's flying is the 'crash-skid-halt' approach, and the chick hasn't mastered the art of flying right up to the top of a rooftop from lower down - not just yet.

It won't be long before we hope to see have both chicks flying back to the balcony in the early hours of the morning.

The rain is not going to let up, which should make the family less mobile. This is good. It means chicks stay closer to the nest, and we get to see them that little bit longer.

I'm going outside to do the rain dance - note I say RAIN, not hail...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 51 and a great surprise

Everyone wakes up differently. Some wake up like a bull with a sore head. Others wake up singing hymns. Some people can only wake up if an alarm clock, capable of waking the entire suburb, goes off next to their heads. And others just wake up at the same time every day, without any assistance. I wake up with owls.

This morning, to my delight, I woke up to the familiar hissing sound of the chicks. I looked out onto the balcony and there was Merlin on the pillar. PPO and Pappa were on a rooftop looking directly down below them, and I heard more soft hissing sounds. Timka - PPO and Pappa were showing me where Timka was.

It took a lot of coaxing from both parents before Timka finally made its appearance from the neighbour's garage. Timka got up on our wall, and settled back down into the Jasmine bush.

It's been wonderful having both chicks with us today.

15h00 Central African Time: Out of nowhere, dark, threatening clouds gathered over our area, and the Heavens opened. Small hailstones came down in buckets. Within a minute, the lawn was covered in a white sheet of hailstones.

Merlin lay flat in the pot plant nest. Timka rugged down further into the Jasmine bush.

As quickly as the storm appeared, it left - leaving behind two very unhappy looking chicks. At times like this, it is so difficult to let Nature take its course and not rush out and dry them both.

18h00: More storms approaching. PPO flew out of her roosting spot in a nearby tree to see her chicks, and immediately flew back under cover. Merlin is in the pot again; Timka remains by the Jasmine bush.

I suspect this be what happens for most of the night while the storms go past. It seems like we have finally entered our classic late afternoon / evening thunder showers that are so typical of a Jozi summer.

If the weather clears enough later this evening for the family to move about,I really hope we see the chicks tomorrow.

Every extra day we have our owl family around, is a blessed day.

Day 50 and Timka leaves on T's day

21 November: It's my birthday and Timka gave me a special present. Dear Timka Pie decided to show me not to worry or concern myself about its safety anymore.

One minute Timka stood on the Pilot's runway looking in the direction of Merlin, who has successfully landed on the neighbour's balcony. The next minute, Timka flew. The chick missed the balcony, but landed quite successfully on the garage roof. With another hop, skip and jump, Timka was up on the balcony with Merlin.

Pot Plant Owl watched the scene unfolding from the far complex. As soon as Timka was on the balcony, PPO flew a little further away, turned to look at her chicks, and gave a 'hoot'. This was Merlin's cue and the chick quickly flew to its mother.

Timka stood watching and pacing on the balcony railing, until the excitement overcame any anxiety Timka may have felt for such a long flight.

Like poetry in motion, Timka unfolded its wings, and took off. I stood watching with my hands covering my eyes, and only squinting out to watch.

Timka surprised me, and not only made the full flight distance, but also succeeded in joining its family. If PPO wasn't proud of her chick then, I don't think she'll ever be capable of feeling like a doting, proud Mum.

Shortly afterwards, the family including Pappa, left and we didn't see them. They may not have been in sight, but ever now and then, we heard a faint hissing sound.

I wonder if we will see the chicks tomorrow?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Poor little drowned rats in the rain

Our rains have started, and our chicks sit in the pouring rain.

Timka sizes up to Hadedah

Timka sizing up to Hadedah on the wall. Timka is on the left of the wall. The larger, adult Hadedah is minding its own business on the right side of the wall, before PPO swoops in.

Early AM - 20 November

You've heard of cat burglars. But have you ever encounted an owl burglar?

Too early in the AM:
Our house alarm blasts forth, and I bolt upright in bed. 'Someone is trying to break in' are my first thoughts, but I know that we have a very secure complex. I also know that the electric fence is working extremely well -'Thank you Merlin for allowing me to test that the other day'. My second, more realistic thought is 'Something has just moved across the alarm sensor and activitated the alarm'.

Allan, in the meantime, is trying to de-activate the alarm so we don't get kicked out of our complex for damaging hearing with the alarm sounding.

'What on earth is taking Allan so long to switch the alarm off?' I decide to look out the window to see where the owls are, and if the alarm noise has sent them flapping for cover.

Merlin is back on its favourite balcony pillar - looking content. Timka is not on the balcony.

I look out the other window to where we had left Timka on the garden shed. Close to this shed is one of our alarm sensors. On this alarm sensor hangs Timka. Timka decided to use the alarm sensor as a 'stepping stone' to get from shed to wall. The result is an owl burglar hanging by its beak and flapping its wings furiously trying to get on the wall. With every flap, the alarm seems to echo louder and louder. Minutes later, Timka pulls itself up onto the wall and away from the alarm.

All goes quiet. I put my head out the window and look around nervously, to see if any of our neighbours are awake and ready to complain. I feel like I have done something wrong, and it wasn't me - it was one of these wayward chicks - again!

Timka tries a couple more tricks. First, the chick flies to the neighbour's windowsill as if to say 'Ok, you can let me in now'. The windowsill is only a concern because:
A) the chick has no balance and there is a storey drop to a pavement below, and
b) they have a dog which may delight in 'entertaining' a chick that drops in.

Timka tires of sitting on the windowsill and flies to our wall. In a last ditch effort to get hearts racing again, Timka sizes up to a fully grown Hadedah (Ibis). The Hadedah wouldn't do Timka any harm at all, but the presence of the Hadedah so close to Timka, sends PPO into protect mode and she chases the Hadedah away. Poor thing did't know what hit it - not sure if this is literal or just figurative.

Soon after, Timka finds a good spot by our Jasmine bush, and settles in for the day.

It is 7am and my day is already full. I haven't even had any coffee...

Timka to neighbour's windowsill

After flying to the neighbour's windowsill, Timka decides nobody will let it into the house, so it flew back to our wall where it stayed at the Jasmine bush all day.

PM 19 November and Timka begins travels...

Timka's awol. I eventually find our littlest chick walking up our complex road towards the main gate. One minute Timka was playing on the Pilot's wall with Merlin. The next minute we see Merlin on the neighbour's roof, and no Timka in sight.

It's impossible to turn your back on these little stinkers for one minute and expect to find things the same when you return. The result of this "what-can-go-wrong" assumption is a chick on the loose that is up to no good.

I herd Timka into our open gate. The chick runs down the driveway towards the garden. Our garden is free of domestic animals, cars etc so no harm can be done to our chick.

That doesn't mean, of course, that Timka can't do harm itself. Moments after watching Timka practice sprinting down the driveway, I go inside, only to hear a metallic CLUNK coming from the garage.

We rush outside to investigate, and find Timka standing proudly on Allan's car - tell-tale talon scratches on the body work of the car.

Soon after 'decorating' Allan's car, Timka finds our garden shed. I half-expect the chick to go inside and hammer around with things, but thankfully Timka leaves this to the humans of the house. Instead, Timka hauls itself to the top of the shed roof and waits expectantly for food deliveries from PPO and Pappa.

The good parents feed their chicks a smorgasbord of king crickets, flying ants and small rodents.

The thought of where I may find Timka when I wake up makes me nervous...

Timka's Big adventure

Timka standing proudly on Allan's car in the garage.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 47 and Merlin spreads its wings...

Life amazes me. If you look closely enough, you will see that everything in Life is perfectly timed, in wonderful sync.

Just as we arrived home in the late evening from a work function, we saw PPO feeding Merlin on the top of the neighbour's roof! Merlin had made the big leap onto the tallest object around here - a rooftop.

And to toast the occasion, Allan just happened to have won, this very evening, 'a year's supply of beer' - which is why my car resembles an overburdened donkey trudging wearily home.

I went straight into the Chat and together we all 'cyber-toasted' Merlin's success (with tea).

Timka is progressing in leaps and bounds too. Our little chick still plays and attacks everything it sees, yet remains content to stay put on the balcony at night. And that suits me just fine.

I don't want to say goodbye just yet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 45 - How cute are we

Timka and Merlin on the 'T-Box' as the owl box is now affectionately known.

Why the 'T-box'?

Because the first owlet to use the box for shelter was Teeny last year. This year, it is Timka who uses the owl box properly. So it seems that whoever has a name beginning with a 'T' uses this box.

Did I tell you my name is Tracy?

My room with a view...

This is my room with a view. The chicks on the pillar as Pot PLant Owl flies in. In the background, you see the wetland where the owls hunt.

Gotta love my office...

With Christmas just around the corner

I wanted to share with you am email I received this morning. Although it is South African themed, you will get the basic idea of what the email is trying to say. As we say in South Africa, "Local is lekker" (Local is great). Here it is:

Christmas 2011 -- Birth of a New Tradition

As the holidays approach, the giant overseas factories are kicking into high gear to provide us with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods -- merchandise that has been produced at the expense of South African labour. This year will be different. This year South Africans will give the gift of genuine concern for other South Africans. There is no longer an excuse that, at gift giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by South African hands. Yes, there is plenty.

It's time to think outside the box, people. Who says a gift needs to fit in a shirt box, wrapped in mass produced wrapping paper from abroad?

Everyone -- yes EVERYONE gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates from your local hair salon or barber?

Gym membership? It's appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health improvement.

Who wouldn't appreciate getting their car valet’d? Small, South African owned car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates.

Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plonking down the cash on an overseas made flat-screen? Perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his driveway fixed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or roof waterproofed and painted.

There are a Gazillion owner-run restaurants -- all offering gift certificates. And, if your intended isn't the fancy eatery sort, what about a half dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint. Remember, folks this isn't about big National chains -- this is about supporting your home town South African with their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open.

How many people couldn't use an oil change for their car, truck or motorbike, done at a shop run by a South African working guy?

Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom? Mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day.

My computer could do with an upgrade, and I KNOW I can find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running.

OK, you were looking for something more personal. Local crafts people are great. They make jewelery, pottery, knitted stuff, Teddy Bears, paintings and home preserves etc.

Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip. And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theatre.

Musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands.

Honestly, people, do you REALLY need to buy another ten thousand mass produced overseas lights for the house? When you buy a R50 string of lights, about fifty cents stays in the community. If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice BIG tip.

You see, Christmas is no longer about draining South African pockets so that foreign countries can build another glittering city. Christmas is now about caring about us, encouraging small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams. And, when we care about other South Africans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn't imagine. THIS should be the new South African Christmas tradition.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 45 - 16 Nov and aren't we well behaved?

Since Merlin's grand adventure, with me as the reluctant Co-Pilot, our eldest chick has been well-behaved. I say 'well-behaved' as, in this instance, not gallivanting around the neighbourhood gardens and generally running riot. Merlin has been a good example to Timka, by being loving and cuddly, and above all, the chicks has remained on the balcony.

This is good news- no, GREAT news - for me.
It means enjoying a relaxing dinner, instead of shovelling mouthfuls of cold food into my mouth as I run from one side of the property to the other, tracking a wayward chick.
It means waking up in the middle of the night and being able to go back to sleep again, after seeing two little bodies on the balcony.
It means being able to enjoy a morning run instead of rescuing chicks.
So, yes. I have enjoyed the last 24 hours. It's the simple things in Life...

Timka is a honey. The chick hops, jumps, scratches,gnaws at, and tries to touch and feel everything it sees. We've seen fantastic 'shoe handling skills' that would rival any skills shown by professional soccer players. Timka continues to make use of the owl box - not only for exploration purposes, but also for the purpose for which it was made - for shelter. In the heat of the day, Merlin continues to struggle in the blazing sun while Timka sleeps restfully in the owl box.

Is it too much to ask for another few days of balcony bliss? The quiet before the (2nd) storm...

Monday, November 14, 2011

15 Nov AM - Merlin's Adventure

You know it is going to be a long day when you have had an epic, hair-raising adventure, and it's only 7am. Let me explain...

04h00 Central African Time: I stumble out of bed and immediately go to look for the chicks. I find Timka sitting peacefully on the balcony pillar. As per yesterday morning, I can't find Merlin anywhere. Pot Plant Owl is on the neighbour's roof, so I know that Merlin is near.

Eventually I spot Merlin - walking along the wall that separates our complex from the next one down the road. Allan and I watch Pot Plant Owl and Pappa both try to lure Merlin away from the wall and back to towards our house, and the nest.

As I watch Merlin, I realise there is a problem. Somehow little stinker Merlin has got between two electric fences - the one on our complex wall, and the one of the other complex. Merlin can't find a way through the fences, and the fences are live.

I realise that we have to get Merlin out, so under an umbrella and carrying a garden chair, we make our way through our neighbour's garden to the wall. I stand on the chair to reach Merlin, who is beak snapping furiously by this stage, attracting PPO's and Pappa's attention of course.

I reach through the one fence to grab hold of Merlin, but Merlin has other ideas. A power struggle ensues between owlet and human - all the while the crackling of the electric fence sounds ominously.

PPO and Pappa don't even launch an attack. They must know that I am trying to get little stinker out of a tight situation.

Merlin is feisty - too feisty for its own good - and falls off the wall and into the complex next to ours.

We are very aware of owl superstitions that are rife all over the world but especially in Africa. 'If an owl lands on your roof, someone close to you is going to die' - that sort of thing. Owls are attacked, stoned, burnt to death - it is horrible. For this reason, and not knowing what sort of domestic animals and dangers there were on the other side of that wall, we decide to go to the next complex and find Merlin.

All this happens before 6am. It is a long wait at a closed gate that doesn't open. Eventually, an early -riser drives out and we get access into the complex to find Merlin.

Cut a long rescue short: I find Merlin hiding under a small bush. It takes me a few minutes to get us both back under an umbrella (PPO and Pappa out and ready to attack after Merlin's beak snapping), and we drive back home together.

A very surprised, bot hopefully happy, PPO flew into the balcony just as I released Merlin.

In a last act of defiance, and confidence boosted by Mom's arrival, Merlin turns towards me with wings open wide and lots of beak snapping.

Soon, Merlin joins cute Timka on the balcony pillar - no doubt sharing its adventures with its sibling.

I'm going back to bed.

The electric fence where Merlin was

Difficult to see in this picture, but there are two electric fences on this wall that divides our complex from the next. There is approx a 4inch gap between the black electric fence (our complex) and the white electric fence (the next complex down). Merlin was in between these two electric fences when I found the chick.

Reunited 7am 15 Nov

Reunited again after Merlin's ordeal.

Timka plays on the balcony - 14 Nov

"Now, what do I do with this?"

Merlin on the Pilot's Wall - 13 November

Day 43 and who's got a lead?

05h00 Central African Time: I wake to find Timka Pie still admiring the view from the balcony pillar. 'Good Timka. Now where is the other little stinker, Merlin?'

I look outside to the dividing wall where Merlin had spent many hours the previous night. Of course, the chick is not there - that would be too easy. I look for Pappa - he's not around. Pot Plant Owl? No sign of her. Take a quick look around the garden, and no fluffy owl chick appears anywhere. Now I'm starting to become concerned.

Just as I'm about to organise an 'owl search party' (is there even such a thing?), I spot Pot Plant Owl on a rooftop at the top of the complex. She sees me and flies immediately to the neighbour's roof and watches me from there. Now I know Merlin is near.

I stand for a minute, looking around in the direction of Pot Plant Owl's gaze. Suddenly, I hear a THUD, SCRAPE and FLAP FLAP and I see Merlin trying desperately to climb up the neighbour's gate. Merlin's fighting a losing battle attempting to grip slippery, vertical bars, but the chick doesn't give up. Again, I give it full marks for trying.

Just then, a dog appears around the corner, and I know I have to put Merlin back up on a wall or tree branch for its own safety. I call the neighbour who comes out to open the gate and let me inside.

Merlin puts up a fight but in the end size does count, and I pick up the chick, and put it on the wall. After it gets over the initial shock of being '(wo)man-handled', Merlin appears quite content in its new surroundings - two pot plants on the patio below the balcony nest.

Hours later...

Merlin's done a disappearing act. I can't find him anywhere, despite searching in, and under, everything in the garden, and getting scratched to ribbons for my effort.
I give up searching for the little stinker, and decide to water our veggie patch.

And lo and behold! Sitting behind a Protea bush on the far side of our garden, is the missing Merlin. Right next to the bush is our bird feeding tray.

Hmmm - the plot thickens. I wonder if Merlin was out for a 'midnight / midday snack'?

Day 42 and Merlin makes its move...

It's early evening when we first notice Merlin's animated movements . The chick paces up and down in the pot plant, and eventually launches itself onto the balcony pillar. Not content with just standing on the balcony pillar, the adventurous chick flies down to the 'Pilot's wall' below the balcony.

The wall is halfway between the balcony and the patio below. It forms part of the uncovered section of patio, and it is affectionately termed 'the Pilot's wall'. For it is on this very wall, that brave chicks earn their wings. This is often their first chance to test their wings and see if they can become airborne.

Merlin passes the test with flying colours. One minute, I'm watching Merlin run up and down the wall - the next minute, Merlin is a fluffy blur taking off over the garden.

Merlin's first flight is nothing short of magical - swift, straight as an arrow and silent. The 'slight' noise we heard when Merlin careered into the far bushes head first shouldn't detract from the beauty of the moment - it was a brilliant effort!

Still not content with its explorations thus far, Merlin proceedes to fly / hop sections of our garden and the neighbours garden, until it eventually settles on the wall diving our two properties.

There Merlin remaines for the rest of the evening - at least, until we fall asleep.

Timka watches Merlin's flight from the balcony pillar. Our little chick appears chuffed to bits with itself for getting up onto 'Merlin's pillar'. Even take away deliveries from PPO don't appear to satisfy Timka as much as standing on the 'grown up' pillar, looking out onto the night sky.

I go to bed thinking "What will be wake up to?"

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 40 and we mark 11.11.11

Today is 11.11.11 - a significant date in our times for a number of reasons. Our Planet is evolving and changing, and we have to step up too, and embrace this change.

Here, in our small part of the world, this day marks 40 days since our first chick, Merlin, hatched from the egg.

The chicks grow bigger and bolder by the second. For the better part of 3 hours after sunrise, Merlin stood quite happily on the balcony pillar. Timka dozed off on top of the owl box.

It's wonderful to see how independant they are becoming - exploring on their own, finding interesting things to play with, jumping and moving around in broad daylight.

Timka hasn't yet mastered the art of getting back up to the nest, but this is not uncommon. Each year, there is at least one chick who struggles more than the others with this task.

Where a chick may appear 'weaker' in one area, it makes up for it in another area - the balance of Life thus perfectly displayed. So while Timka can't yet climb like Merlin can, Timka displays an intelligent streak by using the owl box for shade and comfort. Merlin remains in the pot in the full sun, even though it can easily hop down to the balcony floor and seek shelter.

They are funny and so interesting to watch. Never a dull moment.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My first time up close to my dear Pot Plant Owl

FreeMe's Nicci Wright catches PPO

9 November and what a day for PPO!

6:40pm Central Africam time: I feel like a steamroller has ridden over me once, and again for good measure. If I feel like this, I hate to think what Pot Plant Owl must feel like now.

To quote the famous detective, Monk, here's what happened:

3pm: Nicci Wright from FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre arrives, armed with 3 different types of catching nests for PPO. The plan is simply to throw the net over the unsuspecting PPO sitting in the far pot plant, and put her in the carrier box. Easy.

The first approach - the 'lets-sneak-up-on-her' approach - failed miserably. Before we could blink, PPO flew off the balcony and landed on a wall in the neighbour's garden. There is a fair distance between our house and where PPO landed on the wall. As I squinted to where PPO landed on the wall, my mind's eye pictured a field of flowers with someone wearing a summer dress waving a large butterly net over her head, and PPO flying into net.

Ergh! Back to reality. We couldn't run around waving a large catching net over our heads, so we had to think of plan B.

Plan B came in the form of my head being used as target practise. I went out on the balcony with Nicci and taunted PPO by going right up to the nest, and her chicks. At first, PPO didn't take the bait. She knew what we were up to, and what we wanted from her. But after a series of cheeky beak snaps from her chicks as I got closer and closer to the nest, PPO and Pappa finally had enough, and launched an attack.

With one deft swing of the catching net, Nicci swooped the attacking PPO up in the net, and quickly moved her to the travelling box. I then drove PPO to Dr Brett Russell, the expert Avian vet.

In Brett's consulting room, PPO made one further attempt to 'stamp her authority' and flew around the room until Brett finally caught her. PPO was x-rayed and samples were taken and tested.

A grumpy looking PPO and I sat in the waiting room together, for the results of the tests to come back.

Good news! PPO is well. What may be causing the 'coughing' is fur or something similar stuck inside her, that she is trying to get out. Otherwise, the x-rays showed no sharp, foreign objects in her, which was a major concern. Tests came back negative for very harmful, often fatal, diseases in owls, so that's also great.

The ride in the car home wasn't pleasant. I suspected the cold shoulder from PPO, but I got an icy reception in the car. I believe she sensed she was going home, and played up to that.

PPO's release took the form of me carrying box out onto the balcony, and opening the release door. PPO bolted out of there, landed on the balcony railing, threw a 'if-looks-could-kill' look back at me, and flew quickly away.

So much for 'thank you for checking on me'!

PPO has since been back to the balcony. She now has to contend with hyper chicks running amok on the balcony, and I have to prepare to do an owl talk on ol' stinker and her family.

No rest for the wicked here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Special update on Pot Plant Owl

We've all noticed Pot Plant Owl 'coughing', and it has caused concern.

This morning, we went to our vet who has been away recently - an expert Avian Vet, Dr Brett Russell, who is very well-known and highly regarded in his field. He does a lot of work for FreeMe's wildlife - sick / orphaned / injured. We showed him the latest footage of PPO's 'cough' and asked him what he thought.

Brett's advice is rather to be safe than sorry. We must bring PPO in for tests and x-rays.

We contacted FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre to come and catch PPO. They have the equipment and expertise to attempt to catch PPO without undue stress on her.

Tomorrow FreeMe will attempt to catch PPO. At this time, we will be switching off the webcam - we don't want any extra 'attention' on the event. I'm sure you can appreciate how delicate this situation is. It is not like taking a tiny sick chick out of the nest - this is much more difficult to accomplish.

If FreeMe is successful at catching PPO, Dr Russell will take over and I'll keep you updated.

As for the chicks: for the moment, they will remain in the pot on the balcony where Pappa should continue to feed them. However we will monitor the situation. If the chicks are not getting sufficient food, their diet will be supplemented under the supervision of FreeMe.

I'm not going to attempt to guess what happens next, as this is completely unchartered waters for us.

All I ask, is that you don't panic or send us a flood of messages asking for updates and expressing concern. PPO is perfectly fine, until tests prove otherwise. And we will cross that bridge if we come to it.

I will keep you constantly updated based on information I receive. Again, I ask that you please not keep on querying directly with me, because I promise you, I will let you know as soon as I know.

Thanks for your understanding.

The Chicks have Names!

And here they are - the much-anticipated names for our dear Pot Plant Owl chicks.
Thanks again to everyone who submitted names and voted. We're sorry we couldn't have chosen more names - think PPO better lay more eggs that hatch nest year.

The winning names are:

Chick 1 - Merlin

Chick 2 - Timka

Congratulations to Beck and Alison for the name, Merlin, and Jean for the name Timka.
I'll be emailing you shortly for to organise your "Pot Plant Owl" book prize.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 36 and we have a winner!

Monday 7 Nov: It's early in the morning Central African time. The sun is just starting to rise - the perfect time for little owl chicks to be heading for bed.

Not so for 'soon-to-be-named' Chick 1, who decides that now is the time to explore. Our sweet chick doesn't just choose the lip of the pot plant - it decides to climb rigt out of the pot and up the balcony pillar. Once it reaches the top of the tiny balcony pillar, it sits there looking out - ever so pleased with itself.

Have a look at this video clip showing the 'pot plant escape':

What's in the air at the moment

We've had a lot of people contact us about Pot Plant Owl's cough. We are aware of it. We monitor it. And we also have FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre monitoring it too.

PPO appears to be heathly. She is eating, moving around normally, and not showing any obvious signs of distress. The cough is a concern, but is it worth risking taking her away from the chicks to get looked at, and the stress that they would all feel?

Let me share with you what is happening to me.
I've been a long-distance runner for a decade now. In the past few weeks, I've developed a bad sounding cough - especially after exercise. I had it seen to and was told it is a bronchial irritation. The cause? An extremely high count of pollen in the air - highest recorded in 50 years. Our rains haven't started properly yet, which accounts for the prolonged pollen count in the air.

The result of this high pollen (and possibly pollution) count, is that I cough like crazy and sound 'raspy' at times. Actually, I sound like I smoke a lot, when I dont smoke at all.

Perhaps this is what PPO is going through. Perhaps she is coughing up pellets noisily. Perhaps their diet of a lot of birds this year is making her throat 'tickle' because of the feathers.

We will monitor PPO so please don't worry.

Meaning of short list of chick names

I've been asked to provide a list of the meanings of the names that were short listed for the 'Name-the-Chick' competition. A lot of names were submitted without their meanings, which is why they were not included in the short list.

We chose the names on the basis of how they sounded, and if the names were short enough for people to remember and of course type on the chat.

I've looked up some meanings of the names, and they vary according to where the person submitting the name comes from. Thus, is is almost impossible for me to accurately give you what the short list of names mean, without knowing more about who submitted the name.

That said, for fun, here is a list of possible meanings:
Kani - 'music' in Hawaaian
Kizzy - 'cinnamon bark'
Merlin - something to do with a sea fortress, and of course, the well-known wizard from King Arthur's time
Sheba - 'daughter of an oath'
Mika - varies according to origin. In Japanese, mika is 'beaituful smell' and in Hebrew, mika is short for 'Who is like God?'

Manny was the only name in this short list given with an explanation of the name - meaning 'Miss Manners' as in the patient one.

Have fun with the sounds of the name and get voting!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Shortlist of names for chicks

Here they are – the short list of names for the chicks. It was hard for us to narrow down the names. We had so many names on a potential short list and eventually had to be ruthless and cut, cut, cut.

Eventually, we chose names that are short 'n sweet, with a mix of African-sounding names and more traditional names.

In no particular order of preference, the names are:

Chick 1

Chick 2

Manny (Miss Manners - patient)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 32 and stinker attacks me...

Pot Plant Owl is a little stinker!

It's almost 8pm, and we've just arrived home. As I was closing our gate, and heading towards the front door, I felt a powerful thud on the back of my neck. I didn't have to guess what happened. I had just been 'owl struck'.

I've experienced this enough times to know what steely talons making contact with my flesh feels like. It hurts. A lot. And my head rings, or in this case, my neck rolled around.

What could have sparked this unprovoked attack on me was a coughing fit I had just as I got out the car to open the gate. I sounded like a 60-a-day cigarette smoker, and I don't touch the stuff. So perhaps PPO thought I sounded too 'foreign' for my own good, and decided she'd get me out of the territory.

Whatever the reason, PPO is a little stinker. Tomorrow she is getting the silent treatment from me. So there.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Naming of the Chicks

I know a lot of people have been anxious to name these adorable chicks. And tomorrow you will get your chance!

On Friday 4 November, the shortlist of names for the chicks will be announced on my blog, on Facebook and on the Africam website. You will have this weekend to select which names you think are the most appropriate.

Early next week, the winners will be announced.

There have been a lot of interesting names submitted. Some are very typical, and others quite unique. Allan and I are going to have a hard time narrowing our shortlist down (at this stage, with still more votes allowed for a few hours, we've got a 'shortlist' of about 50 names per chick).

Good luck and please check the names tomorrow and put in your final vote.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2 November and look how we've grown...

The Spotted Eagle Owl markings are seen clearly now through what's left of the fluff. Wings continue to grow at a rapid rate to prepare the chicks for flight.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day 30 and the chicks are staying put...

Did anyone tell these chicks not to climb out of the pot plant?

It seems to me that the chicks got wind of the friendly wager PPO chatters have taken on what date the chicks will brave standing on the lip of the pot. This 'staying put' suits me because the date I chose is the 3rd November, which is in a couple of days time. Whoever told the chicks not to move, please remind them that Thursday is the time to start really exploring. 'Go on chicks, the 3rd is an excellent date to begin exploring'.

Pot Plant Owl is allowing herself more time away from her chicks. The past few mornings, viewers on the webcam have seen two cute chicks in the pot plant - often without PPO.

Some of the time, she dozes in the far pot plant or stands on the balcony railing. An hour later, we check on the chicks and find that PPO has disappeared. She's not on the balcony, or anywhere in sight. She'll leave the chicks completely alone for an hour or two, and then suddenly reappears.

It is fascinating to watch her, because I don't believe her actions are purely based on getting her own free time. From my observation of PPO over four years now, I can believe that PPO has an agenda - probably to teach the chicks to be on their own, or 'grow up' a bit. Don't you wish your parents did that when you were growing up?

On a sad note, I was told yesterday about owls that were killed at a school in Johannesburg. The act was deliberate and probably based on superstitions about owls. I have been asked to do a talk at that particular school to see if we can get through to at least some children.

To end on a happier note, there is a lovely article in the 'Birdwatching Magazine' in the UK about PPO - entitled "Potty Owls Gain Global Support." Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the 'global support' for these owls. We really appreciate each and every one of you!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day 27 and pot plant is getting small...

There's no denying it. These chicks have got 'it' - that special quality that draws people to them, and makes it hard for people to say goodbye. In two words - utterly adorable!

At this stage, the chicks eat and sleep, and eat and sleep, and precious little else. For those who haven't been watching the webcam, I don't think you can appreciate just how much food they devour in an evening. It astounds me still, four years on, just how quickly SEO chicks have to grow. All their energy is used for growth of wings, flight feathers and replacing baby fluff.

In the next few days, we will begin to see much more activity, as the chicks practice pouncing, wing flapping, hopping, gnawing and, of course, their favourite pastime - playing.

The pot will be a hive of activity, and pretty soon, too small to hang around in. When I watch the chicks, I see them peering over the edge of the pot, looking down. Ah! Our balcony floor already beckons...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 24 and look what happened 4 years ago...

I thought I'd share with you an extract from our book "Pot Plant Owl". This was written when those chicks were 24 days old, four years ago:

'Today marks another milestone in the chicks' developments. While sitting at the hide we watch Pot Plant Owl silently flying in with a 'live catch': a squirming cricket.

She lands on the lip of the pot, and drops the wriggling insect at the chicks' feet. The chicks stare down at it, and then look up to their mother as if to say 'Now what?' Pot Plant Owl departs, leaving the chicks to figure out what to do, and the fun begins.

Confusion is etched on the chicks' faces for, despite the familiarity of the shape and colour, this piece of food is crawling around. Curiosity gets the better of them and they start playing a game of 'Catch' with the cricket.

The frightened cricket scrambles for its life, as the chicks pounce towards it, trying to grab it. When one chick manages to close a beak over the cricket, the insect wriggles furiously and the chick quickly lets go. The same thing happens when the second chick accidentally catches the cricket.

By now, tears of laughter are streaming down our faces - the chicks just don't have a clue.

By the time Pot Plant Owl returns, the chicks have tired of their game and are sitting together begging for food. One very lucky cricket defied death, escaping to the back of the pot and down the side.

We think Pot Plant Owl is teaching her chicks how to recognise food sources. But it looks like she's going to have to give this lesson another go before the chicks get it right.'

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

25 Oct and Pappa visits

Pappa came to visit today. I woke up to find him standing on the wall by our garage. We often see him there in the early morning, and then he flies away to roost in a tree nearby. Today he stayed with us the whole day. I walked past him a number of times, saying a quick 'hello' as I went past. Pappa watched me carefully, but didn't seem too bothered. He is a welcome visitor.

Pot Plant Owl is fine. I haven't heard any coughing, despite the oppressive heat that we are experiencing. She spent most of the day sitting in the far pot plant on the balcony to escape the heat.

Our sweet chicks stood up together today in the pot, and eyed out our garden below them. They are taking in more of their environment as each day passes, and with this, their curiosity and eagerness to explore will increase.

We're still running the 'Name-the-Chick' competition on Africam ( You have a week or so to put your votes in, and stand a chance to win a copy of our book "Pot Plant Owl".

Monday, October 24, 2011

Day 21 - 24 October and the air is thick...

The air is thick. Radio stations are reporting that today is the hottest October day in a number of years. Today feels like the height of summer and it's made even hotter by a thick, hot air that just 'hangs'.

The owls are coming remarkably well on the balcony. Pot Plant Owl sought shade under a small bush in a pot plant on the far side of the balcony. The chicks were kept cool in PPO's shade, and then in the shade provided by the shade cloth we secured on the side of the balustrade.

The chicks, at 21 and 20 days old respectively, are healthy and strong. No surprises that the chicks are growing so quickly with the amount of food they are devouring. Pot Plant Owl appears to be rationing the food intake - flying off with food, and returning to the nest with it later.

PPO's 'cough' is still a question mark hanging over our heads. We could ask FreeMe to catch PPO and take her in for tests, but what happens to the chicks? And what if there is nothing seriously wrong with PPO? For now, we are recording videos of PPO's cough so our bird specialist vet and FreeMe can decide the way forward. Apart from the 'cough', Pot Plant Owl appears to be behaving normally, and eating well enough.

Let's see what the experts say and take it from there.

And let's all do a rain-dance, and hope we get a decent amount of rain soon...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

22 October and two crows attack...

10:20am Central African Time: I've just witnessed two crows trying to attack PPO's nest. They flew past, spotted PPO and the chicks sitting there, and decided to swoop down.

PPO sounded her alarm call and instantly, Pappa flew to the nest to protect his family. Despite Pappa's appearance, the crows still came down low until they must have realised that their attack would be unsuccessful. After a few minutes, the crows flew off.

Pappa remained by the balcony for a while longer, looking around and hooting. He's just flown away to roost in the tree nearby.

All this occured metres from my desk, where I just 'happened' to be for a few minutes before heading out to the Market.

What an amazing display of family protection and unity!

How to make a nest-box for a Spotted Eagle Owl

(Taken from 'Great Garden Birds' book by Sasol)

As far as nest-boxes are concerned, a Spotted Eagle owl nest box is easy to make. It is a deep tray - approx 600mm long by 450 mm wide and 270mm deep. Add a roof if you will erect the box in a more exposed positition (such as on the side of a building).

1. To construct a roof: screw wooden pillars (50 x 50mm) into the inside coreners of the box. For a flat roof, make the pillars 460mm long; for a sloping roof make the front pillars 460mm and the back pillars 360mm long. Cut the tops of the pillars at the correct angle for the slope of the roof. The roof itself should be approx 750mm x 600mm (five-ply plywood works well), so that it overhangs the tray on all sides. Place the roof on top of the pillars and attach by screwing through the roof into the pillars. With a sloping roof. it is an idea to reduce the height of the box at the entrance to 170mm deep. Remember that the front or entrance should be the width (450mm) rather than the length side.

2. Waterproof box with varnish or wood-sealant. Avoid anything that might be toxic to birds! If necessary, seek advice from your hardware store or paint manufacturer.

3. Erect the box so that the entrance faces away from the direction that your wet and windy weather comes from, and ensure that it is securely mounted on the wall or tree. Add a 10-cm layer of clean river sand to the bottom.

Alternatively, if you have a spare pot plant container, why not try get your own 'Pot Plant Owl' chicks?

Friday, October 21, 2011

PM 21 October - Well done Bob!

Congrats Bob! You predicted that Friday i.e. today, will be the day when PPO spends more time out of the nest during the day than in it.

I may have guessed correctly the day when PPO would begin venturing out of the nest during the day (my prediction was Wednesday), but Bob won the bet!

Well done Bobandtheowls! I'm big enough and ugly enough to know when I am defeated.

Now what's the next challenge?

Day 19 - 21 October

I've seen it all. At least, I thought I had. From the minute our first PPO book was published, I happily declared that I 'know' these owls and don't need to write another book about them. I find myself today in the akward position of having to retract my statement and make a bold statement:

"Pot Plant Owl - I honestly don't know what you are thinking or doing sometimes"

This afternoon, I went to check on Pot Plant Owl and the chicks. The chicks sat in the pot together, looking off in the general direction of Pappa in a nearby tree. It took me a few seconds to locate PPO, and when I did, I could not believe what I was seeing.

There she was - sitting on top of Teeny's old shoe, with her enormous wings stretched out on the balcony floor. She saw me, became a little more alert, but didn't move from the shoe.

There were no signs of prey beneath her, and nothing to suggest that she was displaying this behaviour for anything in particular.

She was just sitting with her wings splayed over a shoe...

This season, I really give up, and I admit to not having the slighest clue what will happen next.

(It sure makes life interesting....)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Day 17 and PPO is on the move...

I'd forgotten how regal Pot Plant Owl looks when she stands in full view.
Her powerful talons wrap around the lip of the pot plant, and those strong, white legs steady her balance in the wind. She is a beautiful owl and a caring mother.

PPO will spend more time on the lip of the pot plant, or on the balcony railing close by. The chicks are growing so quickly, and soon the pot plant will burst at the seams with activity(didn't someone ask why the container has a crack in it? Now you know why).

Pot Plant Owl is amazing for another reason. She comes to my 'rescue' all the time. On a friendly wager, I bet that PPO would be out of the nest most of the day starting from today - Wednesday. Last night on the chat site, I conceded that I would probably lose this bet, because PPO showed no signs of venturing out of the nest.

But here she is today - in full view. She must know I need to 'save face' and demonstrate that I know what I'm talking about, for she has been on this lip for a couple of hours now.

Thank you, Pot Plant Owl! (I owe you one!)

3 Hours later....

PPO is back in the pot. Now I don't think it counts that she was out the pot for so long a little earlier on. Come on PPO, help me out here! Get out of the pot so I can win the bet!

Sigh. My pleading won't help. She has a mind of her own - just like her 'human' mom...

Pot Plant Owl on the lip of the pot - Wed 19 Oct

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

PM Tues 18 Oct

I don't know about you, but when I am feeling stressed, something gives physically. I get a sniffly nose, my back aches, my shoulders tense up - my body just doesn't feel 100%.

Perhaps that's how Pot Plant Owl feels with her unhatched egg - 'Shelly'. Ive watched her over the past few days. When I see her, she rolls her egg between her legs, and just stares down at it for the longest time. Maybe she's willing it to open. Maybe she's asking what may have happened. Maybe she's just staring at an egg.

PPO hasn't been 100% today and although the owl expert could see nothing visibly wrong, she advised us to watch PPO closely. That, we can do.

And the only thing we can do to help PPO with any 'stress' or 'confusion' she may be feeling, is to remove Shelly - the unhatched egg. So that is what I did, and good thing I did it now. The egg STINKS already and if it had broken in the pot, I think we'd all have had to abandon ship (house) and flee.

Pot Plant Owl flew to the balcony railing, and I crouched under the umbrella for a few minutes talking to her. She was on edge, alarmed, and ready to attack.

But here's the funny thing. As soon as my hand slipped between our sleeping beauties (the two chicks) and lifted the egg up, Pot Plant Owl seemed to visibly relax a little. By the time I had backed up to the door, PPO's feathers were unruffled and she was looking towards her pole.

I think it may soon be a case of "Out of sight, out of mind".

Day 16 and thank goodness for modern technology...

I must admit I was worried. From my office window, I have a perfect view of Pot Plant Owl and the nest. While I work, I sit and watch her and the chicks, and it always makes me smile.

But not this morning. This morning, something wasn't right with Pot Plant Owl. She was in the nest, making a high-pitched 'coughing' sound, and every time she did, her body jerked forward. I watch for a while hoping it would go away, but it didn't.

The big question was "What can we do?" And then the penny dropped.

We have sophisticated, modern technology set up on the balcony for viewers worldwide to watch 'our' owl family. The webcam with sound. I immediately phoned the owl expert at FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and said "Please log on and take a look and listen to PPO".

And there you have it. Moments later, from kilometres away, an expert was able to watch and listen to PPO to see if anything was wrong. By this stage, PPO's strange noises and body jerking had stopped, but she was still observed to see if she was showing any external signs of discomfort or stress.

At this stage, PPO may have a cold. We will continue to monitor all owl behaviour. The beauty about Africam's webcam technology is that it provides a means for instant observation by experts with follow-up steps if required. If PPO stops eating, then it may be something more serious.

I believe in starting the day being grateful. And this morning, I am so grateful that we have this modern technology to help 'care' for the owls. Thank you!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Day 13 and their eyes are opening...

6:30pm Central African Time:
Allan and I have just been out onto the balcony to water the plants. The plants were crying out for water, and I haven't had a chance this week to water.

I'm holding a bucket of water and Allan is covering us both with an umbrella, as we edge our way onto the balcony. Within seconds, Pot Plant Owl makes her first attempt at an attack to get us away from her chicks. She was close, but thankfully misses us.

Pappa continues the assault at us - finally landing on the roof directly above our entrance back into our bedroom. He looks down at us and then at his chicks and hoots loudly. By this time, Pot Plant Owl has flown to the neighbour's roof and is also watching closely.

I know that have approximately 5 seconds to pour as much water into the side of the nest pot as I can without watering the chicks in the process. Longer than that, I bet another fly-ib attack will occur -and this time, they may be successful.

I start pouring water into the far side of the nest pot. And that's when I notice that the bigger chick's eyes are open. Its face looks like a miniature adult owl - a wise old owl face on a tiny, fluffy, white body. Too precious for words! The chick eyes me out and snaps its beak defiantly - proof that it can definitely see what is going on. The other chick is facing the opposite direction and buries its head into its sibling's feathers.

As I type this entry, I can hear Pot Plant Owl and Pappa having a long 'conversation' outside. By now, I do believe they understand what we are doing, but I also think they expect us to just not water the plants.

This coming week will be full of action...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pic 2 - Day 12

This picture tells an interesting story. We were sitting on Ustream chatting when PPO stood up and hauled a rat out from the side of the pot plant. She took the rat in her talons and flew off with it to the neighbour's roof.

Here she is with this rat from the nest. Minutes later ,she flew back with the same rat?

Not sure why. Perhaps she didn't want to leave food in the nest for the hungry chicks to eat?

Pic Day 12

PPO feeding on a big rat and giving some to the chicks

Day 12 - 14 October and the garden is a jungle...

In the first year the owls nested with us, Allan and I gave them total carte blanche. The owls had the full rein of the balcony, the garden, half of our patio, part of the driveway etc. We left the garden alone, and for three months let the weeds grow like wildfire.

After the first year, we decided that perhaps that was taking the 'hospitality' a little too far. We used more of our own house - much to the dismay of PPO and Pappa who quite enjoyed the almost-exclusive use of their holiday home. And we mowed our lawns - although not too often. Just enough to be able to manage the grass and weeds.

Today is lawn day. And I have the task of turning the jungle that is our garden into a decent suburban lawn again. I've just pushed the electric lawn mower onto the grass, and a pair of sharp, piercing eyes stare at me from the balcony above. PPO is not impressed.

I talk to her:

"Yes, Pot Plant Owl - I'll be making a bit of noise now and your peace will be disturbed for a short while, but I've got to do it. The South African census people are coming to our house tomorrow to collect the form. If I don't do something about this jungle, they are going to come in with a bulldozer to make a pathway in. And then where will we be?"

Pot Plant Owl just stares at me. She's not interested in any excuse (reason!) I come up with. She's giving me 'that' look as if to say "I'm watching you!"

Some of our Garden Birds

A lot of viewers comment about the many bird calls they hear from our garden. I've been asked to give you a list of what we get so you can look them up if you'd like. Here they are:
Crested Barbets
Black-collared Barbets
Ibis - Hadedahs ( I think everyone can identify these noidy birds by now!)
Indian Mynahs (only one well-behaved pair)
Cape Robin (not sure what the new name is)
Cape Starling
Masked Weaver
Olive Thrush
Black-chested (?) Prinia
Cape Turtle Dove
Laughing Dove
Red Eye Dove
Grey Loerie (Go Away Bird)
Red Bishop
Cape White Eye

OK - I think I've listed most of them in our little garden. Forgive the old names, but I honestly don't know half of the new name classifications.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Comment on our daily lives

As I watch these new chicks getting bigger, I am reminded of how far I have journied with these owls. From a seemingly minor event, my life has taken a number of twists and turns, and led me to where I am today.

Four years ago, Allan and I woke up one morning to find an unexpected visitor on our balcony - Pot Plant Owl. That night when we ventured out onto our balcony to admire the view, we found a single owl egg. The following morning, we sought advice from FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre's Clinic Manager, Nicci. Nicci told us that PPO had chosen our balcony, our potplant, as her nest.

That was it. That's how it started. Although Allan has a bird-watching background, we are not ornithologists by trade. We are just normal, average people who have an extraordinary natural event in our living space.

Everything we know about PPO and her family has come from spending many, many hours watching them from our makeshift 'hide' in our bedroom. Through our observations, we've picked up personality types, seen interesting behaviour and recorded beautiful moments.

We never intended to write a book on these owls. It happened because people following the story that first year, and asked us to put it in a book to share the story. We're thrilled at the response we have received from our book. Now, we only have 100 books left, and no plans to reprint.

Initially, we had no intention of putting a webcam on the balcony for viewers. That is, until we realised what a wonderful educational tool a webcam is, and the positive impact live view sharing has with people from all over the world.

The chat room on Ustream that I pop into whenever time allows, is a wonderful place to meet like-minded owl and nature lovers. Where I can, I answer questions based purely on our observations of PPO, Pappa and their family.

Another spin-off of PPO's arrival four years ago, is my Public Speaking career taking off in leaps and bounds. Allan and I do many talks to corporates, societies, schools and other institutions about environmental issues, and of course, 'our' owls as well.

Saving Pot Plant Owl's wetland is just an extension of this story - of the influence the owls have had on us and our lives. When the wetland development proposal came to light, Allan and I spent hours each day pouring over Environmental Acts, trying to help these owls.

How strange to think that all of the above is part of my life now, because an owl laid an egg in a potplant - our potplant.

Yet, as much as I'd love to write more books, chat more on the Ustream site, keep the webcam going for longer - all of these things cost time and money. People joke with me all the time and ask "When you are not playing 'grandmother' to owls, or wearing a 'Save-the-wetland' shirt, what do you do for a real job?"

As you can see, I wear many hats - colourful, interesting, exciting hats. And how much time I get to spend wearing each hat, is up to the Universe to decide.

All your support is so greatly appreciated - with caring for 'our' wetland, with our book sales, with 'looking after' these owls when we sleep, with hiring us for your Public Speaking engagements, with supporting us in our PPO online store.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pic - 12 October

Protective Pot Plant Owl with her chicks

Day 10 - 12 October and day time viewing is getting good

3:50pm Central African Time: Pot Plant Owl is such a loving mom. I'm watching her from my desk as she preens her two chicks. The chicks are getting so big! I can't remember them growing this quickly in previous years, but they probably did.

The advice on what to do with Shelly (the unhatched egg that is in the nest): I spoke to Nicci from Freeme Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Nicci confirmed what I suspected - that it is probably best to leave the egg in the nest and let PPO decide what to do with it. When the chicks are older and away from the nest, we can remove the egg.

For those enquiries about the sandals on our Pot Plant Owl online store: I will let you know as soon as I receive word back from the USA. Hopefully I will get an answer overnight and be able to update you tomorrow.

Name-the-Chick Competition: Full details of the competition will be posted on the Africam website soon. I will also update you on my blog. Exciting opportunity for schools to get involved.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Day 7 - PM 09 October

PM Central African Time:
What never ceases to amaze me is how much more there is to learn about 'our' owls, even when you believe you've seen it all. The minute you think you have it all figured out, something will happen to throw your pre-conceived ideas out the window.

I've been watching PPO and her family closely for a few years now - this being the fourth year that PPO has chosen to nest in our pot plant. There are some things that I take for granted about the family / family behaviour.

What I have learnt in the last 48 hours:

1. Even Pot Plant Owl can produce an egg that doesn't hatch, for various reasons. Just because we've witnessed all eggs hatch in the past years, doesn't necesarily mean that this will happen every year.
2. In past years when the chicks are very small, we've witnessed PPO only leave the nest one, maybe twice, in one evening, and only for a short time. Tonight, we've seen Pot Plant Owl leave the nest at least 5 times in a short space of time - leading me to believe she has ants in her pants. It's unusual for her to hop on and off the nest when the chicks are so small, but I'm sure she knows what she is doing.

I love it - the 'spanner in the works' that makes for interesting viewing and a greater understanding of the complexities of these beautiful owls.

I wonder what the rest of the season will bring.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

And there are two

Not much to say. Clearly two healthy chicks and one egg. Not sure what happens to the egg now.

Update on PPO Online store

Thank you for all your comments and enquiries about the PPO online store products. We've heard your requests and will action them all within the next day or two. Todayy we've had trouble uploading images, but hopefully this will be rectified soon.

9 October and will we see a third chick?

Every year that Pot Plant Owl has chosen to nest on our balcony, she has laid 3 eggs, and all 3 have hatched. This year there seems to be a problem.

Whether it is a temporary set-back or not, remains to be seen. In our opinion, the next 24 hours is critical. If the last egg doesn't hatch in this time, we don't believe it will.

On the plus side, Pot Plant Owl and Pappa are doing a wonderful job at looking after their two chicks. The chicks are inquisitive, hungry, and eager to explore, and this makes for fascinating viewing. Best of all, the chicks don't appear to be camera-shy, often popping their heads up from under Pot Plant Owl's feathers.

I can't wait to get to know them.

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Pot Plant Owl online store

Allan and I appreciate the offers we have had from people wanting to donate money to us to help save the wetland and for costs to run our website / the webcam. We have always declined these kind offers - only because we did not want to accept something without giving back in some way.

One of our chatters, Fi, offered me a solution - an online shop to offer a few PPO products for people to buy if they want. Thank you, Fi.

And here it is -
Top right button on the online store changes the currency.

For those who followed Teeny, Allan has compiled a 2012 calendar of our 'rehab' chick. There's a beautiful calendar of photos of PPO, Pappa and their chicks. Some of those photos are in our book, so for those of you who want to see book pics, here they are. And of course, there are a few fun items too.

Again, thank you to all of you who have kindly offered donations. Instead, we'd appreciate your support in our online shop, so we can 'give' something to you.

We don't want to turn it into a mass-merchandising venture, but if there is anything in particular that you'd like to have of PPO and her family, please send me an email, and I'll see what we can do.

Thank you!

Day 5 - and is this the third chick?

7 October and kids say the funniest things...

This morning I did a couple of talks on Pot Plant Owl and her family to a primary school in Johannesburg - one for Grades 1-3 and another talk for Grades 4-7.

Not having (human) kids myself, I was reminded today just how funny and spontaneous children can be. In a question and answer session:

Me: Ok boys and girls. Can anyone tell me the type of Owl that you see here? (holding the cover of our book which has a big close-up of PPO)
Reply from a little girl: Pot Plant Owl (reading the name of the book)

Me: Can you tell me where owls normally nest?
Reply from a boy: In pot plants

Question from a 2nd grader: I know the egg comes from the Mommy, but I want to know
where the egg leaves the Mommy.
Me: Your teachers will answer all your question in class

It was funny, entertaining and rewarding. To see the kids' expressions when I showed them photographs of the chicks, was priceless. When I showed them the book, the 'oohs' and 'aahs' that filled the hall, made my heart sing.

Not one child showed fear of owls, or any kind of superstition towards owls. It shows that slowly the message is getting across. Owls are lovely and so is all the other wildlife around us. I left the school happy and comforted by the knowledge that these bright kids are going to look after our Natural Environment when they grow up.

(And I left happy, knowing that the 'harder' questions like the one I avoided above, will be answered by their teachers...teehee)

6 October and still only two chicks...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Day 4 - 6 October and still two chicks...

6:30pm Central African Time
we've just done a quick head count when Pot Plant Owl left the nest for all of 1 minute. There are still only 2 chicks and 1 egg. The fact that Pot Plant Owl was so quick to return to the nest might be an indication that the 3rd egg will hatch in the matter of hours.

There is a definite difference between the egg hatchings of last year and this year. Last year, all three eggs hatched within 2 days - somewhere between the 20th September and the 22nd September. This year, there is already a 4-day difference between Chick 1 and soon-to-be Chick 3.

Perhaps this means that instead of just protecting the first laid eggs, PPO actually started incubating them? Who knows. We will watch tonight and tomorrow with baited breath for our third and final chick to make an appearance.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

3 October - PM Central African Time

We're witnessing the most incredible feeding session. Minutes ago, Pappa flew in with a sizeable meal for his family. Pot Plant Owl started shredding pieces of food for her chicks.

We're now watching what can only be described as a 'feeding frenzy'. Webcam viewers are seeing the tiny little white heads popping up, and grabbing the pieces of shredded meat hungrily. It appears the chicks are ravenous for they are coming back for more and more and more. How their minute bodies will handle all the food going in, is anyone's guess.

From past experience watching PPO chicks, tomorrow I fully expect to see two chicks double their current size.

Pappa's in with more food - a tasty King Cricket which would normally be devoured in seconds. He stands patiently at the nest, offering the meal to his family, but there are no takers.

A minute later:

He's just flown away with the King Cricke, probably to eat it himself somewhere in peace.

Day 3 - 5 October and 2nd chick confirmed

And we now have a second chick. Still one egg that hasn't hatched. Come on baby - we can't wait to meet you!

Day 2 - 4 Oct and is there another chick?

No sooner had we confirmed that there was only one chick in the nest, and taken the picture below, then PPO started 'dancing'.

From left to right she shuffled, her head dipping to the silent beat of Motherhood in her soul. We've seen this 'dance' before, and we suspect (but can't yet prove) that the cause of this 'John Travolta' behaviour comes in a package that is white, tiny, fluffy and adorable.

You guessed it - the arrival of the second chick!

A short while later, viewers noticed eggshell on the side of the pot, and at one stage, PPO picked up a piece of (presumably) eggshell, and ate it.

Very exciting and can't wait to confirm Chick no.2 tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Day 2 - Still only one chick

Our tiny chick resting its weary head on the its 'soon-to-be-siblings'.
Day 2 and there is still only one egg.

Pot Plant Owl keeps a stocpile of food in the nest with her. Periodically, she shreds pieces of food and feeds the little chick.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It moves!

Day 1 First Chick Confirmed

Day 1 - 3 October 2011

It's unconfirmed at this stage, but there is every chance that we have our first hatching. At 11h50 local South African time, viewers saw Pot Plant Owl eating an eggshell.

Hours before, we had noticed PPO's change of behaviour to mirror what we usually see at this time when the chicks are due. PPO fidgets a lot in the nest, looks down and bends her head out of view. She sits more upright and we can confirm from our bedroom door view of her, that PPO is 'perching' rather than laying flat down. And the final tell-tale sign that could very well make the arrival of a chick true, is PPO's constant hooting today, and Pappa's immediate reply.

I'm not one for counting my chickens (owls) before they hatch, so I will try not to get too excited until I see the tiny bundle of white fluff for myself - or at the very lest, see it on someone's video or photograph.

So I encourage you all to keep a close eye on her, and see if you can spot our first PPO chick of the season. Happy viewing!

1 October and the Heavens open...

The sudden change of weather always amazes me. One minute the day is bright and sunny, with the promise of many more days that are alike to follow. The next minute, the skies turn a threatening black, as thick clouds build up. You know there is one mighty storm on its way.

And today it came - signalling the start of our annual summer rainfall. Typically we have beautiful, hot days and in the later afternoon the clouds build up. The Highveld (the are where we live)is an area that frequently gets thunder and lightning storms.

Poor Pot Plant Owl lay in her nest, covering her eggs as best as she could. With the heavy rains, there isn't much chance of Pappa hunting, so they both go a little hungry tonight.

Friday, September 30, 2011

30 September and Pappa is doing a good job...

I've picked up a nasty stomach bug - the kind that creeps up on you in the night and leaves your system upside down by morning. Today I decided to spend a couple of hours dozing in bed, hoping it will take the 'nasty' away.

You have all experienced at some time, that peaceful state somewhere between full alertness, deep sleep and waking up. The state where everything connects and appears as One. The state where no worries creep in, no illness is known, no care for what tomorrow brings - just a peaceful, easy state of mind.

I believe that this is where animals exist - in fact, all life forms apart from Humans. Animals have the ability to communicate with one another trans-species. We know this to be true in times of natural disasters, where it is the animals and birds that sense what is about to happen and make decisions accordingly.

At times, there are Human Beings that can cosistently 'tap' into this state of peacefulness, of Oneness, and communicate with animals. Look at Dolphin and Horse Whisperers as an example. And the person that can 'cure' your pet from an unattractive or unwanted behaviour - just by spending time with them.

Anyway, today, as I lay in my bed about to wake up, yet still in that peaceful state, I heard a strong voice. Instantly, my mind 'boxed' the voice and told me it was the neighbour's child-minder. This voice said loudly and clearly:
"Pappa, you are doing a good job. Pappa"

I called Allan and asked if he had heard the voice, or could see the lady next door. He had been by an open window downstairs, right in the direction of the neighbour, and had heard nothing. I asked Allan to look for Pappa - thinking that he may be on a perimeter wall nearby. Alaln looked everywhere and couldn't see Pappa. Allan also reminded me that the neighbours don't call Pappa by his name - he is the 'male owl' or just the 'owl'

I started to doubt, not what I had heard, but where it was coming from.
Perhaps it the last figment of a dream I was having about the owls.
Perhaps it was just something my mind would say, so I 'heard' something that wasn't said.

Bot maybe, just maybe, it was taping into the peaceful state of Oneness, and my voice telling Pappa that he was doing a good job.

Whatever the reason, or how it came about, the message to me is very clear:

We always talk about Pot Plant Owl and how good she is to sit on the eggs and protect them and keep them warm. Now it is time, just before the eggs hatch, to acknowledge the work that Pappa does.

Without Pappa's constant protection and food-hunting, none of this would be possible.

"Pappa, you are doing a good job. Pappa"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

27 September and getting closer still...

Pot Plant Owl stayed out of the nest for a record 40 minutes last night. Amazing to think that she can be away from the nest and eggs all that time, and the eggs don't get cold. Our Spring temperatures are good with lovely sunny days and warm evenings, so I guess that helps.

Pappa is scarce at night. We've noticed over the past few years that during this period (just before the eggs hatch), Pappa travels further away from the nest to hunt. We suspect that is so that the food supply close to the nest will not be depleted when the chicks arrive, and food is required in vast quantities.

Not too long to go now...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fun words

South Africa is a country with 11 official languages. Pot PLant Owl followers cover the length and breadth of our country, and around the world too. It is fitting, therefore, to have a little fun in this incubation period by learning a few South African language words and phrases. We've been chatting on Ustream and introducing words, and I promised a list of those we've used so far - here it is:

South African Words

Greetings What it means
Sawubona Hello (Zulu)
Yebo Sawubona Reply Hello (Zulu)
Lekker Slaap Sleep well (Afrikaans)
Hamba Kahle Go well (Zulu)
Sala Kahle Stay well (Zulu)
Dankie Thank you (Afrikaans)
Aikona No (Zulu)
Yebo Yes (Zulu)
Pragtige uil Lovely owl (Afrikaans)

I'll keep on updating this list as we chat more.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pappa on duty

This is Pappa at 17h30 Friday 23 September sitting on the neighbour's satellite dish, watching over the nest. He had been in a tree near our front door the whole day. We only noticed him in the late afternoon when the garden birds kicked up a fuss. Pappa moves closer in to the nest as the egg-hatching day draws near.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

21 September and can I get some sleep please?

I love Pot Plant Owl. I love Pappa. And I love the fact that our balcony is theirs to use for nesting. What I DON'T love, is being woken up in the early hours of the morning with loud hooting on the balcony.

From a deep slumber, the noise is enough to think you are under attack. It takes a few long seconds until your brain catches up with your ears, and you understand what you are hearing. By then, you are wide awake and the chance of sleep again in the near future is slim.

Like I said, I love you PPO. I love you Pappa. But can you tone it down a decibel or three? Please?