Monday, December 31, 2012

31 Dec and the last day of the year

The end of the year, and another New Year about to begin.I look back upon this year with immense gratitude for all the blessings in my life.

I am blessed with a warm, generous, caring husband, whom I love dearly.
I am blessed with a loving family and a great circle of friends.
My good health is a blessing that I don't take for granted, for I am able to enjoy the outdoors and keep myself fit.
My pets are all a joy to me and keep me active, and laughing all day.

And I am blessed that our dear Pot Plant Owl nested with us again. The first attempt at breeding may not have been successful, and in this period we lost little Rosie unexpectedly. But each set back is a lesson learned and a chance for us to take stock and reflect on what happened, and perhaps see what can be improved upon.

2013 - I look forward to greeting you. I am ready for another New Year, and another chance to celebrate this wonderful thing we have in our clutches - this thing called Life.

Be merry. Laugh. Have fun. Embrace. Rejoice. Act a little silly. Dance as if no-one watches you. Celebrate.

From very proud parents, Pot Plant Owl and Pappa, we wish you all a Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

29 December and our family is strong

Our little chick is coming along very well. Each day it appears to grow inches in front of our eyes. Yesterday, I noticed the start of the false ear tufts growing which, at this time, resemble tiny cottonballs stuck onto its head.

The most noticeable development in a new owl chick appears in the face. From a young age, the chicks take on 'Mini Adult' faces - the sharp, black beak; the dark patches around the eyes; the piercing stare. When the chick opens it wings, you notice how quickly the owl wings are developing too.

Here's a picture taken this morning:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And here's our owl family....

18h30 on 26 December - our owl family...

Not a good picture of Pappa but it does show you that he is indeed alive and well. This pic was taken with my small camera through the office window.

And here's PPO with her little 'Soon-to-be-named' Chick!

26 Dec and our chick is buried

Last year, after much debate and thought about it, we removed an unviable egg from the nest after it became clear that it was not going to hatch. I'll never forget the feeling of calm that washed over the balcony as I stepped back inside the house with the egg in my hand. Within minutes, PPO appeared more relaxed and threw her energy and attention into preening her chicks.

The same thing happened this morning. We looked at the frail body of the dead chick in the nest, and decided to bury it for PPO. We switched the cam off and I headed out onto the balcony - without an umbrella. Carefully, I crept to the nest - all the while talking softly to PPO. PPO kept a beady eye on me, while pushing her chick under her for protection.

I crouched down right next to the nest and slowly reached out and grabbed the dead chick. PPO froze in place and kept watching me. Slowly, I backed away and closed the balcony door.

We buried the chick in our 'bird' garden - a small section of the garden fenced off to allow birds an area to eat and bath in peace. Our dog, Destin, cannot access the area, so it is a perfect spot for our chick to be buried.

We are saddened and shocked by the sudden passing of the chick. Unlike Teeny, this chick did not deteriorate slowly in front of our eyes. The chick was up and about one minute, and lying still the next. Without going into detail, the chick had a big wound which may, or may not, have been the cause of its death. I'm not sure if the chick had anything internally wrong with it.

It's difficult to lose a chick after what this breeding season has already brought. Can you imagine what it must feel like for our sweet PPO? And for Pappa?

I can only send out all my love and prayers to the remaining chick, and hope that not survives, but thrives.

RIP little one!

25 Dec and this Christmas is bitter sweet...

We lost one of the chicks.

This is the first time in five years that we've had a fatality in the nest. For a number of hours, we all noticed that the little chick didn't move despite PPO's best efforts to coax the chick to eat.

I took the liberty of copying Bob Pruner's report from Facebook about what he saw, as we were sleeping at the time:

"I am so sorry to see that the youngest PPO owlet suddenly took ill. Here is what I saw. It seemed fine yesterday. Then this morning it appeared to be sleeping in the back corner but did not get up all day even when PPO tried to feed it. She fretted over it between feeding the other owlet but finally at about 12:30am Wednesday(nest time) appeared to decide that it would no longer respond and carried its inert body to the front of the nest where we could see that it was no longer alive. She has moved it a couple of more times as I write this and may remove it from the nest by morning. My condolences to all the chatters who love this little owl and especially to Tracy and Allan. Rest in peace little Rosie (as some of us had taken to calling her/him) PPO appears to be taking it in stride and concentrating on caring for the remaining owlet. What a trooper!"

Monday, December 24, 2012

24 Dec and Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas!
Happy Hanukkah!
Happy Holidays!

From all of us in Jozi, South Africa.

For those travelling to visit loved ones, we wish you safe travels.

Come back and visit us soon!

Friday, December 21, 2012

21 December and the end of the world as we know it

I like to think that today, the 21st December, marks the end of the world as we know it. Now before devout religious fanatics or athiests alike get up in arms with my statement, hear me out.

I love new beginnings. A New Year where all ones past woes are left behind as one starts afresh. I love birthdays that mark another milestone in ones life. I love the dawn - the beginning of a new day unlike any other. I love the start of a new life form - a seed that grows into a magnificent tree, and a small egg that reveals a tiny chick.

And I love the idea, however far-fetched it may sound to others, that a New Dawn is beginning for us here on Earth. Right here. Right now.

We have the chance to start afresh - to look at the beauty that is all around us and appreciate it. All of you who have followed PPO and her family (for months or years) are already there. You love and appreciate Nature. You respect and admire the trials and tribulations that our owl family has gone through to be with us again today.

I'd like to believe, no, I need to believe, that others, who have not taken the time to notice the natural world around them, are waking up for the first time and starting to 'get' this thing called Life.

Life isn't about fancy cars, or lots of money, or designer shoes. Yes, those items can make living more comfortable, but they are not the real deal.

The real deal is right in front of us all. In my garden, it is in this pot plant nest where two little owl chicks are finding their feet (and soon their wings).

I like to think that today marks a new beginnning - for us all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

19 Dec and eyes try to keep open

19 Dec and sound is on....

Stop for a minute and think what your life would be like without sound. Perhaps you already know what this feels like. Perhaps you have loved ones who can't hear. Perhaps your hearing is failing you.

I know that sometimes I take the act of listening to sounds for granted. And sometimes I even get irritated by a particular sound. But how would I feel if I didn't have the luxury of listening to a gentle, soothing sound? Or even the luxury of experiencing an annoying sound?

The sound for the webcam was fixed today and it's all systems go. I'm again reminded about the importance of appreciating every sense that we are blessed with - for however long. It gives me true happiness to read messages from folks around the world excited about hearing PPO and her family again - something that I take for granted.

There will be a few people tonight eagerly awaiting Pappa's robust hooting, or the sweet hissing sound from the chicks. I look forward to 'hearing' all the reports soon.

Till then, let me pause for a minute and say THANK YOU for the gremlins that crept into the old microphone and forced a momentary sound break. It's allowed me to appreciate the act of hearing again, and I am all the better for it.

Visit, close your eyes and really listen...

Chick pic

Monday, December 17, 2012

15 Dec and aren't we adorable!

PPO's nest

When people are chatting on the Africam chat site while they are watching the live webcam, I often get asked where the pot plant is. Here's a picture that explains PPO's chosen nesting spot better.

PPO is in a pot plant that is in the right hand corner of our balcony - one storey up. Her original pot plant nest is in the far left hand corner. The angled facebrick wall that you see to the bottom left of the pictures is the border of our house. Directly behind it is another garden with a gate resting against the wall - that is the neighbour's house.

For those who watched the webcam last year, you will remember when a chick got stuck between electric fencing - that is where you can see the house at the back of the picture.

You can see a children's house with a bright yellow roof - that is Yapz's garden. The tree on the far right of the picture marks the saved wetland.

As you can see, we put perches up around the pot plant nest to allow Pappa to deliver the food to his family. This he does frequently throughout the night and early morning. In another few days, you will also see PPO standing on one of these perches because there will not be enough space in the pot plant for her and her growing chicks.

You can also see soil lying on the balcony floor - that is not us being messy! That is PPO and / or Pappa doing a little bit of 'house cleaning' themselves.

14 Dec and it's the simple pleasures

It's always the simple pleasures in life - the ice cream or icy cold drink on a hot summer's day, the sound of the waves lapping along the shore as you walk barefoot in the sand, and the sound of children laughing.

And for me, there is waking up to this....

Thursday, December 13, 2012

12 DEc - pic of the chicks

12 Dec and oh, that sweet sound...

It gives me so much joy to hear the sweet sound the chicks make when they are waiting / begging for food. Today I heard this sound so loudly that I was momentarily confused and thought we had moved forward in time to when the chicks are older and exploring the balcony.

I peered out of the window and watched Pot Plant Owl tearing strips of food and feeding them to her hungry, and very vocal, chicks. In no time at all, the food was devoured and they settled down for a nap.

Sleep well, little ones.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sunday, December 9, 2012

9 Dec and the family are doing well

In typical PPO fashion, we were only allowed a brief glance at the chicks during the day. Pot Plant Owl manouvered her chicks to face away from the window, and spread out her wings in protection.

I believe that yesterday's sighting, with the opportunity of a few photographs, was PPO's way of saying "See - all is well now" but after that, protective mom gene kicks in again, and the chicks are covered up during the day.

At night we saw the two bundles of white fluff when PPO left the nest. Their eyes are closed and their tiny black beaks open and shut, waiting for food. At this stage, they are moving around like small snakes in the grass - wriggling around.

Pappa is very proud of his new family. He stood on the neighbour's roof and hooted his sentiments for a long period of time. PPO left the chicks alone for a few minutes, before returning to keep them warm.

In my sleep, I vaguely hear Pappa hooting once as he lands on the balcony railing with another meal for his family.

Friday, December 7, 2012

8 Dec and we have chicks!

We've got two little chicks sitting in the new pot plant nest with a very proud mom.

We've been out the past few evenings and every time we've returned home, we've found PPO sitting in the nest. Last night we came home and noticed that she was sitting more upright and stared at me when I tried to say hello.Pappa hooted on the rooftops for a long time last night and didn't fly too far away.

This morning, I opened the bedroom curtains, and there they were! Two little heads popping up from under their mom. We watched a few more minutes until feeding time...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Second nesting attempt for PPO

PPO is nesting again. She started with an egg last Monday, and a second egg on Wednesday. We half expected to find a third egg on Saturday, but it wasn't to be.

I'm not sure if these eggs will be viable. We noticed very little copulating and frantic activity which is usually evident at this stage of the pre-breeding season.

For the moment, we have decided not to turn the webcam back on, until we know for sure that there is a family with chicks to watch. A lesson that I have learned these past few months is that it is heart-breaking watching PPO sit faithfully on eggs that we all knew were not viable (and ended up not being fertilised). We will spare any angst and only switch the camera back on when the right time comes.

Will let you know what happens!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

22 October - PPO Update

It's been an interesting and difficult owl season this year. As it is in Nature, there are ups and downs that we can't control no matter how much we'd like to.

The decision for us to switch off the webcam proved to be the best one to make. We had the opportunity last night of removing the eggs from the nest and opening up the two eggs, and they were both infertile.

There are a myriad of possible reasons why the eggs were not viable this year:
Perhaps one, or both, of the owls are infertile.
Perhaps toxins in the environment have caused am imbalance that is affecting fertility.
Perhaps the copulation period was rushed and didn't 'get the job done'.
Perhaps it is Nature's way of curbing the owl population numbers which have been on the increase in our area.

The good news is that Pot Plant Owl and Pappa are still making visits to their nest. They were both on the balcony in the early hours of this morning hooting to each other. PPO sits on her telephone pole nearby and we watch her hunt.

We don't believe that the owls will abandon the balcony nesting site - at least we hope that they don't. But of course, we can't be sure as they are wild and will do what they feel is right for them.

As a tribute to our owl family, we are making a 2013 calendar that will be ready by Friday 26th October.

Friday, October 19, 2012

19 October and my mind churns

One question that is playing over and over in my mind is:

How would this situation be playing out if PPO had chosen a 'normal' Spotted Eagle Owl nest i.e. a scraping in the ground, or a fork in a tree?

PPO would be closer to predators of all kinds if she was on the ground. Larger snakes would probably try to get the eggs. There may be animals such as dogs bothering her. In heavy rains, nests have been known to be washed away.

So if PPO had chosen a 'normal' nest, would she still be sitting on the eggs? She must know that there is no life in the eggs and therefore nothing is going to happen.

Is she staying longer on the eggs because of how safe her nesting area is - one storey up away from dogs and cats? No snakes have ever - touch wood - slid up the walls and onto the balcony before. We leave PPO alone so we are not a perceived threat to her at this stage.

As much as PPO and Pappa are left to their own devices on our balcony, the balcony is still an unnatural nesting site for them. When weighing up the pros and cons of taking the eggs away versus letting her continue to sit, surely we need to look at the actual site too?

Could this question suggest that the best thing to do at this point is to take the eggs away?

Pot Plant Owl yesterday

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

17 October and the cam is off

It's the end of this breeding season. It's strange to write 'breeding' season when no successful breeding occurred, but it is nonetheless, time to close the doors on the balcony nest for the time being.

Right now, I am in the process of gathering as much material as I can from owl experts and such like, to see what may have gone wrong, and what we can expect going forward.

Right now, we find ourselves in a Catch-22 situation.
Do we leave the eggs with PPO until she decides to abandon them (we are now day 47 of what should be an approx 30-32 day cycle of incubation)?
Or do we take the eggs away from her - they are clearly not viable - and allow her to get on with her life, and perhaps another breeding season?

If we leave the eggs, who do we benefit - science or PPO? There is evidence to suggest that the longer she sits on the eggs, the more energy she is using. Pappa is also expending a lot of extra energy by hunting for her.

If we take the eggs away, do we really benefit PPO, or do we just disrupt the natural cycle and possibly a recorded scientific observation? There is no doubt that where possible, one should never interfere with the natural order of things. Time and time again, Man has interfered with the view to 'saving or helping' something, and it has backfired - badly.

Something to think about. We will keep asking the experts questions and see what they come up with.

Will let you know.

Friday, October 12, 2012

12 October and decision time

When there is a difficult decision to make, I am the biggest procrastinator around. First I think about the situation, and then I think some more. My mind processes possible outcomes, and eventually comes up with one that, ultimately, will be the path that I will take. But instead of jumping right in with both feet and dealing with it, I take a step back and ignore the situation. Eventually something usually happens to spur me into action and I take that decisive step into the territory known as "crunch time".

I reached that point this morning with what to do with my sweet Pot Plant Owl. It came to me as I sat at the window and watched the rain falling down on her already drenched feathers. Her false ear tufts almost lay flat on her head, and she looked smaller and more vulnerable faithfully protecting her eggs that, I am almost 100% sure, are not viable.

I have to respect their privacy and give Pot Plant Owl and Pappa some space. Sooner or later, PPO will realise that sitting on her eggs will not make a difference to the outcome - the eggs are not hatching. Maybe she's already come to that conclusion but is also procrastinating or ignoring the facts.

As strange as it may sound to many people, I believe that animals and birds pick up all our thoughts and feelings. And maybe, just maybe, Pot Plant Owl knows that her eggs are not viable but she wants to 'show us all' that she is still trying. I liken it to my dying grandmother hanging on for a few hours in order for her daughters to gather around her to say goodbye.

Pot Plant Owl is not going anywhere, but she needs to be given the permission to 'let go' now. The best way I can do that for her is to give her her privacy.

Regretably for you viewers, this means that if an egg doesn't hatch by Sun 14th October, we will switch the webcam off early next week. This will allow PPO to decide how she is going to handle the situation. We will obviously be here to keep an eye on her, but otherwise she won't be the focus of so many people's attention.

Will she lay eggs again this season? I honestly can't say. This is a first for us so who knows. We will keep you informed.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

05 October and where are the chicks?

Still two eggs in the pot plant, with a very chilled PPO keeping them warm. To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of the fact that an egg hasn't hatched yet. PPO laid the first egg on the 1st September.

I wonder if this has anything to do with last year's egg that wasn't viable? That was a first too - three eggs laid and only two hatched. Perhaps its an indication of a pattern that may well continue?

We'll have to sit tight for another week and see what happens.

Monday, October 1, 2012

1 October and any day now...

It's almost time for our little chicks to appear and all is going well. So much so, that I wonder if this will be 'the' year - the year of well-behaved chicks.

Chicks that instinctively know not to climb onto balcony pillars before they are ready.
Chicks that listen to the hoots of their parents, and know when to follow the hoots, and when to stay put.
Chicks that learn to 'crawl' before they walk, instead of believing that they can imitate their parents on the first day of flying (and end up in all sorts of trouble).
Chicks that can tell the difference between a safe place (our balcony) and a no-go area (between two electric fences).
Chicks that play with the toys we give them (the shoe, the owl box, the wooden perches) instead of making up their own games(Follow-the-leader-even-if-you-aren't-ready).
Chicks that, when realising that they have 'messed up' and are getting rescued from some kind of trouble, don't then call the protective parents to bombard the rescuer.

Yes, we can all dream - can't we?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

27 September and another PPO talk

I love talking about Pot Plant Owl. And Pappa. And their sweet chicks. If you got me started, I bet I could even talk the hind leg off a donkey if given half a chance.

So it was right up my alley when I was guest speaker at a Ladies Luncheon with the subject heading 'Pot Plant Owl'.

Where do I even begin!

What makes each talk so rewarding are the comments I receive after the talk. People tell me their own owl stories; they share snippets of what goes on in their back yards. Sometimes I am asked questions - even after a long talk (surely you'd be sick of my voice by now?)

I thought that I'd do a little Q&A session here with some of the most common questions that I get:

1. Will you ever name 'her' (PPO)?
She is named - Pot Plant Owl / PPO and she also answers to Stinker sometimes (kidding)

2. How do I attract owls to my garden?
Honestly, it is hard for me to say. You can try owl boxes, but they may not work. Then I share the story of what happened to Allan and I when we first moved into our home. We had seen the owls flying around, and there were also a number of bats in the area. We called up a company that makes both bat and owl boxes, and couldn't decide which box to get. In the end we figured we'd help the bats and get a bat box (we reasoned that owls have trees they can use). And in the 8 years we've been in this house, we have never had one bat - not one - use the box. So when someone can tell me how to attract a bat, I will use their answer to assist you in attracting an owl.

3. Will you ever sell your house?
No. Never. Definitely not. But in the unlikely event that we do, we will have a clause in the sales contract to protect the owls and allow them exclusive use of the balcony and most of the rest of the garden for three months of the year -longer if they choose.

4. Is PPO tame? Is Pappa tame?
No they are not. Each year when one of us get hit on the head by their steely talons, we are reminded of this fact. For surely if the owls were tame and close to pets, we'd be saved from their silent attacks. And the funny thing: we like being hit on the head because it encourages us to do what we can to keep the owl wild and not habituated to humans - for their own protection.

5. Who clean the balcony after the owls are gone?
The person who drew the shortest straw. (And just what are the odds that Allan 'happens' to draw the shortest straw each year - wink). Seriously, it is smelly and messy and takes a lot of chemicals and elbow grease to clean it each year.

So there - now you have the answers to the most common questions. If you have any others, feel free to post them.

Here's our sweet PPO in her new nest

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

25 September and Pappa is on the warpath

Pappa is on the warpath. Dogs, cats, and anything that even remotely looks like it may 'attack' the nest, have become his target.

'Really Pappa? Dogs climbing up onto the 1st floor balcony to get to your eggs?' But however hard I try to reason with Pappa, he doesn't seem to listen.Pappa is hell-bent on clearing the area of 'unwanteds' and being the good protector that he is.

Our puppy Destin almost became his new target. Destin stepped out of the house on his way to 'help' Allan gets veggies from the veggie patch. Pappa swooped in and was almost at point of contact when Destin saw him and yelped. Pappa swerved and flew to the rooftop and Destin bolted back inside.

We checked Destin all over and there were no marks on him, so he got off lightly. It's highlighted the need to keep Destin indoors at night and to let him out when we are both around to watch him on his potty breaks. Destin, of course, is not the least bit fazed by this arrangement, as he remains a very lucky sofa / couch dog at night.

PPO is more alert when I say hello to her. She is also getting ready to 'protect at all costs' if she has to. I can almost see her expression change from 'Oh, it's you again' (before she looks away) to 'Don't even think about it!' (as she keeps a close eye on me at the window).

Not long to go and things become more exciting!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

20 September and time to reflect

I remember the day Pot Plant Owl arrived like it was yesterday. We woke up one morning late August to a noise on our balcony that is off our bedroom. I pushed open the curtains to see who was making the racket, and there she was...

This beautiful, alert owl stared straight at me. She was standing in the pot plant facing my direction and when she saw me, she set those piercing eyes on me. I was mesmerised.

Now, five years on, PPO and Pappa are as much a part of the family as our pets are. She's been nesting with us for 20 days this season and yet I've hardly spent much time 'with' her. Work is busy. New puppy demands a lot of attention. Our own parrot is laying copious amounts of eggs for the first time ever this year. All of these things could be valid excuses for spending less time 'with' PPO.

But, in truth, they are not good enough reasons at all. Especially when dealing with wildlife whose very existance hangs tenuously in the balance in an urban environment especially.

So I'm taking a step back to the start of this wonderful story that began five years ago. I'm going to remind myself each and every day why Pot Plant Owl and Pappa are so special, starting with the first 'Good Morning Mommy' greeting that I say to PPO.

And, not only am I going to spend less time answering the work phone (sorry Al) and more time sitting watching PPO from the makeshift 'hide', I am going to go back to five years ago.

When there was no-one else watching, we sat for hours on the patio below watching the owls fly around above our heads.
When there was no-one else listening, we switched off our tv and listened to the hoots and calls of the owl family.
When there was no-one else writing, I recorded every little detail - day in, and day out - not wanting to miss a single minute.

If you are watching the cam or reading the blog, I'd like to suggest that you try to do it like we did five years ago.

With no expectation. Just to sit back and watch / read / listen and let the owls share their story.

Speaking of story, we remain at the 'paint-drying' section of PPO's incubation period. It's long and tiring and boring - for her and for us. She really appears to be more content in her new pot plant this year - especially at midday when the sun is set high in the sky, and she's still got a good cover protecting her from the heat. Hang in there, Mamma - not long to go!

Monday, September 17, 2012

14 September and the music plays on

Johnny Clegg's music is ringing in my ears. After watching his fabulous concert tonight, I'm feeling more inspired and excited. It took all my effort (and a lot of sitting on my hands) to make the first half of the show seated like the rest of the audience. It all became too much in the second half, and I stood up and danced. And soon, many others joined me.

What does Johnny Clegg and his music have to do with 'our' owls?

Apart from the obvious lyrics about Zulu culture and traditions in the music that link to owls ('I heard the owl calling my name'), there is also another thread running through.

When you take the time to learn about another culture(as the white South African boy from Apartheid years in South Africa, Johnny, did in learning all about the Zulu culture), you form a deeper understanding of the culture, its people, and its role in society. The bond that now links you to this culture is one of compassion and care, and I believe it is only once we feel this connection, can we truthfully say that we understand the people of that culture.

The same can be said of any living creature -like owls. If we take the time to watch them, learn about them, look past any odd behaviours or appearances, reserve judgement and accept them for the whole, balanced creatures that they are, we form a greater appreciation for them. We learn to understand them, and in doing so, we see their perfect beauty.

I love Johnny Clegg and his music, for he has reminded me of this tonight.

And I thank you all for taking the time to learn and watch 'our' owls.

Friday, September 14, 2012

13 September and we meet Pappa face-to-face

We had to do it. The plants on the balcony were drooping, and the night light was pointing in the wrong direction. So under our trusty old umbrella, we ventured out onto the balcony - and came face-to-face with glaring Pappa.

Pappa is a handsome owl. This year I've noticed that the white chin Pappa sports is even more pronounced and regal-looking. But he's anything but regal or handsome when he's directly above your head with a frown on his face, as he's watching your every move. It's a little intimidating to say the least.

Needdless to say, we were in and out off that balcony - their balcony - within minutes. Night light tweaked, plants water (not PPO's nest though) and a ponder over how to move the microphone that is stuck fast to the railing.

I've never known any handymen to work as quickly as we have to under the watchful eye of our dear Pappa.

Anyone want to hire Pappa?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 September and still there are two

This is certainly a year of firsts:

It is the first time that Pot Plant Owl has nested in the far pot plant container.
It is the first time (bar for that first year) that we've been caught completely unprepared for the nesting season - despite having balcony railing guards up, and cameras and microphone secured well in advance - all because PPO changed her nest, and left us all scrambling.

And now it seems like this may well be the year that Pot Plant Owl only lays two eggs -instead of her usual three eggs.

Such is Life: The minute you believe you have it all figured out, and you are in control, Life throws you a 'Life Curvebal'l and says 'Now what about this?'. And you have to take a step back, and figure it all out again.

Personally, I believe that the relentless development of our area, and the great Jozi area, is a factor in PPO only laying two eggs. With less vacant land, there are fewer snakes, insects, and rodents around, which means a shortage of food for 'our' owls.

This, combined with the cruel use of rat and other rodent poisons in the average home, makes Pappa and Pot Plant Owl's survival to this point truly remarkable. And I believe that within every creature (regretably my own species aside) lies the inherent knowledge of how many offspring they need to bring into this world to survive as a species, and to survive themselves.

Perhaps this is why PPO only has two eggs now.
Perhaaps I will wake up tomorrow morning to find another surprise in the nest, and be thrown that 'Life Curveball' again.

Whether it's one or two, or even three chicks that hatch and survive, each of them is remarkable and a privilege to watch.

And speaking of watching, those following on the webcam - please be patient. Sound WILL return. The picture WILL get better. And Pot Plant Owl and Pappa will be a joy in all our lives again.

All good things come to those that wait...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

05 September and we have two eggs

Pot Plant Owl has settled down nicely in her new pot plant nest. I say 'Good Morning' to her - like I always have - and give her a wink. She looks at me, recognises my voice, and gives me a wink back, before returning to what she does best at this time - sleeping.

At 18h00 I heard Pappa calling from his roosting spot nearby, and PPO moved out of the nest and onto the balcony railing.

We got a peak into the nest and we now have two eggs in the pot plant.

It was funny to watch Pappa when he flew onto the balcony. He hopped straight into the old nest and looked around curiously. I can't help wondering if he's not entirely happy with the change of nest, because he then stood on the lip of the old pot, hooting loudly.

I can tell when Pappa is upset about something. His face appears to almost frown and there is a distinct 'hoot' that he makes when upset - this hoot is usually reserved for interfering humans under umbrellas 'messing about' in HIS territory. Pappa kept hooting and looking into the nest, then up at PPO who was, by this time, on the neighbour's roof.

Let's hope that all goes well with the new pot - otherwise Pappa will have even more to say!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

1st September and PPO arrives..

It's official. On this first very warm day of Spring, Pot Plant Owl is comfortably sitting in the pot plant.

This morning we woke up early and checked the balcony for any signs of our owl visitors. The sun was just rising and there seemed to be no owl in sight. A few minutes later, I happened to look on the balcony again.

And there she was - standing on the balcony railing staring straight at me. I knew immediately that PPO wanted to move in and nest, so I quickly hid out of view. No sooner had I done that, I heard a murder of crows on the rooftop nearby. The crows were perched on the edge of the rooftop - staring in the direction of Pot Plant Owl on the balcony railing, waiting to attack.

I stuck my head out of the window, and in my best immitation of Allan's 'crow-crowing-with-flailing-arms' stunt, I scared the crows off pretty quickly. (Perhaps 'scared' is not the correct word. They were probably not the least bit afraid of me, but thought me too odd to hang around near). With crows away, I turned my attention to PPO again.

The little stinker! While I was protecting the territory, she seized the opportunity to settle down into the pot plant container. But hold on - that's not the 'stinky' part of this tale.

I know that PPO knows where the cameras and the microphone are. I know that she has sussed this all out long before this morning. I know she, along with Pappa, saw us all puzzling over the best angles and distances for the camera views and sound. And I bet, she sat and chuckled to herself thinking: 'Just you wait, you know-it-all-humans!' - a message that, were I an animal with general telepathic abilities, I would have picked up days ago.

PPO a.k.a. Little Stinker is dozing off in the 'wrong' pot plant. She's sitting pretty in the pot plant NOT covered by the big camera, night light, microphone...

For the first time in 5 years, Pot Plant Owl has chosen the far pot plant as her nest for this year, and there is nothing we can do about it.Except change the camera, swivel the night light, move the microphone....

What has caused this change of pot plant container? We don't know for certain, but I suspect a lot has to do with the increase in crows in the Jozi area, and in our area in particular. The container she has chosen has a small 'Mickey Mouse' bush in it. She ducks out of sight of crows perfectly. Very close to the container is a reed wall cover which further protects her from the crows. And perhaps PPO wants more cover from our summer thunderstorms. Who knows!

Sigh! She's been here for 8 hours and already she's got us running around after her.
Still, I wouldn't have it any other way...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

27 Aug and PPO is looking good

This past week I've noticed a distinct 'roundness' to Pot Plant Owl. For a number of nights, we've watched her on the neighbour's rooftop - standing looking out onto the wetland. This 'full-figured-look' is typical of this time of year. Just before the breeding period starts, Pappa hunts for PPO, while she does as little as she can and conserves her energy. Good girl, PPO! (How do you get that right?)

The balcony is prepared for their arrival. Africam guys came in and installed not one, but two fantastic cameras for the webcam streaming. New camera angles should make this season an exciting one!

Of course, in the back of my mind is always the thought that perhaps we may not be so lucky this time, and the owls may decide NOT to nest. We had a close call the year after PPO and Pappa first arrived on our balcony.

That second year, we watched PPO sporting her 'fuller figure' and Pappa flying in and out like Mr Delivery with food for her. At the time, we were putting the finishing touches to our book on the owls so we only watched them with half an eye.

Suddenly one day the owls disappeared. The August date marking the start of the previous years' breeding season came and went, without an owl or an egg in sight. Two, three weeks went by and absolutely no sign of our feathered friends. I'll never forget writing that last entry in our book - mixed emotions and tears streaming down my face. We thought that was it. We had been given one chance - just one -of being up close and personal to these beautiful creatures. I was heartbroken to think that the owls would not return, but eternally grateful that we had captured everything in photographs and words.

The day we submitted the final copy of our book to the printers,having given up hope that the owls would return, PPO flew to the pot plant and laid an egg - just like that! Before settling down in her nest, she shot me a look that said 'Took your time, silly human. Glad you finally got it'. It was as if she was waiting until I got it - we got it.

So what did we 'get'?

Like church bells ringing, the message rang out:

Take nothing for granted.
Appreciate every moment you have.
Nothing is 'owed' to you, so in everything that you do and have and experience, feel gratitude.

And don't count your chickens (or owls) before they hatch!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

11 August and the balcony is a mess

It's the norm now to wake up in the morning to find that more soil has scattered all over our balcony floor - all thanks to Pappa and PPO getting ready to nest. We sweep and clean up after them each morning, and ask them nicely not to make a mess on their next visit. Wishful thinking!

07 August and it's snowing

We have snow. While it may not be the thick white blanket typical of northern hemisphere winters, it is certainly enough to say that it is well-and-truly snowing in Johannesburg. Pot Plant Owl and Pappa are nowhere to be seen. I suspect that the shock of having a truly cold spell just as they begin to prepare for another breeding season has forced them to hide from the biting wind and snowflakes. Snow! Who would have thought!

Monday, July 30, 2012

30 July and we have frequent visitors

Pappa is not taking 'no' for an answer. For the past couple of weeks, we've been watching Pappa do everything in his power to entice Pot Plant Owl to the balcony, and the nest. In the twilight hours, Pappa flies to the balcony and begins. First he hoots. And hoots. And hoots... If this doesn't illicit a response from PPO, Pappa jumps into the pot plant, and shuffles his talons and scratches the soil, all the while looking around for Pot Plant Owl. If this doesn't bring PPO to the nest, Pappa gets out of the nest and flies to the rooftop nearby,and hoots again - this time louder and more 'forcefully' - as if to say 'Okay now. I'm calling you here. Come on!' Pot Plant Owl, in the meantime, lazily watches the scene unfolding from her hunting pole. She seems to enjoy Pappa's pre-mating display (although she's not letting him know that). When Pappa eventually flies off hunting, we've spotted PPO make a quick fly-over the nest as if making sure that everything is still there, and (almost) as she left it months ago. We've watched this display for four years now. It never ceases to amaze me how routine owls can be. And no matter how much Pappa entices, or we encourage, or other people 'will' the breeding season to start - the breeding season will begin exactly on time - when Nature (and PPO) intend it to.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

1 May and activity starts in the pot

It's been a while since I last wrote in my blog. Since I last wrote, I visited Houston, MN's "International Festival of Owls" to collect PPO's Lady Gray'l Award. A lot about the festival was written on the PPO Facebook pages but I forgot to post the updates in the blog - apologies! I'll cut and paste information to other posts for those who'd like to hear about the festival - it was amazing! Well, here we are at the start of the colder season in South Africa. May usually begins with a very cold spell - a sign for us to haul out the extra blankets and jackets. Today, however, feels like spring - no, in fact summer. And because of this inconsistency in the weather, we are getting frequent visits from Pappa and Pot Plant Owl - two or three times a night, lots of mating calls and of course the scraping in the pot plant. At the moment, they are using the far pot plant on the balcony, but hopefully they switch to the usual one come nesting time. I think we may well see an earlier breeding season this year, should this warmer weather continue. Other Spotted Eagle Owls have been known to have chicks in Johannesburg and surrounds in June and July, so perhaps PPO will join them for an earlier season this year. Other news is that we've got a rescue Border Collie puppy who's now approx 7 months old. His name is Destin and he was found emancipated with layers of burns all over his tiny body (hot oil or boiling water was thrown over him). We've had him now for a few weeks and he's doing well. Pappa has seen Destin - not sure if PPO has met him yet. Destin tends to stay indoors at night and has seen the owls but isn't concerned with them - unlike old 'Yaps' from next door. Come breeding season, Destin will spend a lot of time with our family who live close by, so that Pappa doesn't feel the need to target practice him, and Destin doesn't 'play' with any roaming chicks. So far, so good. And if the recent activities on the balcony are anything to go by, neither human nor puppy will deter the owls from nesting on the balcony - fingers crossed!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Our family visits

Sat 28 Jan: In the early hours of this morning, I heard Pappa hooting on the balcony. I peeped through the curtains and saw him in the pot plant - shuffling his feet and hooting, and looking at PPO on the far side of the balcony. She caught sight of me, and flew off to the neighbour's roof, and Pappa followed.
Just before I turned away from the window, I heard the familiar hiss of the chicks. I l...ooked at the pot plant and the first chick flew in, and landed in the pot. The second chick flew in and landed on the balcony pillar behind the pot.
For about 5 minutes, I watched as the chicks took it in turns to jump into the pot and scratch around in the soil - almost like chickens. When they had enough, the flew to one of the pillars and looked out over the wetland.
I can't tell the difference in the two chicks from appearance anymore. One is still a lot more vocal and continued to beg for food, while looking towards PPO and Pappa.
The parents flew off to roost, leaving the chicks on the balcony for a few more minutes. Eventually, they too, flew away to sleep.
I'm thrilled to have seen the entire family, and to know that they are safe and sound, and doing well.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

19 January and decision on the proposed development

Pot Plant Owl's wetland is saved!

This morning we received notification from the Government Department who reviewed the developer's appeal against the original decision. This is what we received:

Please be advised that following consideration of an appeal in respect of this matter the MEC, Ms Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, has decided to dismiss the appeal due to the following:

1. The proposed development will potentially impact negatively on the wetlands present on site.

2. The mitigation measures suggested in respect of the proposed development are not adequate to address potential impacts to the river system and wetlands present on site.

3. Authorisation was denied with due process and compliance with applicable legislation and policies including the Department’s Gauteng Ridges Policy which states that ridges are ecologically sensitive and therefore should be protected against transformation that will negatively impact on such ecologically sensitive biodiversity.

At this time, Allan and I would like to once again thank each and every one of you who signed the petition to stop the development on the wetland. Thank you to all of you who have shown support and offered assistance. We really appreciate it.

What happens now, we do not know. We are looking to offer our assistance to the developer to rehabilitate the wetland, and turn it into something indigenous and safe for the creatures who call it their home.

Will keep you updated.

One of our chicks visit

That little hissing sound drew my attention away from my book to our garden. At first I couldn't see it, until, there, tucked behind a tree branch, I spied one of our chicks.

The chick stood confidently on the wall, looking up at our balcony and doing its delightful 'begging' for food - hissing and bopping its head.

It's virtually impossible to say with any certainty which chick it was, but I have a feeling who it may have been.

Lovely to see a chick on its own, and hunting now in our gardens.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mid Jan 2012 and start over

The New Year is well and truly upon us, and I must say that I am looking forward to what lies ahead. I approach each new year with mixed feelings - glad to be seeing the back of any difficult times, and excited at the prospect of starting over.

And that's always good - starting over. Allowing yourself a new beginning to forget the mistakes you may have made (and hopefully from which you've learnt a lesson), and begin afresh.

Nature does this all the time with simple ease. Pot Plant Owl and Pappa start over with new little chicks each year. I don't believe PPO will worry this year about the unhatched egg (Shelly) from 2011, thereby preventing herself from laying more eggs this year.

Yet humans worry all the time, and often fall into the trap of only starting over at the dawn of a new year, or a major event in our lives.

Why do we do that?

Why not start each each DAY anew? Forget about what happened yesterday, and give yourself the permission to start over today and make a positive change.

Diet didn't work yesterday? Start over today.
Screamed at the kids last night? Start over today with a calmer attitude.
Didn't find time to exercise yesterday? Don't wait until 'next week' or 'tomorrow' to exercise. Just give yourself permission to start over today.

Let's learn from Nature around us. Our owl family will just start over, and enjoy each day without worrying about what has past, what might have been, what can go wrong in the future.

How refreshing it will be to develop a mindset and habit like that!

So let's start right this minute, and have yourselves a great day!