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...