On the prowl for owls in St. Louis Forest Park

Jan 20, 2015

Two great horned owls observe their territory in St. Louis Forest Park last fall.
Credit Mark Glenshaw / forestparkowls.blogspot.com

In the past nine years St. Louisan Mark Glenshaw, the so-called owl man, said he has ventured into that city's Forest Park about 2,500 times to follow the activities of two great horned owls who he has named Charles and Sarah.

Years ago he began doing what he calls owl prowls where maybe half a dozen folks go with him on a guided tour of the owl's territory. 

Credit Mark Glenshaw

On a Friday evening about an hour before sunset last fall Glenshaw led another owl prowl.  He was at the front of the pack and provided some last-minute pre-prowl instructions"Go how I go and where I go," Glenshaw said.  "If I am going slowly, do the same.  If I am walking fast, do the same."

Once the search for Charles and Sarah began, the group moved quickly over the grasslands and into an area with more trees.  Glenshaw has done hundreds of prowls and knows his stuff.  He also shared it with people as the prowl progressed.  "When it comes to birds of prey, owls and hawks and eagles and falcons and vultures, the girls are bigger than the boys."

Credit Gary Grigsby / KBIA

There were three St. Louis area sixth-graders on the prowl.  One of them was Jack Keyser.  "I just decided it would be neat to see some real owls.  I've just seen photos and video of them," he said.  30 minutes into the prowl Jack got his wish because Charles was sighted.  "He's about three feet to the right of those dead little branches," Glenshaw said.  "Oh I see him, I see him," Keyser responded.  But no sign of Sarah, not until a few minutes later.  "I heard Sarah.  Sarah is down there, so let's go find her," Glenshaw told the group.  With his help they moved in the direction of the hooting and almost immediately saw Sarah.  "That's Sarah, she's darker as well.  Charles is ahead to the right.  But that is Sarah," Glenshaw said. 

Glenshaw snapped a few photographs after the two owls moved again and settled down near the top of two trees not far away.  "Watch the feathers under his tail and the feathers in that area on his neck.  That's called his gular sac," he said. 

Within minutes Charles and Sarah moved again, were on branches just a few feet apart, and began hooting almost non-stop.  "Notice how Charles responded right away to Sarah's response?  A duet is like any conversation," Glenshaw said.  "It starts slowly and picks up speed."

The hooting continued for awhile and one of the prowlers said, "They're right together, singing and only two feet away from each other.  So cool."

Eventually Charles and Sarah flew farther away.  It was dark and the prowl participants made their way back to the starting point likely to never see Charles and Sarah again.  Except of course for Glenshaw who was out again in Forest Park the next evening on another search for the two great horned owls.