Baby Great Horned Owl Release

Friday, June 1, 2018,

I’m a volunteer at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. Mostly, I just take photos but sometimes I get involved in cooler, more hands-on stuff. Recently, I participated in the release of a baby Great Horned Owl. I thought some of you might like to hear about it.

This story starts about a day before I even meet the owl. One morning, the Smithtown Animal Shelter received a call about an injured hawk. They went to investigate and realized that the hawk was not a hawk but a baby owl instead. A big baby owl. This is no small bird. Don’t be deceived by the photographs; this owl stands over a foot tall.

It is not a unusual for a baby Great Horned Owl to be found outside of its nest. These owlets are so large and so rambunctious that they sometimes break apart the very nest beneath them. Often, all that’s needed is to place the baby owl on a high branch and allow its parents to tend to it from there.

The folks from the shelter brought the owl to Sweetbriar Nature Center. Sweetbriar specializes in wildlife rehabilitation as well as providing natural sciences education. It’s also a great place to visit, with many animals, displays, and several hiking trails. The techs at Sweetbriar examined the baby owl and found that it was dehydrated and a bit underweight. They kept it for about 24 hours, during which time the owl was hydrated and “fed many mice.” Yum, yum.

The following afternoon, the baby owl was judged ready to be returned to its parents. The hope, and the general plan, is that its parents will find it and continue feeding it till it can fly and forage for itself. Luckily, Great Horned Owls are very dedicated parents. In the past we’ve even been able to add an extra owlet and the parents take care of the newcomer as well as their own babies. That’s how strong their parenting skills are.

John Scarola and I transported the owl back to where the owl had been found. The two homeowners who had called the Smithtown Animal Shelter were able to show us the exact spot. We selected a nearby tree and John secured a new “nest” about twenty feet up. This new nest is actually a re-purposed drugstore shopping basket that has been lined with pine branches with needles. Pine needles, not drugstore needles. Sweetbriar is a rehab facility and we make sure all animals are off the stuff before releasing them. Then we hoisted the owl up in the bin we had transported it in and John placed it in the makeshift nest.

With the two homeowners to watch and be sure the parents returned for their baby, which they did, our work was done. This beautiful baby owl was saved, not just by us, but by a whole team of folks working together. Without the homeowners who found the owl, or the folks at the Smithtown Animal Shelter, or the volunteers and techs at Sweetbriar Nature Center, this story never happens. JK


Meet Pirate

Wednesday, May 9, 2018,

I go to a lot of parks and Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket is one of my favorites. Frank Melville has a lot going for it, from its abundance of animal life to its scenic views and its well-groomed trails. This is all good stuff, but Frank Melville Park has one other big draw for me: Frank Melville Park has dogs.

Meet Pirate. These are stately pics of Pirate but, in all honesty, Pirate is not quite stately. Not yet at any rate. I think he’ll get there. Pirate is a four month old Boxer and he is as friendly as you can expect a puppy to be. These photos fail to capture his youthful exuberance or his genuine friendliness. I believe they were taken while his attention was taken away by another passing dog, because Pirate likes meeting other dogs as much as he likes meeting photographers. Pirate is one lovable dog. I hope you get the chance to meet him for yourself. JK


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Sunday, December 24, 2017,

This is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, my first one ever. It is probably an immature male and not just because most women I know are always telling me that men are immature. Or maybe they just mean me. I’m not sure. Anyways, back to the bird. I spotted a pair of these working some trees about a month ago at the Morton Wildlife Refuge. They were obviously woodpeckers of some sort but even from a distance I could see they weren’t Downy Woodpeckers, which are the woodpeckers I see most often. When I got home, I grabbed my Sibley’s Guide and compared my pics to the illustrations in Mr. Sibley’s excellent book. I thought I might have a Sapsucker but I very rarely trust myself, especially when it comes to new (to me) birds. So I emailed my friend Patrice from the Four Harbors Audubon Society and she confirmed my guess. I had finally captured the mythical Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I looked to the skies for falling confetti or blaring trumpets but, sigh, there was nothing of the sort. I did, however, have a new bird under my belt. JK

First Snow

Saturday, December 9, 2017,


We had our first real snowfall today. Nothing major. I think a total of five to seven inches are expected when the weather clears tomorrow morning. I was on a bird walk at Avalon Park and Preserve this morning when the snow began to kick in.

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The bird walk was one of Four Harbors Audubon’s regularly scheduled walks. We walk at Avalon and Frank Melville Memorial Park every second Saturday of each month. We had a very small gathering at Avalon, only four of us altogether. I guess the forecast scared some of our regular walkers off. I guess the snow isn’t for everybody.

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As it turned out, it wasn’t a very big day for bird watching anyway. We saw a few but no great numbers of anything. However, we did come across a small herd of five deer. Three does and two fawns. It was the first snow of the season for us, but for those two fawns it was their first snow ever. They didn’t seem very impressed but the snow was really just beginning when I took these photos.