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An Owl of a Story in Vista Real Classica

Letters to Mike, Gina and Jops, from John Ricarte

22 April 2020 Hi Guys,

Hope you’re all safe and holding up well in this pandemic. I know it’s unnatural for all of us birders to be grounded this long. I’m reaching out to you outside the WBCP channels for now, concerning a family of Philippine Scops Owls we discovered in our village.

About 2 weeks ago, in a surge of bird photo postings in Facebook, a colleague of Beng who also lives in Vista Real Classica, posted a photo of a juvenile owl they’re keeping in their yard, tied to a perch. We were amazed at first, but later began feeling suspicious  of how they acquired the bird. So, Beng responded cautiously by asking, how old it is, how they managed to acquire the animal, what do they plan to do. No response.

Yesterday, we went around the village again for a bird-walk, and on the way back passed by their house (well, just happened to), and to our surprise just off the street we saw the perch. There are actually two baby scops owl sitting on it, and they are cuties.

The caretaker, Romnick, was just outside sweeping so we said to him we know the owners of the house and asked if we can take photos of the owls, so we did. Beng’s friend, Pearl (who posted in FB) also came out and invited us in their yard to get a closer look, we didn’t refuse, of course.

I asked the Romnick how the birds came to their possession, and he said he found the birds on the ground and apparently both fell from their mango tree. Miraculously, the dogs and especially the cats didn’t get to the  birds first. So, that was good. Anyhow, it’s been more than 2 weeks, the birds seem healthy enough, and comfortable on their makeshift perch. So, I asked them what they have been feeding them and how, and they said they have NOT been feeding the owls. They said (and listen to this), the mother owl still comes at dusk to feed them. What?

Wow! Then the caretaker pointed on the ground below the perch and showed the remnants of small birds – a leg and feathers, I think it was a bato-bato, I guess one of many others. So that answers that.

But, there’s more. I asked the caretaker where he thinks the mother scops settles during daytime. He said she’s just up there on the mango tree and pointed way up in the branches. Again, what? To my mind, for Beng and I, this is just non-stop amazement for one morning. It took us a while to find this lump of black thing behind the leaves he was pointing at, but there she was – Mommy. What a relief, I guess we are happy now, and very relieved.

Pearl said she and her husband don’t really know what to do with the birds afterwards. It turned out they are into conserving, as well. We just advised them to leave the situation as is for now.

So long as the fledglings are naturally cared for and seem to have adapted, they should be fine. By the way, their cats are now in cages and the dogs are stationed under the perch to keep guard. They also keep some turkeys, geese and goats in the yard, and now three owls.

Moving forward, I am wondering if you guys can give advice, and am I missing something here. Of course, we can’t do much in terms of relocating the owls. The pandemic is not helping, or maybe it is, to keep the owl situation isolated. What do you think?

Beng and I will go back late this afternoon to check on the owls, hoping to observe how the mother scops hunt and feed. From a distance, of course.

Best regards to all, John

26 April 2020 John,

These are people with good intentions but do not know what to do. Scops owl are fairly common as long as the habitat is there.

I would suggest untying the juvenile owls and putting them in a box on the perch (to simulate a hole) so that they have more privacy. Lucky that the parents are still feeding the juveniles. The juveniles should not be relocated elsewhere.

Good luck. Mike

26 April 2020

Hi Mike, Jops, Gina,

We appreciate the suggestions Mike, thank you. Beng and I promised to give updates on the owls’ progress, and here it is.

We finally managed to get ourselves invited for one evening to observe the birds, so by dusk yesterday we were at Pearl’s yard. The two fledglings, which they named B1 and B2 (didn’t ask why), were already hungry and have begun their usual screeching to get their parents attention. Yes, parents, it turns out both mother and father owls have been guarding and feeding the two. Romnick, the caretaker, using a strong flashlight, pointed to where the female was perched up the mango tree, and we took photos. The male wasn’t up there. But, at about 6:44 pm, with quick flapping of wings father owl just appeared on the perch and handed B2 a small frog, then not a second more he’s gone. We saw him up on a branch afterwards.

We know we can’t really stay here all night, so I set up a portable CCTV to run overnight. The father didn’t come back until 7:23 pm, but this time he just stood on an adjacent tree, a safe distance from the perch, assessing the situation. We see he was clutching a mouse in his talon, for B1 this time. Minutes passed, we waited what he  will do, but he decided not to chance it and flew away. We think it was the red lights of

the CCTV that was bothering him, or he may not be used to more people around. Anyway, with that, we decided to leave and just monitor the birds from our home.

The father, or the mother, did come back to continue feeding, several times in fact throughout the night, we couldn’t tell who was which from the CCTV footage. B1 got his meal at 8:51, then B2 at 9:43, then B1 again at 11:08, each episode lasting not more than a couple of seconds. We observed the final feeding at 4:03 am the next day, and we are pretty sure it was the mother. She stayed more than 10 minutes and was very mindful of the two. After giving B2 little bits of the meal, she finished the rest of it then flew up the tree. We didn’t see the parents again after that.

As the morning sun was filling the sky, we observed the two siblings leaned on each other to rest. They should be tired, the whole night they were stretching their wings, jumping and flapping about on the perch. Today, it’s been nearly a month from the time they were found, and both almost as tall as their parents and getting stronger.

We hope to witness the moment they finally fly off and get hunting lessons from mom and dad. We aren’t sure how and when though and will seek more inputs. That would be the subject of our final report about the Scops of VRC, hopefully.

Continue to stay home and be safe. Best regards,

John

26 April 2020

wow! Amazing! And so hightech! Portable cctv 🙂 It would make for a great eBON article 🙂

Jops

27 April 2020 Hi Jops,

Perhaps. There is still a third chapter to this owl story. Until it unfolds it may be too soon, but we are hoping for a good ending.

Thanks,

John

(Mike)  Wait, akala ko nakatali sila ? How can they fly off ?

(John) Yes, nakatali pa rin. I am hoping to get them untied, but it’s still complicated at the moment. Emotions involved.

18 May 2020

Hi Mike, Jops,

Yesterday, Beng and I went for another bird-walk, and again passed by the owls on the way home. We noticed one of the two fledglings was missing, so we went to take a closer look. Romnick met us at the gate and so I asked where the other bird was. I noticed the hesitation and the look he had, then he finally said B1 died, then added, it was a stroke. Stroke? Our faces changed along with the mood and wanted an explanation, because we thought the two owls were doing so well.

But first, let me introduce you to Vangie, the last character in the story, but certainly not the least. She is the older sister of Romnick, was the one who actually found and sheltered the two owlets, then named them B1 and B2. She first put them in a cage for their protection, and soon transferred them to the perch. She played surrogate mom to them since and was the most emotionally vested. When we found this out, Beng said to me, Vangie will be the hardest to convince of letting go.

The tragedy happened last week, a couple of days before Typhoon ‘Ambo’, Romnick and Vangie recounted it was a very, very hot day, and up to that time only the parent owls were giving nourishment to the young ones at night. By the afternoon B1 was noticeably weak and slumped not clutching on the perch, wings were down and both talons clenched. It did respond when given water, but it was too late, it was too dehydrated. B2 on the other hand took gulps when given water and was relieved. So, it was a ‘stroke’ after all, heatstroke more like.

Having heard this, Beng was emphatic that B2 would need to be set free and soonest, and let nature take over. Everyone agreed, at least remove the bind and see what happens. Vangie, however, cannot agree as to when this will be done, and kept saying, “What if it doesn’t come back?’ or “What if somebody else gets it?”

It was really hard to respond to that, without sounding like “we’re taking control of the situation now”. We are convinced that Vangie knows what needs to be done, so we’ll leave it to her to figure it out, hopefully sooner than later. Beng and I can only pray for the best, and keep visiting, and next time hoping NOT to see B2 anymore.

Best regards, John

21 May 2020

Hi All,

B2 is finally back in the wild. At 6:30pm yesterday, Vangie voluntarily released the owl, Beng and I witnessed. It lingered on the perch for a while calling for its father before heading up the branches, and 30 minutes after, we lost sight of it. Good luck B2!

There was something else that Vangie remembered, which we found encouraging. One evening B1 and B2 had more visitors than usual, Daddy Owl was not alone, it wasn’t Mommy, but similar to Dad only younger-looking. We think it was from a previous birth, so there may be a bigger family of Philippine Scops Owls in the area. Something for Vangie and the rest of us to be optimistic about.

Well, our tale ends here. It seems Quarantine is easing up, so looking forward for other avian distractions away from home. Please.

Thanks all and stay safe. John

– End –

159 Comments

  1. Art Melicor

    Wow! Thanks for this amazing story, John and Beng. Our hearts go to this family of owls, our appreciation to Vangie, Pearl and Romnick.

  2. John Ricarte

    We all feel for B1, Mike, birder or not. From the onset of this situation, we always feared it would not end well. It was a complicated scenario through and through, and we were cautiously working for a positive outcome. We really didn’t have authority over the persons involved, and because they are our neighbors in VRC, relationships have to take precedence. Beng and I visited regularly to check the owls, even bring our daughter and granddaughter along one time to see B1 and B2. The entire event took about a month, and by then we were pretty sure the owls were mature enough to be let go, but their “human parents” were just not quite ready. It was frustrating, and our diplomacy mode was thinning out. Then tragedy struck, situation changed, and it suddenly became real to them that whatever future they hoped for these birds is not happening. That was the turning point. It may not come through as sympathetic to some, but to me if B1 hadn’t died, B2 would not be free right now. So, an unnecessary death? Maybe not.

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