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Great Horned Owls of Mt. Auburn

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New York has its famous red-tailed hawks Pale Male and, until recently, Lola.
Cambridge, Mass has a celebrity raptor pair, too. Last winter, a pair of great horned owls took up residence in a spiny locust (?) tree near The Dell in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

The nest was so tiny, flimsy and low to the ground that anyone walking by could clearly see the two owlets trying to grow up there. 

Photographers would stand directly beneath the nest, causing the owls a bit of anxiety. Finally, cemetery management put yellow crime scene tape up around the nest tree, something they'd been reluctant to do for fear of alerting even more people to the owls' presence.

A cellphone photo of a post-breeding bird by Kris H. Macomber, who was not one of the personal territory violators. This owl just happened to be sitting very low and very close last week.

Here is the nest tree; the nest is a small aggregation of sticks on the first horizontal limb to the right. For an owl, that's a very low nest.

To make a long story short, despite having to learn to perch at a tender age thanks to their lousy little nest, both owlets fledged successfully and have delighted scores of visitors, including me.

On our first mid-November visit, one was sitting, somewhat obscured, near the Dell.

On our second visit, Kris' eagle eye spotted one on the far side of the Dell. It's the upright blip on the lowest branch on the right side of the bare oak, right above the notch at 12:00 in the golden weeping beech tree.

Pretty cool, huh?

Another view, and this time you can see the owl right above the notch in the dark green yews. That's a big bird, to be visible at that distance.

Of course, we walked closer, and found him looking stoic.

He needed to be a cool customer, because a young Cooper's hawk had discovered him and decided to spend his morning pinwheeling around and cakking at the poor owl.

The Dell. Of all the spots in Mt. Auburn, The Dell is probably most representative of how the forest must have looked before it all went to ornamental rhododendrons and viburnums and Chinese tallow trees and Japanese maples. Little wonder the owls chose it.

 Not far from the Dell, a faithful dog sleeps, hoping to meet his person in Heaven. Yes, I stroked his cold head.

And Oliver Wendell Holmes (the poet and father of the super-famous judge) rests with his wife.

And beneath the owls' favorite tree, a watercolorist rests. Hodge brought him mussels from the Maine coast. She's thoughtful that way. Somebody else brought the periwinkle and the fir cone. It's a thing, like the roses on Poe's grave. 

I knelt and soaked it all in, hoping some painterly genius might osmose through my palms.

Today, I am thankful for Mt. Auburn Cemetery, for giant trees and beautiful gravestones in the leaf-lit dells, for willing owls, dear friends and for my wonderful family. Peace to you on Thanksgiving.


Once more, beautiful pictures and writing.

I got up early this morning and went out to listen to our geese and ducks returning to the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge and also got to listen to two great horned owls courting.

I'll have to watch for the nests but expect they will be high in the eucalyptus trees.

Okay, I've gotta inflict what we call DFA at our house, which is short for Deadly Family Accuracy. That photo from the gho's baby days was taken by my sweet husband John, with a "real" camera. Those owls would have to be in my lap to get a shot that good with my phone camera.

Saw one of the juvvies this morning, along with the Dawn Redwoods, well, not at dawn, but darn close. Apparently gho's eat squirrels on Thanksgiving day.

Here's to friends like you, dear JZ. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!


Posted by KHMacomber November 24, 2011 at 10:17 AM

Can we sign up for Hodge's guided tours? I've been around Mt Auburn Cemetery and never saw a tenth of all this.

Nick from Ottawa

You know I love graveyards too, and I am overdue on my Highgate post. This provides encouragement.

Winslow Homer is one of my favourite artists; the minute you said "mussels from the Maine coast," I know I'd see his name.

And I have never seen an owl doing its thing naturally -- that and a woodcock are what I most want to see.

Fantastic post.

Happy Thanksgiving a day late.

I am thankful for all owls and for your blog sharing these beauties ScZ

A beautiful article!! Maybe the owls nesting were new to the idea and didn't get up as high as they should.Did give the folks around a good look at something they might not see otherwise.The cemetery has some very famous folks. Love that dog on the tombstone. Glad you patted him...I would have too.Wish I could have walked that with interesting!

More wonderful graves of people we all admire! I appreciate you sharing them with us! And the owl's nest! How wonderful! I am so glad the owlettes successfully fledged!

There was a nesting pair of bald eagles in the Norfolk Botanical Gardens for several years and a nest-cam was set up so people could see them online. I once saw them flying above the highway as I drove past. Then this past year, the female of the pair was accidently killed. On the web-cam the male lands on the nest and stays a bit, looking around as if confused. He picks up a pinecone or something in the nest at one point and then drops it again. After quite a while, he finally reluctantly flies away. Watching it online, set to the song "I'll Fly Away" was so emotional! It was just such a heartbreaking scene. I hope he can find another mate. The pair had fledged several nests of chicks in the past years and it had been thrilling to "be a part" of it.

ah, love the owls!
- The Equestrian Vagabond

I have volunteered to be the Mass Rep for "RAPTORS ARE THE SOLUTION" and wish to do all I can towards promoting the awareness of the associated dangers of Rodenticides in Massachusetts and elsewhere - see below link:

If you are aware of any presentation events, science lessons or other in your network that might be an appropriate venue for a short supplemental talk on this subject - please let me know. It would be for awareness purposes only and should only take a few minutes to make the needed impression. Thanks in advance for any assistance you may be able to provide.

My objective is to get the word out on this ongoing environmental travesty that is being foisted upon our hawks and owls and is happening right here in our backyards. I certainly trust that we are kindred spirits on this matter.


Gary Menin Sr. 978 422 8155 STERLING, MA
I return all calls - messages - emails - so if I do not reply I probably missed your message.

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