Searching For a Great Horned Owl Nest

Woodman Fen is a gorgeous example of a (now) rare wetland habitat in southwest Ohio.

Where 90% of Ohio in pre-settlement times was comprised of wetlands and prairie, now wetlands have become an important ecosystem to conserve. Fens, bogs and marshes are home to many native flora and fauna that depend on them for survival.

It was mid-April of 2019 and I was on photo trip at nearby Hills & Dales Metropark in the Oakwood area of Dayton. Some passerby hikers told me of some nesting Great Horned Owls in Woodman Fen, they didn’t know specifically where though. With a credible piece of advice, this became my first real attempt at “owling.”

In less than a week I make my way to the fen, scouting out the area in the late afternoon light while asking several other visitors if they’ve seen them around yet to no avail. Every local seems to be aware of owls yet no one knows where to find them.

While waiting for dusk I find myself at a large patch of invasive plant species called Garlic Mustard that are growing along the shaded loop trail around the fen. Their name comes from the aroma given off by the crushed leaves. Macro photography keeps me occupied while I like high up in the trees with every step.

Typical owl nests can be over eighty feet high in the trees, making a good look at them difficult from the fen’s wetland floor. Every semi-large bird flying overhead catches my attention, yet none are the owls.

Great Horned Owls may nest in tree cavities such as this one. This is a hole over seventy feet up in a tree that I looked at through binoculars for a while. I swear I saw an Owl’s face in there!

About 45 minutes before sunset, exhausted and sweaty from the hike, I set out one last time to search for them as they come out to hunt. Going out again with no expectations of sighting any owls, morale was fairly low.

I decide that the better vantage point for viewing would be to hike the very muddy loop trail instead of going straight through the boardwalk. No sooner than five minutes back into the fen, I witness a very large bird very high up on the trees.

My heart sinks, this has to be it. This is an owl.

This is an adult perched with a possible rodent kill, with their excellent hearing, This one is already staring me down. As my first sighting of a Great Horned Owl in the wild, I will never forget that look it gave me. (seen in the images below)

Not long after this sighting is when I hear an immature owlet’s call and see it. The juvenile looked to be almost all grown up and the adult male was helping catch food for it to eat. My assumption is that they were out so early in the night due to a lack of food?

The adult male had some sort of small rodent in its mouth, and as the two images above suggest, must’ve almost dropped it as it struggled to regain its balance on the tree branch.

As the fen grew darker and darker, all I could see was their three silhouettes perched on the same tall tree branch as they waited. I had a few minutes to leave the fen and so I packed it up and left. Under the cover of the night sky and the owlet’s wheezy call in the distance. I drive home with a successful batch of photos, a compelling video, and some memories to last a lifetime.

Fast Forward to 9:26 to hear my in-the-moment reactions to spotting the owls.

All of the photos were taken at 600mm so it goes to show just how far away these owls were!

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