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Updated: Mar 26

By Delle Willett – June 9, 2020

Father Ollie

For some people, sheltering in place has been a positive experience. They’ve used the time finishing unfinished business. Connecting with old friends. Cleaning out closets. Garages. Weeding their gardens.

For Jim and Denise, long-time residents of coastal North County, it’s discovering and observing a family of Great Horned Owls in the trees in their backyard. (They asked that we don’t use their last name or where they live in North County to protect the owls and the privacy of their neighbors.)

On the first day of the quarantine, March 21, while working in his garden, Jim, 70, a retired family practitioner, said, “I noticed some big bird droppings on our flagstone patio. I looked up and there he was! a Great Horned Owl looking right down at me from a palm tree in our backyard.”

Deciding the owl was a male, they named him “Oliver,” nickname, “Ollie.”

Then on April 30, Denise discovered another owl perched with Ollie. Betting it was Ollie’s mate, they named her “Olivia.”

On May 14, they saw a baby sitting in the tree, a “little fluff ball” which they named “Oakley.” And then the second baby came along, which they named “Oh oh,” as in “Oh oh, there’s another baby!”

Every day of shelter-in-place, after dinner, Jim and Denise enjoy sitting in their backyard on their lounge chairs watching the owls practicing takeoffs and landings.

“It’s just amazing. We’ve been seeing all four of them, not always all together in the same tree but close by. The babies are growing pretty fast,” said Denise.

Along with Jim and Denise, neighbors are guarding the owls’ wellbeing. They recently reported some wily coyotes combing the neighborhood, spotting the babies on the ground. One baby was observed flying up and since then, the mother has been enforcing her own shelter-in-place rules, keeping both three-month-old babies with her in the palm trees, away from coyotes and other predators such as aggressive crows, “an owl’s mortal enemy.”

Denise, 64, now retired, was the office manager in their family-owned clinical research firm in Encinitas. With her research skills, Denise is quickly becoming an expert on Great Horned Owls. She can discuss what they eat, how their two stomachs work, how they can eat a skunk, and what their pellets can tell us. (Pellets are regurgitation of the parts of an animal they can’t digest. Looks like poop but isn’t.)

Denise is gathering feathers—souvenirs the owls are leaving her for when they’ve flown away.

Jim and Denise became members of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy in 2016 in memory of their son, Keith,  a park ranger for the County of San Diego—very much an outdoorsman—who died in 2016.

In their free time together, they enjoy the outdoors: camping, hiking, biking. And now, birdwatching.

They encourage people to go out in their own backyards or take a walk. Better yet, hike some of the trails along the San Dieguito River Valley.  “Mother Nature will show you something special once you stop, look and listen,” said Jim. 

For readers interested in hiking these trails, they should check the trail status daily, as there are quotas. Here are the links.

Mother Olivia

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