I guess I am the owl lady now…

A few weeks ago…. Umm okay it was just over a month ago looking at the date (3 November), Dr Joao brought a little Southern white-faced owl to Karingani for release. Apparently, the little guy was confiscated from the illegal pet trade in the Maputo area and then hand raised by a rehabber. As the sun was beginning to set, we opened up the travel box and watched as the owl flew to one of the trees in our garden and off to freedom.

Well, apparently, freedom was a bit more than the little owl bargained for. About a week later I was inside my house and heard the birds outside going nuts, so I went to check it out and there was Little Owl sitting on a tree branch looking quite scraggly. I knew it was him because as I walked up to the base of the tree, he just quietly looked down at me instead of flying off like most raptors would. He then flew to the ground, and I was able to slowly move closer to him before he flew back up into a tree on the edge of our garden. I decided to offer him a mouse (yes, we keep frozen mice in the freezer “just in case”) and walked out to the tree he was sitting in, holding the mouse up where he could see it. He watched me for a few moments then few to my hand, took the mouse and flew away again. I was hoping the free meal might just have been what he needed to keep up his strength for hunting and continue living his wild life.

A few nights later as I was turning off the generator for the night, I found Little Owl once again. He was sitting on the ground staring, as if perplexed by the generator. I sat down next to him and just chatted a bit to him then stroked his head. The dogs got excited about the fact that I was sitting at lap cuddling-level and came over to check things out, Little Owl immediately flew away into the night.

The next morning was a Thursday and it was a hot one, but we were promised cold storms moving in that evening. So Teacher Debora decided to do the school’s swim lessons a few days early and came to our house that morning. Thank heavens she did! As her and Donnacha were packing up pool toys to leave they found poor Little Owl nearly half drowned in the pool filter! She called me and I raced away from a Wild Dog Advisory Group meeting to go and rescue him. The poor thing was cold, very wet, exhausted and hungry, but thanks to Debora and Donnacha, he was alive! I got him dried up and fed him a mouse which he immediately gobbled down, and I called the vets to ask for advice. Since we had big storms moving in for the next few days, we decided it would be best for me to hold on to Little Owl for a bit in the house and focus on getting him fattened up again. He quickly adjusted to the routine and would start to make the cutest soft purring sounding who-noise that I have ever heard when he decided it was time to be fed. Throughout the day he would peak out from a hole in his box and check what was going on in the house.

After about a week, we decided that Little Owl was looking healthy enough to begin the release process, but this time we planned a slower step-by-step soft release to help give him the best chance of survival and re-wildling. We build a soft-release box that we mounted up high outside and placed Little Owl in it where he hung out for a few days, checking out his surroundings. Finally, we opened the hatch and he jumped out on to his feeding platform. Little Owl hung out for a while on the owl box platform before flying to a nearby tree until it got dark.

A night or two later I was in the living room when I heard that purring-who call from outside – my child was calling me! I raced outside and found him hanging out in a tree nearby. He heard my voice and wanted to come and see if he could still get his free meal. I thawed out a rat pup and called him over to the owl box feeding platform where he landed on my hand, took the rat pup then flew away again!

And now, it has been almost two weeks since Little Owl’s soft release, and every single night at exactly (and I mean exactly, this guy is super punctual) 18:30 you can those soft little purr-whos announcing that our half-wild feathered child is ready for his supper. (While is a super special experience for us, I must give a disclaimer that under normal circumstances feeding and encouraging wildlife to come to humans for food is a big no-no and owls 100% are not pets! Encouraging wildlife to come to humans for food can cause all sorts of problems and can lead to serious human-wildlife conflict where both animals and humans are at risk! (So don’t do it). This is a very unique situation in a very safe and controlled environment, and we not only have experience with wildlife rehab, we also have permission from the government for case-by-case rehabbing of wildlife. Okay, disclaimer over.)

Over the weekend, Little Owl decided to roost for the day in one of the trees in our garden (nocturnal raptors, such as owls, often will find shelter in a tree, hopefully out of sight from birds that might harass and mob them, to sleep until darkness falls and it is time to become active). I took full advantage of having daylight to snap away and get some beautiful photos of him. While standing under the tree snapping away with my camera, Little Owl decided he was ready for his close up and flew down and landed right on my camera! He then hopped to my shoulder and hung out for a bit before flying to a low branch making for some great eye-level photography. We hosted a spit braai that day and Little Owl hung out in the tree watching everyone as they played in the pool and garden. Right at 18:00 he flew down to the branch by his feeding box and announced that it was mealtime. It didn’t matter that there were 12 people over to host, Little Owl was ready for his food. It was a quick show as I held his mouse by the platform, he came, he grabbed and then he left, but it was nice for every to be able to see a white-faced owl in action. When they fly, they have specialised feathers on their wings which makes for nearly completely silent flying – no swooping noises with each wing beat. The amount we feed him is a supplementary amount compared to the daily diet requirement of a southern white-faced owl and is fed right as it becomes dark which helps to encourage him to continue to hunt naturally throughout the night. I had secretly hoped that Hedwig would do something similar when I first released her, but instead she found herself a boyfriend that provided her extra meals and said cheers to me, so it has been nice having Little Owl stick around for a bit and live a hybrid life of being wild, but still coming around to say hi.

Wedding festivities

Just the other week, I was honoured to be asked to attend and photograph a local wedding in Massingir. Our head of the special operations group, Frenque was hosting the wedding as the godfather of the ceremony and asked if I could come and take photos. Debora also joined as a guest and to help with photography equipment. It was an absolutely incredible experience! Everyone was so kind and so very welcoming to us. I will admit, I had no idea what was happening half the time, but it was so beautiful. We were greeted by the family and immediately offered tea and a plate of goat’s stomach. Okay, I will be honest, I have never had goat’s stomach before and it definitely would not be something I pick out of options, but it was a special dish they wanted to serve us to honour us, and we could not say no. I snapped some photos of the beautiful bride getting ready for her big day as well as the ladies working on the meal. The way those women work a pot of pap (a cornmeal dish with the consistency of mashed potatoes) is absolutely incredible! You must continually stir pap and it gets thicker and stickier as it cooks, it really is an arm workout and I have only done small batches, these ladies were preparing to feed an army!

The children were following us around everywhere, laughing and checking out my camera. They seemed obsessed with my hair and kept touching it any opportunity they had and were so very curious with every little thing I was doing. They were so sweet and always wanting to pose for the camera throwing up peace signs and grabbing their friends and siblings to get in the shot.

The bridal party broke out into song and dance to announce the wedding was starting and the bride and groom were escorted to the bridal car by Frenque and his lovely wife. We drove through town in precession, everyone hooting and singing along the way to the church. The church was fairly simple, with wood frame, reed walls and a tin roof and every bit of it was absolutely stunning. You could feel the love emanating from it! During the ceremony, they gave a warm welcome and special shoutout to Debora and myself calling us their honoured guests. I cannot tell you how most of the wedding ceremony went, because it was in Shangaan, and I do not speak Shangaan, but there were many speeches, lots and lots of singing and dancing and so much joy. The couple said their “I dos,” exchanged rings and kissed passionately to seal their bond. Followed by more singing and dancing (I really do not know where the bridal party’s energy comes from – they were constantly moving and singing the entire time and each one of them had such an amazing singing voice)!

After the ceremony we went to the Massingir Dam wall to take some photos and then back to Frenque’s parents house to take part in a feast of note! I have not eaten so much in a very long time.

It really was a day that I will never forget, I feel so very special to have been honoured with an invitation and I wish the couple a lifetime of happiness with each other!

I am alive!

Hey strangers (both figuratively and literally), how’s it going?

I know I have not posted on here in rather a long time, I have had some stalker issues (how fun). But I have decided that I miss you guys and want to resume sharing my stories with you. Instead of posting a whole ten-page long blog post about what I have been up to in the past year (you can get an idea if you head over to Karingani’s Instagram @karinganimozambique as most of the photos and stories on there are mine), I have decided I am just going to start with today. So yeah, hi. And to my stalker, if you are still stalking after a year of me being quiet on here, welcome back, you truly are quite determined.

Let’s see what is going on now-a-days… I am still living in Karingani, Mozambique and still absolutely loving every minute of it – this place is magical! The weather is making an attempt to turn from winter into summer, we have had a few 41⁰C (that’s something like 104⁰F for you Americans on here), but after some nice hot days, the temps have been plummeting back to arctic cold. Okay, so maybe 18⁰C (64⁰F) is not that cold for most of you, but you have to remember I have become a complete and total weenie when it comes to cold weather so yeah, it has been cold. Today is not too bad though, it’s been overcast with thunderclouds threatening with their rumbles mixed in with times of sunshine – I am telling you the weather gods have no idea what they are doing lately.

Today was an office day for me, working on some photo edits and finishing up with making fun a fun digital flip book for the annual report as well as trying to solicit donations to purchase a new satellite tracking collar or two for the wild dogs. Anyone want to buy a tracking collar for a highly endangered species??? Don’t worry, I will post a nice soliciting post on here for you about that. Speaking of which, I am trying to get involved in Reddit, and honestly have no clue what I am doing. Blair (brother-in-law) told me that Reddit raised nearly $400,000 for gorilla conservation and now I am determined to put Karingani and wild dogs on their radar. So, if any of you have Reddit experience – HELP!

I think for dinner tonight, I am going to pull on those Southern routes and make some chili and cornbread with a side of fried cabbage – sounds good doesn’t it. Okay wow, I am all over the board with this post and there is absolutely no theme or flow to it, so I think I am just going to stop typing right now before it goes off the deep end. Thanks for sticking around and not giving up on me, I will try to get back into the rhythm of things and might just post some of my Karingani blogs on here as well from the past year to give you something more to read.

And here’s a random photo of the doggos this morning begging to come in to the office with me…

Enjoy your day!