On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh led a discussion about observing and appreciating urban wildlife in the bi-state area.
Joining the conversation were Danny Brown, a lifelong Missourian, retired biologist and avid wildlife photographer; and Mark Glenshaw, a local naturalist whose focus is the owls who reside in Forest Park.
Along with reviewing the sheer range of critters to be found in the region, the guests offered several suggestions for local listeners who are eager to learn more about and observe the region’s fauna, including the following pointers.
1. Listen closely to sounds when wandering parks, wilderness and even the backyard.
“One of the best things, in addition to looking, is listening, I find,” Glenshaw said. “And you may not always know what you’re hearing, but as you start to learn … calls of other animals [will] help you find even other animals. So for instance, in the summer the owls are incredibly well camouflaged and hard to find … and one of the things that’s incredibly helpful to me to find the owls is listening to the warning calls of other animals – that can be Cooper’s hawks down to tufted titmice to eastern gray squirrels. And knowing that this call means, ‘Hey, there’s a threat nearby,’ helps me find them. So listening is really, really helpful.”
2. Be prepared to invest some time in order to capture a high-quality photograph of an animal.
“You can’t just walk out and photograph an animal – [it’s] very hard to go photograph a raccoon or a mink or a kingfisher or anything,” Brown explained. “You need to scout out and figure out where that kingfisher is going to be, what his favorite perch is, where it lands to eat its little minnow, and then the next day, [or] maybe the next week, the next five days or seven days, you need to be pretty camouflaged – so I’m that kind of weird guy that’s walking around the park with the camouflage on, and I’m there way before daylight … I’ll hide deep in the grass and just sit there, maybe take a little nap and wait until the sun starts coming up, and pretty soon that kingfisher’s going to land on his little perch with his breakfast, and I’m going to be sitting there with a 500 millimeter lens aimed right at that perch.
3. Get in touch with Glenshaw and convince him to conduct an “owl prowl.”
“I’m not from Missouri … but I’ve happily embraced the ethos and the spirit of the Show-Me State: If you show me you’re serious and you want to come out on a tour called an owl prowl,” Glenshaw said, “I will show you chapter and verse of the owls.”
4. Be respectful of these fellow beings.
“One of the things that both Danny [Brown] and I really try to keep in mind as we do our work is that we are in the animals’ homes, and we want to be good neighbors, good guests,” Glenshaw said.
5. Keep in mind that encountering wildlife, by its very nature, means dealing with some wild stuff.
“I’ve had all kinds of close calls – nothing dangerous, but I’ve had skunks come up and sniff my bag and sniff my feet,” Brown said, “which is probably the scariest thing that ever happens to me … because I’m so buried in my equipment that I can’t really move to get away. And I’ve had raccoons come up and do the same thing. But probably the worst one, or the weirdest one, was I was [along the Mississippi River], and I had both feet in the water, rubber boots in the water sitting there getting ready to photograph ducks. It was just before daylight, and all of a sudden – apparently I was sitting on a spot where an otter always sits – this big river otter … just plunged from the water straight up and landed basically in my lap. And I could smell fish, and it was just amazing. He did like a back dive back into the water.”
Listen to the full discussion:
The Forest Park Forever website offers several resources for those interested in observing birds in the area, at forestparkforever.org/bird-watching/. Danny Brown shares many of his photographs on his website, at dannybrownphotography.wordpress.com/. And Mark Glenshaw’s owl-focused web presence is located at forestparkowls.blogspot.com.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.