Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

Animal Sagas: Owl & Bear

When wild creatures, individuals like ourselves, connect across the boundaries we observe, of species, place and time, let us be honored to meet them.

Over 30+ years hosting my KDHX show Earthworms, I’ve had the pleasure of conversing several times with Mark H. X. Glenshaw, The Owl Man of Forest Park. He’s a keen, respectful observer of owls whoooo he comes to know and love. Specifically, he knows the Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) who thrive in the varied habitat of our town’s great urban greensward. 

He observes and learns from their habits and their relations. Since 2005, Glenshaw has been observing “an exceptionally handsome male” he called Charles, and his mates. 

By day, Mark H.X. Glenshaw is Librarian for Fontbonne University. When he clocks out, it’s close to the crepuscular time when nocturnal owls become active. Owl Man swiftly kits up with camera, notebook, and his various-other-equipment pack. Dressed for the weather, he hikes into Forest Park to see what’s up with the owls. He’s been photographing, recording, reading and blogging about them since 2005. 

Charles was mated for over a decade with Sarah, larger than himself, as the females of this species are. Their union produced owlets through multiple seasons. When Sarah died in 2015, a series of three females consorted with Charles. All observed without disturbance, and with appreciation shared – through hundreds of vivid public talks and in-person Owl Prowls – with all ages of Glenshaw’s fellow humans. 

On July 7, the Owls of Forest Park blog reported that Owl Man had not seen Charles in any of his habitats since May 14. “Although it’s possible Charles has relocated to an entirely new habitat, it is likely that he has died,” wrote Glenshaw, in his studied naturalist mode. 

If you’ve seen or heard Charles, talked about him with Mark Glenshaw, or in any way yourself observed this human-owl kinship, you can feel the deep loss in his words. 

In a welcome break this summer from political and viral news, an American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) Bruno strolled into St. Charles County, on a mate-seeking walkabout down from Wisconsin, 400+ miles. 

Bruno, named by legions of virtual fans, lit up social media with genuine human interest in a (BIG!) being of another kind. When he rambled through the suburb of Wentzville, MO, over 400 people turned up to see him, plus the news viewers.

I followed Bruno’s story from a personal brush with humans and bears. Back in 2005, I vacationed into Wisconsin, my home state, and over its border with Canada. On Thunder Bay, where my grandparents had gathered amethysts I still treasure, Bear Season started the day I arrived. 

Incredulous at hunting a creature I know as rare, I asked shopkeepers and waitresses what was up with the bears. 

“They’re everywhere this time of year,” I heard. “They come right up into your porch, if you let ‘em.”

Wow. That would be a lot of bears.

In 2018, I waited three months to get an Earthworms interview date with Laura Conlee, State Furbearer Biologist for the MO Department of Conservation. Her spring was booked with monitoring our growing Show Me population of bears. When we finally talked in mid-July, I was star-struck by this Biology Girl, hearing how she tracks and cares for wild bears. Listen to the podcast, she’s so cool!

Other state biologists trekked to Wentzville, to aid Bruno the celebrity bear. He got imperiled in a triangle of highways. They tranquilized him and expertly moved him to an area better for bears.

This spring, I took an MDC survey seeking public input on establishing a Bear Season in Missouri. The species, once hunted into extirpation, is recovering to the point where they’ll come right up to your porch, if you let ‘em. Wow.

Turns out state public opinion is not in favor, yet, of a “controlled harvest” of bears. But when their numbers bump them up against our porches, and our highways and green suburban swards, every bear won’t meet with the care and respectful expertise of a Laura Conlee.

Conlee reminds us to Be Bear Aware – for the well-being and safety of all. And Bruno meanders on.

Check out these Earthworms interviews at www.kdhx.org. Find a recent link to hear them in the Earthworms podcast listings.