That’s all that is left. Poor Fuzzball, he so wanted to be free. But it cost him his life.
Last evening there was a knock on the door. “Your owlet is on the ground, right near the trail.” Apparently Fuzzball just didn’t care for his chair nest anymore. He wanted out. Rich hurried over and sure enough Fuzzball was out exploring. He figured the safest thing to do was to find a protected area for Fuzzball to spend the night, and deposited him in a deep thicket.
At 5:15 this morning, Fuzzball was out and about once again. Rich found him near the trail, relieved to know he made it through the night but concerned for his safety. Returning just half an hour later, all he found was a ring of fuzz and feathers. Nature had taken its cruel course. Rich surmises that a fox found Fuzzball and after a brief struggle carted him off to his den to feed his own hungry family.
It was 11 days ago that Fuzzball first entered our lives. In that short time, he brought a lot of joy to the many people who followed his story – in Rich’s blog and mine, out in the woods, watching from the road, and hearing it from friends. Rich did all he could for the little fella, but just could not curb his natural tendencies. Fuzzball couldn’t fly yet, but he could scurry around on the ground. He wasn’t good at holding on to branches yet, but he could scratch and bite whenever Rich re-rescued him. He was a fighter, and we hoped he would make it. But it was clear Rich could no longer protect the impetuous owlet who longed to roam. Rich did all he could, and we agree that helping Fuzzball survive in his home habitat was the right thing to do. Rich would do it all over again, despite the hole in his heart right now.
It’s worth reading Rich’s final blog post about Fuzzball, as he included many photos and videos he was unwilling to share before in order to protect Fuzzball from too much human exposure.
This is one of my favorite photos from the whole journey. It was nice knowing you, Fuzzball. We will all remember you fondly.
It’s not easy being a foster parent. Especially to an owlet.
Fuzzball seems to have adapted to his new nest quite well. Rich calls it Lawn Chair Nest 2.0, and amazingly it has remained stable on its perch high in the tree. Fuzzball appears content to sleep on the seat by day and host Mom at night when she brings him treats to eat. Not much has changed since Fuzzball’s Rescue, but that is good news. The more time that passes, the closer Fuzzball comes to getting his flight feathers. We harbor hopes that one day he will be strong enough to fly up to his real nest. Until then, we wait and watch. Becoming complacent in our foster parenting.
This morning that changed when Rich returned from his visit with news. “When I got to Fuzzball’s nest, he wasn’t there!”
“The seat was empty. But I looked up, and there he was, standing on the back of the chair!”
It would appear that Fuzzball was ready to try branching. Lacking tree limbs to walk on, he found the next closest thing. This I had to see. Sure enough, there he was, back against the tree, stretched up to his full height. Suddenly he looked really BIG! Even though the sun was already climbing in the sky, he was wide awake and turned to watch me as I approached.
Fuzzball seemed quite proud of his accomplishment, and I have to admit I was impressed. Something like parental pride blossomed as I left him and headed out for my run.
When I returned, a third ladder had joined the collection down by our garage. There was only one explanation – Fuzzball. Rich wasn’t home, and curiosity ate away at my psyche. I had to check on him.
Approaching the nest, Fuzzball looked at me from the seat of chair nest. I silently congratulated him on safely making it back down to his resting spot. I moved around to get a better look. All looked well.
But that was not the whole story.
“I found Fuzzball on the ground again this morning,” Rich reported. Apparently he wasn’t so savvy about getting down from his perch after all. But it didn’t end there.
Rich filled me in. Fuzzball fell on his own the first time, but he plunged two more times – with help. Rich had decided Fuzzball needed an opportunity to try real branching. So he carried him up to a branch and carefully set him down on the limb.
Fuzzball was unable to hang on with his toenails, had bad balance, or just lacked Mom’s training in how to navigate in trees. He tilted, scrambled, spread his wings then plummeted to the ground. Rich tried again. Fuzzball suffered a similar fate.
Rich just happened to capture one of the falls on video. (Note, this is a private video that Rich will delete in a few days, to prevent it from going viral and exposing the owlet.) Click here to view the action. Apart from Fuzzball’s unfortunate tumbles, what I found most interesting and reassuring was seeing the growing feathers on Fuzzball’s wings.
Three strikes and out. Rich conceded the failed experiment and returned Fuzzball to chair nest, where I found him, unaware of his recent drama.
Fuzzball must have been relieved to be back on a stable platform. It was bad enough causing his own fall. Now he has to worry about saviors who can be a threat!
We foster parents don’t always get things right. But our hearts are in the right place. Hang in there, Fuzzball!
The name originated when my husband, Rich, was in the hospital for open heart surgery. He was relegated to a hospital bed for nearly two weeks, and in that time numerous staff members came and went, attending to his needs. Rich was always polite, thanked them profusely and inevitably talked about owls. In particular “his owls.” Soon hospital folks would enter his room and say, “Oh, you’re the Owl Guy!”
For five years, Rich has been watching the same Great Horned Owl couple. Starting in February he stalks the snowy woods near our house in the dark, listening for their hoots, tracking them down until he finds their nest, which often moves from year to year. Once spotted, he haunts the site, watching and photographing the miracle of life. From eggs in the nest under Mama Owl to fully grown and forced out of the territory in the fall, he chronicles the lives of the owlets. From fuzzballs to independent owls. They have become “his owls.”
Rich’s owls first gained fame during the pandemic. Isolated by Covid, Rich spent more hours in the woods than ever, and the owls chose to nest in a spot with a perfect vantage point for photography. There were three owlets that year and Rich blogged about them almost daily, posting pictures of their development and progress. His readership boomed. Others, similarly isolated, followed the owlets – a cute and endearing diversion provided by nature during that period of seclusion. Over time, Rich created a children’s book with his best photographs of the beloved owlets and theirjourney to adulthood.
This year, there are two owlets. Due to the long, harsh winter Mama laid her eggs much later than usual, and the first fluffball did not appear until well into May, followed by a sibling a week later. Rich was elated, once again back on owlet watch. And then the unthinkable happened.
Fuzzball fell out of the nest.
Rich happened to be near the nest with two trusted photography buddies late one afternoon last week when one of them spotted Fuzzball huddled in a depression, 80 feet below the nest. Estimating the baby bird to be about four weeks old, Rich noted that it did not yet have any flight feathers. It had not even started “branching” yet (walking out on branches near the nest). With the nest at an unreachable height, the poor owlet had no means of survival. Rich donned his falcon gloves (he’s rescued owls before) and laid the frightened but seemingly unharmed bird in a towel-lined tub.
Rich contacted Wildwoods, the local animal rehabilitation center, but they were already closed for the day. As we had dinner with Fuzzball resting nearby, Rich’s brain was churning. Surely the bird would be better off near Mom and Dad than doomed to life in captivity? Was there a way he could create a new nest for Fuzzball, where he could be watched, protected and fed by his parents? Abandoning the unwashed dishes, Rich sprang into action.
I had no idea that a lawn chair could simulate a nest. But apparently Rich did. Covering it with a packing blanket for cushioning and to prevent the bird’s talons from catching in the mesh, he finished it off with bungee cords to hold it all in place. Next he hauled our longest ladder into the woods, and with the help of a family hiking past, he hauled the “nest” as high as he could and secured it with bungees stretching around the tree.
Getting the bird up into the nest was a tricky climb, but at last Fuzzball was installed in his new home.
We both heaved a sigh of relief with Fuzzball off the ground and in sight of his real nest. The question was whether Mom and Dad would find him and take care of him? Sleep was elusive that night.
Morning brought good news. Fuzzball was alert and active – he had survived the night! Rich talked to Wildwoods and convinced them that the owlet was better off in his new nest, and promptly secured the site with Caution tape and a warning sign to leave the little guy alone, and NOT post on social media. Humans were as much a threat to Fuzzball as his natural predators.
While pleased with the decision to leave Fuzzball in the woods, I also knew it would enhance our home life. Not only are they Rich’s owls, they are Rich’s owlets. My only role may have been iPhone photographer, but I couldn’t help but feel invested in these birds. Rich’s wellbeing and mine was secured as long as this experiment went well.
A few days later, Rich installed his trail-cam opposite Fuzzball. He was richly rewarded when he caught a nighttime feeding on video! Fuzzball sat upright, seemingly looking up in the direction of home. Soon Mom flew onto the chair seat alongside Fuzzball and immediately began tearing up bits of food which he rapidly devoured. It was working!
Rich still lives day by day, checking on Fuzzball morning, noon and evening, and spying on him with the webcam at night. I get detailed reports. Fuzzball’s rescue is our newest entertainment.
“There’s just so much to see!” Jon had been researching for weeks, and compiled a bountiful list of hikes and options for day excursions during our stay in Costa Rica. Little did I know we had invited a tour guide as well as friends on our trip. I was only too happy to indulge his wanderlust and inability to sit still. Something about that resonated with me! While Rich indulged his birding options, Jon, Beth and I explored the countryside.
Jon had his heart set on visiting a chocolate farm, so we detoured en route to La Carolina Lodge to find the Tree Chocolate Tour. We were met by Axel and joined by one family for a very personalized tour of the farm. He introduced us to far more than the cacao trees, the grafting process and nature of hand harvesting required at just the right time. Axel cut up a ripe coconut for us so we could drink the milk and sample the fresh flesh inside. We tasted peppercorns right off the vine (hot!) and learned about the tropical plants throughout the grounds.
Down by the river we were dwarfed by trees hundreds of years old, their trunks the size of small cottages. Rain poured down on us and eventually penetrated the thick canopy, but we assured Axel we didn’t care. We were in the rainforest, after all. Getting wet when it’s 88-degrees and humid isn’t so bad.
Returning to the farm center, Axel’s enthusiasm and pride in the operation swelled as he led us through the steps to process the cacao into paste, powder and liquor, each piece of vintage machinery operated by hand. We left with ample purchases of hand-crafted dark chocolate and a greater appreciation for its origins.
Rio Celeste Waterfall was next on Jon’s itinerary. The touristy trailhead and rapidly filling parking lot at Tenorio Volcano National Park immediately alerted us to the popularity of this hike. It wasn’t going to be a secluded trek, but on the plus side the trail was easy to traverse and impossible to make a wrong turn. The density of the tropical trees and plants provided welcome shade and kept us constantly intrigued with the enormous leaves and colorful flowers.
Reaching the viewpoint for the falls requires a side-trail that zigzags down about 300 steps with a fake but sturdy Adirondack-style railing. We snaked our way down behind dozens of other sightseers, gradually drawing near the bottom platform where we too could take pictures with the tall stream plummeting into turquoise waters. The color was just as advertised, and the experience worth sharing with the masses of humanity.
Beyond the falls the trail involved more elevation and attention to rocks and roots underfoot, but it was well worth continuing on to see the burbling hot springs, blue lagoon, and the source of the river’s unique color. At the point where two rivers converge, the sources contribute just the right conditions for particles of a whitish mineral known as aluminosilicate in the water to be large enough to reflect the blue color in sunlight – an optical illusion, not a chemical one.
My Garmin recorded 4.2 miles for the round trip with 575 ft of elevation, which we drew out to a leisurely 3-hour hike.
At Heliconias Rainforest Lodge a 2-mile walk took us across three treetop suspension footbridges. Rich had preceded us there, in search of certain birds reported in the area, and he assured me the bridges would not challenge my queasiness with heights. He was right – the solid engineering behind them was apparent, and the high side rails with dense mesh fencing gave me plenty of confidence to cross with ease. My personal favorite was the bridge with a tree in the center.
We lingered to watch salamanders, a brilliant blue butterfly with a deceptive “eye” on the outside of its wing, and unusual flowers that trapped rainwater. We even looked for Rich’s elusive bird, without success.
For our finale, we hiked in search of yet another waterfall. This was in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, and was our most challenging venture. The round-trip hike to La Cangreja Waterfall registered about 7.5 miles with 1,300 ft in elevation. We started out under good shade, and were delighted to watch a group of energetic white-faced monkeys cavorting in the treetops above us. Well aware of our presence, they seemed to be performing for us – chasing one another, pushing trees to make them sway, even eating bananas directly overhead.
Super tall trees with viny roots and enormous root structures delighted us.
The closer we got to the waterfall, the more difficult the terrain. Looking for footholds among boulders as we progressed downhill was more challenging than clambering up them on ascents. The final rocky patch, however, delivered us to the pool at the foot of the waterfall – paydirt!
This one claimed to have aqua-blue water, but we glimpsed that only at the very foot of the falls. However, the bonus was having the site nearly to ourselves for a good period of time, and we were free to roam around the pool and sit on rocks to take in the scene.
When other hikers caught up to us, we decided it was time to move on. By then the sun had climbed high in the sky and the temperature soared. We had crossed open highlands on the way there, and on the return trip while traversing the shade-less dry land we baked in the relentless sunshine. Seeking out all shade-breaks to cool down and drink water, we made it back to the monkeys who restored our good spirits with their antics, in a nice shady spot.
We didn’t come close to exhausting Jon’s list, but relished the adventures we did have in Costa Rica. We will just have to go back for the rest of them.
Driving toward the northern border of Costa Rica, we left behind the clear skies and intense heat. The landscape transformed from dry to thick intense greenery. A brief mist smeared the windshield. We rose onto the eastern slopes of Volcano Tenorio, and bumped our way along windy roads to arrive at La Carolina Lodge. Our rainforest home for three days.
Ready to shed the outside world, Rich and I along with our friends Jon and Bethwere shown to our cabins, nestled in the tall leafy environs sprinkled with brilliant flowers, and bordering the fast-flowing river onsite. In keeping with the eco-lodge essence, they were simple but comfortable, with overhead ceiling fans, windows for good cross-ventilation, mosquito netting hanging over the beds, a few lights and electrical outlets, and a bathroom with shower. The best feature was the deck facing the river with wooden rocking chairs, a counter with stools and wood fireplace. Jon and Beth, situated in the “honeymoon cabin” next door, had a personal wood-fired hot tub (which the staff kept stoked) and a hammock as well. Those would become our favorite living areas.
We arrived in time for lunch, and made our way to the lodge for our first dining experience. Tables set for individual groups circled all four sides of the open air building, and we were shown to a table just opposite the kitchen prep area. We could see the wood-stove and oven off to one side, and a long table laden with a colorful array of fresh fruits and vegetables (which we noticed dwindled during our stay!). We faced the garden area outside, the epi-center of bird watching.
All meals were served family style, with Costa Rican dishes placed in the center to be shared. With three meals a day included, I wondered if I would feel over-fed but it wasn’t the case. A hearty dose of rice and beans with every meal accompanied by locally raised beef, pork or chicken and an array of fruits, vegetables and salads lefts us just satisfied, never hungry. Breakfast included farm fresh eggs and homemade cheese and bread. We were fascinated to learn that about 85% of all food served is raised on-site, the remainder coming from local farms.
Eager to explore our surroundings, we made fast work of settling in. Rich made his choice very clear. “I’m here for the birds.” He had already spent time that morning ensconced in the garden blind, capturing his first toucans while huddled under an umbrella in the rain – having “the time of his life!” That became his happy place.
Jon, Beth and I indulged our own interests each day by venturing off campus to hike to a turquoise blue waterfall, tour a chocolate farm, and cross suspension footbridges strung across the treetops.
During the heat of the afternoon, it was easy to while away the hours on the deck, reading and journaling to the sounds of the rushing river while Rich worked on his latest set of photos. Jon and Beth invited us over to enjoy their hot tub, and while it seemed incongruous in this tropical climate, it actually felt good!
Evenings were particularly magical. Before leaving for dinner, a young woman silently slipped onto our deck and lit the candles on the railing and started a fire in the wood fireplace. We learned this would be a nightly occurrence, and came to appreciate the glow of the fire well into each evening. At the same time, candles and lanterns were lit throughout the grounds, throwing glimmering light onto the paths, just enough to illuminate our way.
Although the lodge does not serve alcohol, guests are allowed to bring their own. Rich ensured we were well supplied with Chardonnay, and the four of us installed ourselves in the riverside chairs at the Lodge for happy hour. Accompanied only by the sounds of water and birdsong, we sipped past sunset toward dinner.
We wondered if we might be hot during the night. Throwing all the doors and windows open to catch the breeze, we were surprised to sleep comfortably even under the red wool blanket. Not once did we deploy the mosquito netting. Waking during the night, my eyes sought the windows where I saw only the blackest of blackness accompanied by the roar of the river, sweet white noise.
Mornings before breakfast were good times to explore. There were extensive farm fields, pastures and a hiking trail on the far side of the grounds. While Rich hunted birds, I made my way to the stables adjacent to the horse pen where I donned a small pair of rubber boots then continued up the path toward the pastures. One morning Jon and I followed the hiking path along the river, unsure how far it went, and stretching the limits on our meeting time for breakfast.
The next morning we took in the farm fields and pastures, marveling at the orchards of bananas and pineapples, and contented cows. I eventually worked up the courage to milk a cow for the first time ever!
The abundance of tropical flowers ignited my desire to do some sketching and painting. It was too hot to sit and draw in the sunlight, so I took photos and retreated to the deck to ply my nascent craft. When progress waned, the swimming hole was the perfect place to refresh my spirit. Another day Beth and I soaked in the streamside wood-fired hot tub.
Although I’d scoured the website beforehand and devoured the beautiful photos of this off-the-grid haven, none of it compared to the real thing. This was rainforest bliss.