Where am I?

The Owl Man

On any given evening, roughly 260 nights a year, Mark Glenshaw is in Forest Park, staring up at the trees. You might find him meandering through a wooded hollow, jogging across a field toward a crop of cottonwoods, or simply standing still, listening.

The reality is that Glenshaw, the daytime services manager at Fontbonne’s Jack C. Taylor Library and naturalist, is not simply staring into the trees. He’s observing a pair of Great Horned Owls who reside in the park — and he’s one of St. Louis’ leading experts on their behavior, history and patterns.

Glenshaw, a native of Washington D.C., has worked at Fontbonne for a year and a half. He found himself in St. Louis by way of a transfer to Washington University from Manhattan College in the 90s, and never left.

“I thought I’d be here for two to three years, and then I’d be gone. But like a lot of people who come here, I realized St. Louis was a really cool place,” said Glenshaw, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Washington University in 2006. A resident of the city, he has always lived near Forest Park, but admittedly, he didn’t really know the 1,370-acre area very well. Around 2000, a lifelong interest in nature inspired him.

“I made a promise to myself to get to know the park, and while I was doing that, it allowed me to check out its wildlife,” Glenshaw said. “This was good timing. Forest Park Forever and the City of St. Louis began big, master plan renovations around this same year.”

With improvements taking place, Glenshaw began to observe more active wildlife, including coyotes, additional bird species and muskrats, some of which hadn’t lived in the park for years. He began to read more and more about Missouri flora and fauna.

“Around late August, early September of 2005, on my way home from WashU, I walked past a tree where I frequently stopped to observe,” said Glenshaw. “I was 100 feet past it when I heard hooting. ‘It has to be owls,’ I thought.”

And it was.

“In this big dead tree sat two Great Horned Owls, both very tall, with distinguishing tufts of feathers,” he described. “In the 20 to 30 minutes I watched, they hooted together in a duet and then flew away — they’re very graceful, powerful fliers.”

That same night, he witnessed one of the owls successfully chase down a Great Blue Heron — a bird, he said, twice a Great Horned Owl’s size. He started researching and reading extensively about the formidable owl species, and began to return to this same spot regularly to observe his two new friends, whom he dubbed Sarah and Charles. Soon, he was hooked. Eventually, he was visiting the park daily and had located the owls’ nest, favorite haunts and hunting grounds.

Today, eight years later, Glenshaw leads frequent owl prowls around Forest Park, updates a blog and listserv detailing his observations of the owls, and gives talks and interviews throughout the area on the topic. He was recently certified as a Missouri Master Naturalist, and he leads Forest Park’s Beginner Birder Walk, a venture of Forest Park Forever and the St. Louis Audubon Society. In the fall of 2013, Glenshaw led an owl prowl for Fontbonne faculty, staff and students and gave a presentation on how studying wildlife can increase one’s awareness of and participation in sustainability as part of the university’s 7th annual Dedicated Semester, “Sustainability: Small Steps, Giant Leaps.”

Joanna Bean, a Fontbonne freshman, reflected on the experience as a way to connect with nature and meet others with similar interests.

“As we walked, Mark seemed to know exactly where to look for the owls because he has watched them almost every day for the past several years,” she described. “There is so much the natural world has to offer, and by using our local park, we are being sustainable and bettering our lives.”

Glenshaw, who charges nothing for his owl prowls but encourages donations to Forest Park Forever, hopes to inspire others like Bean to get outside and appreciate all Forest Park has to offer.

“You can be a city resident and still go out and enjoy nature,” he insisted. “There may even be a more compelling desire in this case. Nature is there, but it’s less accessible.”

Even in the middle of the city, Glenshaw strives to help his prowlers, whether they be nature enthusiasts, owl lovers or simply St. Louisans in need of a breath of fresh air, become better aware of the beauty and the interconnection between them and the world around them.

“A lot of people want to connect more with nature,” he said. “They just need a little push.”

As St. Louis’ unofficial owl ambassador, he’s happy to provide it.