Owl on the Rocks


This Burrowing Owl perched on the rip-rap (the rock barrier) on the east edge of the Burrowing Owl preserve on the northeast corner of the park.  The rocks and brush shielded it from the view of observers on the paved path lying outside the decorative fence that bounds the preserve.  I had moments earlier stood outside the fence and scanned the set-aside area, focusing on the rabbit hole where an owl had been spotted on three previous occasions.  I had seen nothing with feathers on.

Then another park visitor with whom I was chatting about the owls called my attention to a big raft of Greater Scaup who were moving with the high tide and the wind behind them into the North Basin from the outer Bay.  These were almost certainly the scaup I had seen a few days earlier north of the park.  To get a better photo, I stepped over the decorative fence that bars access to the “spiral,” the Open Circle viewpoint, and set up my tripod as far east as the land allowed.  I saw in fact two rafts of scaup, one moving south and another milling around and tending to drift northward.  Each held easily a hundred birds, possibly twice that many.

Done with the scaup, I turned back and, as an afterthought, took a pan shot of the rip-rap northward.  I had taken this shot in August, on the theory that there might be Burrowing Owls on these rocks when they arrived.  It was too early for owls then, but a Black-crowned Night Heron proved that medium-sized birds might be found and imaged  there.  My video scan today had almost got to the northern end of the rock bank when a familiar shape caught my eye.  Yes, indeed!  A definite Burrowing Owl perched on a rock below the horizon, invisible from the paved walkway, but plainly visible, if at long zoom, from the Open Circle viewpoint.

This owl basked in the morning sun for a while.  It did not appear to pay attention to me and my tripod, many yards away.  Then, while I was momentarily distracted with camera settings, it vanished.  I returned to the paved path and again scanned the fenced-in area, especially the rabbit hole where owls have been spotted, but my eyes came away empty.

How many other Burrowing Owls have we not seen because the ornamental fence, closed in winter, blocks access to this viewpoint?  Moving the ornamental fence a few yards north and keeping the viewpoint open year round would improve Burrowing Owl stewardship, among other positive attributes.

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