A Heron Hiding in Owl Land

The Open Circle viewpoint is the only spot from which you can see the rocks on the east edge of the Burrowing Owl preserve.  These intelligent owls are known to take shelter among shoreline rocks.  The rocks are safer from invading dogs than the poorly fenced grassy area above.

With my tripod set up on the Open Circle promontory, I took a video of the rocks below the owl preserve.  I wanted to see, and to show, what kind of detail was achievable.  Could the camera get tight enough to spot a Burrowing Owl?  Unexpectedly the video did discover a bird hiding there.  Not an owl, of course — too early in the year — but a Black-crowned Night Heron.  It was tucked away in a crack between the rocks, and by chance it emerged and showed itself with the camera running.

Spotting an owl might be a bit harder.  The heron’s white body stands out.  The owls’ brownish plumage tends to blend in.  Still, the picture is easily clear enough to see an owl.  I’ve got clear images of Willets and Bufflehead on these rocks.  They’re grey and brown and about the same size as a Burrowing Owl.  I’ve also photographed Black Turnstones there, which are quite a bit smaller than the owls.

In the past, Parks management has closed off the Open Circle viewpoint in the fall, along with the northern entrances to the owl preserve.  The City in partnership with the Audubon Society has put a lot of effort into letting the public view the popular and much-loved owls when they’re present.  Burrowing Owl docents, myself included, visit the area regularly to report owl sightings, or not.  Unfortunately, when the Open Circle viewpoint is fenced off, we owl-spotters are blindfolded.  We might see owls on the grass.  We can never see them on the rocks.  We file reports at the end of the owl season that are basically meaningless because we couldn’t see the whole area.

We could do better.  A short temporary fence just inches north of the path to the Open Circle viewpoint would protect the birds and maintain access to the only spot from which the birds can be viewed in the rocky part of their winter habitat.

Watch this video on YouTube if the embedded version below doesn’t work.

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