A New Burrowing Owl

The third — or more accurately, probably the fourth — Burrowing Owl spotted in Cesar Chavez Park this year perched on a waterside rock behind a dense screen of fennel about 200 yards west of the Burrowing Owl area today.  Credit goes to sharp-eyed park visitor Ian Flaherty of Berkeley, who first peeped the well-hidden bird.  He and wife Sarah are regular park walkers with their Wheaten Terrier Gus, who’s always on leash.  They saw the bird in the morning, just past the spot where I had turned around on my morning visit.  They texted me the owl’s location, but I could not return to the park until mid-afternoon.  Even when I knew the spot where they had seen it in the morning, I almost gave up.  Then, finally, I glimpsed the bird. To photograph it took some very precise positioning to get a visual tunnel through the thick vegetation.

This owl looks to me like a new bird, not like the return of the October 9 owl or the October 16 owl.  It has the same short, young eyebrows of the October 16 owl, but its chest pattern has a larger white area in the lower middle than the other two birds.  The pattern on its head also shows  more numerous and smaller white patches.

There is also an October 3 owl, seen and photographed with his cell phone by fisherman Christopher R.  Christopher’s is so far the earliest owl anyone has spotted in the park this fall season, or for that matter, this year. I have seen Christopher’s video but don’t yet have a copy for posting here.   That owl perched on rocks just outside and to the west of the Burrowing Owl preserve.  The cellphone video doesn’t have enough detail to determine for sure whether that’s a unique owl or an early appearance of the owls seen again later.  Very likely it’s a unique bird.  Counting Christopher’s owl, that would make today’s owl Number Four for the year.  All of the owls seen so far have perched on rocks outside the area set aside for them.  After a day or two, they have disappeared.  None so far have been seen taking up residency.

Today’s owl, like its predecessors, posted itself on a rock at the top of the rip-rap leading down to the water.  It had the park in front and the water behind.  And, like Numbers Two and Three, it chose a spot in close proximity to fennel.  Today’s owl stood behind a much thicker and denser fennel screen than the earlier birds.  About twenty yards separated the bird from the paved perimeter walkway, more than twice as far as the earlier owls.   Although no doubt it had sharper eyes, the owl had no better sightline to the path than people on the path had to the owl.  During the time I had the owl in my video lens, it was alert, constantly scanning its surroundings, but it showed no gross motor reaction to anyone or anything on the walkway.  Contrast the Oct 16th owl’s reaction to a passing off-leash dog.  Occasionally it opened a wing and stretched, or scratched itself, and preened a bit.  It did puff itself up  when a ground squirrel approached it.  The squirrel wisely withdrew.

In the video below, I’ve highlighted moments when the bird is doing something with major muscles other than swiveling its head around.  You’re seeing three minutes out of 40, including near the end the head of the ground squirrel as the bird makes itself big and scary.


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