(Burrowing Owl Updates Below)
This bird stopped people in their tracks. It paced in plain view about twenty feet west of the paved path in the southeast corner of the park. “What is that bird?” asked one amazed park visitor. He was astonished to learn that the heron was hunting gophers. “I thought they ate fish!” They also eat fish. They’re formidable hunters in “surf and turf.” But this morning, the bird’s carefully prepared stab at what it hoped would be a gopher peeking out of its hole turned into a beak full of dirt, much to the heron’s disgust. It shook its head and fluffed its feathers and stalked off, annoyed.
There’s plenty more gophers in the meadow. I once saw a Great Blue catch two in five minutes. See “Hotel Breakfast,” May 11 2021.
Burrowing Owl Updates
The Burrowing Owl in the park looks in good shape and is taking care of itself. When I visited around 9 this morning, the bird stood in Perch A, out of sight of park visitors on the perimeter path. Standing on the Open Circle promontory with a long telephoto lens, I was able to record the bird in a preening session, taking care of the plumage around its neck and belly. The bird seemed well fed. It needs to be strong for its upcoming return migration to wherever its breeding territory lies. Unfortunately we have no idea where that is, but it could be anywhere from the upper Midwest (one banded owl seen here years ago came from Idaho) to Western Canada or even Alaska. The owl’s departure date is unpredictable, but in the past, owls who spent the winter here were gone by mid-March.
A year ago this day we surveyed the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary and neighboring areas in the hope of rescuing the “Second Owl.” This bird, so named because it was the second owl spotted on November 2, 2021, chose a perch in plain view of the paved perimeter trail. It sat on the grass and gravel in the central circle near the big flat rock and the waist-high Coyote Bush. Literally hundreds of park visitors saw it close up with their own eyes, and for many it was their first thrilling encounter with this remarkable threatened bird. This owl was completely accustomed to human observers and remained calm no matter how many people were admiring it. Even Park trucks passing by did not alarm it. But on February 3, it acted strangely, hiding behind the big rock and avoiding observers. A video showed the bird dragging its left wing, as if it were broken. The next day we set out to try to rescue the bird and take it to a wildlife hospital for treatment. But it could not be found, and has not been seen since. It did not return in the fall.
No witness has come forward to report how the bird was injured. But several park visitors reported that off-leash dogs entered the fenced area and harassed the bird. There is a long and well-documented history of loose dogs invading this space. That happens because some dog owners won’t leash their pets, and because the fence around the owl’s area, while it may be a work of art, is not an effective dog boundary. Loose dogs can and do get through it and over it with ease. We who love the owls have been lobbying the City, the artists who did the fence, and the local Audubon chapter, to replace it with an effective boundary, so far without effect. See “Open Letter to Audubon’s Glenn Phillips,” Sep 20 2022.
On this day we mourn the Second Owl, whose choice of a perch on the grass in plain view of park visitors gave joy to so many, but which paid for that choice with the ultimate price.