(Burrowing Owl Update Below)
Along the east side path, near the water about even with the first of the Barn Owl boxes, Park visitor and Burrowing Owl observer Mary Law spotted this odd-looking plant. It didn’t resemble any of the familiar weeds found in the neighborhood. Research identified it as the Castor Bean plant, Ricinus communis, sometimes called the Castor Oil plant. It is the source of castor oil, but only after important refinement to remove the ricin, which is also present in most of the plant’s leaves and stems. Due to the ricin, the Guinness book of World Records names this the word’s most poisonous common plant. It’s as lethal or more so than the Poison Hemlock that we found (and mostly removed) in the Native Plant Area. Four to eight seeds of the Castor Bean plant is considered the lethal dose for an adult. The plant is also extremely allergenic, with a 10 out of 10 rating on the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale. It’s a prolific producer of pollen that readily becomes airborne and will cause allergic reaction in the lungs, posing special danger to people with asthma. Merely touching the leaves can cause skin rashes in susceptible individuals.
That being said, the plant in the proper hands after appropriate processing is also the source of useful insecticide, viricide, fungicide, analgesic, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and other medical compounds. Castor oil, without the ricin, has many beneficial uses in medicine, lubrication, food preparation, and others. India leads the world in commercial production of castor oil, with Mozambique second and and China a distant third. The plant is native to the southeast Mediterranean, East Africa, and Asia. Because of its flowers, it’s available in the commercial nursery trade as an ornamental. However, here in the park, where children roam, this plant is on the list for safe removal asap.
Burrowing Owl Update
No matter what the weather, the Burrowing Owl is hanging in there. Still in Perch B, which has no shelter from anything in any direction. This morning at about 9, the rain tapered off a bit after a night of fairly heavy rain and wind, and the owl looked like it had chosen to be out in all of it. It coped by shaking itself vigorously from time to time. I slowed down the video for one of its spins, but the image is still a blur at 60 FPS. I will try again next time at a higher frame rate. I’m curious how far around the bird spins its head. I can tell that it goes about 180 degrees at high speed, and I wonder if it turns its full range of about 270 degrees. It can also shake its body quite fast while holding its head steady, and it can flip out its wings very quickly to shed the water on them. In the startup photo above, where it has both wings extended, the bird is not confronting a ground squirrel as in Keenan Quan’s photo of January 7. It’s just trying to recapture its balance after a gust of wind.