As a new graduate of the Burrowing Owl Docent Training Program, I knew that these unique birds are crepuscular (most active in twilight). So I showed up at the Burrowing Owl reserved area at the northeast corner of the park shortly before 7 am this morning, about fifteen minutes before the sun peeked over the East Bay hills. A brisk wind blew from the north, rippling the waters of the North Basin and whipping up short little whitecaps. I was glad for a light jacket, but the breeze was far from chilly. Ideal transport weather for birds migrating from the north, I thought. The protective fence that is supposed to keep featherless bipeds and carnivorous domesticated quadripeds out of the preserve was not up yet. Whether for that reason or another, no Burrowing Owls were in sight. In the low-raking first sunlight, it would have been easy to spot their little heads sticking up.
However, the area teemed with other birdlife.
In the rocks below the owl preserve, I spotted three American Coot. These are probably the survivors of a group of five Coot who declined to join the spring migration that carried hundreds of their cohort north this past Spring. The five had formed a tight group that hung around the rocks rimming the Open Circle public art installation. Possibly the missing two are still alive somewhere else. Coots travel quite a distance underwater and are hard to track. But these three are all I saw this morning.
I also saw a bird that might have been the bachelor Scaup who also missed the migration of his flock mates and was still active here in mid-July. In the bright early sun this bird’s coat looked brown. The July Scaup photographed more black. This morning’s bird was tucked away in distant rocks and I could not get a sharp enough picture to confirm the herringbone stripes on the shoulder that would have helped identify it.
There was no doubt, however, about the Willets. Perched at water’s edge on the rocks below the owl preserve, a pair of Willets soon attracted another pair, and then three more, and another group of three, until there were ten. Two of them briefly pecked at each other, but then thought better of it and desisted. A hundred yards to the south, another Willet perched on a rock all by itself, and then flew off with its characteristic whistle song to join the others. A couple of smaller birds, possibly Black Turnstones, hopped on the wet green rocks, too far away for me to get a useable picture.
Up in the sky toward the northwest side of the park, a White-Tailed Kite hovered, looking down keenly, as they do. Before I could get closer, it gave up on that target and flew off to the south, out of range.
I felt quite compensated for the lack of owls and headed back toward my car when my eye fell on three clusters of birds way out near the middle of the North Basin. With my camera at maximum zoom, I made out two clusters of Cormorants, perhaps twenty birds in all, and then a group of six Brown Pelicans. Each grouping had a passel of gulls mixed in, waiting for these expert hunters to catch something and throw off scraps. At one point, Pelicans and Cormorants mixed and passed through each other, without notable excitement by either side.
Despite the zero owls, it was a rewarding bird outing. Perhaps when the city’s Parks Department gets the fence back up, the owls will make an appearance.