The First Owl continues to challenge park visitors who want to see it. When it first arrived on November 2, it chose a spot absolutely hidden from people walking the paved perimeter trail. Around December 22, it shifted some tens of yards south to a new perch, still on the rocky east bank, but in a spot where tall park visitors who knew exactly where to look could make out at least its head and shoulders. Photographer Anna Klafter, equipped with a long lens and a dense sensor, climbed up on the low retaining wall and captured these two fine sharp portraits. She was lucky to get them; after showing itself to this extent for some time, this bird retreated behind a rock out of sight, where it could be spotted only by crossing the badly placed fence on the south gate and entering the Open Circle Viewpoint.
In these photos, as in some others that I have taken, this bird keeps its left eye half or completely closed, and peers out only with the right. I became concerned that the bird might have some problem with its left eye. However, shooting from the Open Circle, I was able to get a snapshot of the bird in an alert position (right). Both eyes seemed full and round without apparent issues. I don’t know why the bird often keeps its left eye masked.
The bird’s pupils respond independently to light. I suppose this should be obvious but it surprised me nonetheless in photos like this one (left). The bird’s left eye takes the low morning sun and the pupil contracts. The right eye sits in the shade and expands. It looks odd, doesn’t it? But it’s completely logical.
These birds have versatile eye coverings. They have an eyelid that comes from above and can cover the eye completely. You can see them sometimes wink with that eyelid, each eye independently. They can also cover the eye completely with eyelids that come from below. Then they also have the inner eyelid, the nictitating membrane, which protects the eye in sudden movements.