Lark on Meadow

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

The meadowlarks are back again, and their numbers are growing. I saw five or six this morning. Last winter they were here in flocks several dozen strong, and it looked like they were preparing to nest here. But when nesting season arrived they all disappeared to parts unknown. Meadowlarks have been breeding in California for eons. I wonder if we couldn’t do better to keep them in the park this time.

Meadowlarks build their nests on the ground, using grass as a nest material. They will often build roofs over the nests complete with grass tunnels that may be several feet long. All this work, which may take a week, is done by the female. They can’t build a nest in grass that’s been decapitated by a mowing machine. They won’t succeed in raising chicks in areas where off-leash dogs roam.

Meadowlarks usually start building nests in February, and the work of incubating, brooding, and feeding the chicks to the point where they can fly will take them into June. Then they will typically build a second nest that will keep them busy into August.

I took the video above in November on the big meadow in the southeast corner of the park. All of this meadow lies outside of the Off-Leash Dog Area. Dog owners have no business running their dogs loose here. Yet we see some owners practically every day treating this meadow as if it were part of Point Isabel, the huge dog park in Richmond. These owners either don’t know or don’t care about the wildlife that inhabits the park, and about the park rules that restrict loose dogs to a 17-acre area in the middle of the park.

If we want to see more Western Meadowlarks in the park, there have to be changes to the mowing pattern and there have to be changes in dog owner behavior. Mowing the big meadow on the east side of the park up to the Flare Station is not necessary, not beautiful, and not considerate of wildlife. It’s enough to mow the pathways and a bit on either side. As for the irresponsible minority of dog owners who run their dogs loose where they shouldn’t, I keep hoping that the dog owners’ group will rein them in, or encourage them to take their pets elsewhere. Fingers crossed.

Parks make lives better. Birds make parks better. But to attract and keep birds, we have to run the park better.

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

P.S. The title is a bit misleading, as is the bird’s common name. Meadowlarks are not larks. They’re cousins of blackbirds.

Burrowing Owl Update

The Burrowing Owl this morning had moved again to Perch A, meaning the spot next to the low California Poppy bush on the rocky embankment out of sight of visitors on the paved perimeter trail. The only spot for seeing it was on the Open Circle Viewpoint, across the “art” fence gate on the southside of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary. It took a long telephoto lens, the equivalent of 6,400 mm in 35 mm equivalents, to take the photo below. At the time I observed it, the owl seemed calm and alert, swiveling its head left and right in a relaxed manner. It raised up a bit and scanned the sky briefly when a trio of gulls came up from behind it, squeaking loudly, but that moment passed quickly. It paid no attention to me and my camera standing 110 yards away.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Dec. 2 2022

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