North Side

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

American Wigeons (Mareca americana) Feb 20 2023

American Wigeons aren’t exactly rare in the waters around the park, but it’s quite unusual, in my experience, to see them off the north side, where the wind and waves tend to be raw. They generally prefer the more sheltered waters near the Schoolhouse Creek outflow in the southeast corner of the North Basin (Map). Here was a pair of them, keeping company with American Coots and Greater/Lesser Scaup.

These have come a long way to get here. The most popular breeding habitats for American Wigeons lie in the tundra and boreal forests of Alaska, the Northwest Territories, northeastern British Columbia, and northern and central Alberta. They were smart to choose Cesar Chavez Park for their wintering spot, as they’re safe here from hunters. Many thousands of their companions fly instead to the California Central Valley, where large numbers become part of the “duck harvest.”

Wigeons are vegetarians except during breeding season, when females switch to animal proteins to feed their chicks. Wigeons can dabble (head down, bottom up) but can’t dive. They’re known as poachers, aggressively stealing seaweed from diving birds such as coots, scoters and scaup. That in fact may explain why this pair was hanging around on the north side with coots and scaup ….

They’re very pretty, though. The males’ distinctive white head stripe with the iridescent green sideburns makes them easily identifiable. The females’ more subdued plumage could be confused with females of similar species if any were around, but her proximity to the male leaves no doubt in this instance.

Burrowing Owl Update

This morning at around 9, the Burrowing Owl could not be seen in the park. Both of its habitual perches, Perch A and Perch B, were vacant, and there was no sign of it anywhere else.

This is the second day in a row that the owl has been absent. While the owl has taken “days off” in the past, its absence today steeply increases the odds that the bird has taken off on its Spring migration back to its breeding ground. Last winter, this owl departed the park on February 19. It looks like it did the same thing this year. We saw the owl in the morning of Sunday, February 19. A park visitor looking for it in the accustomed spots in late afternoon Sunday did not see it.

Already this morning I met four park visitors who were looking for the owl for the first time this winter season and missed out.

We don’t know where its breeding habitat is located, but it’s very likely north of here. If so, the owl’s timing is not the best, as a winter storm is headed across most of North America this week. As owl observer Mary Law remarked, the owl might choose a flight path along the coast, missing the worst of the storm’s frigid moisture.

However, all hope is not lost. We’ll be looking for the owl again tomorrow morning, and will report here.

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