The Open Circle art work, including the fresh air classroom and the border walkway, have reopened to the public. The area, on the northeast corner of the park, is closed to the public during the October-March season when Burrowing Owls are expected to make their winter homes there.
This winter was a great disappointment to bird lovers as no owls were spotted there for the first time since Audubon Society volunteers began keeping records in the late 1980s. Three owls did take up residence near the Albany Bulb, and some owls were spotted momentarily last fall on the east shore near Gilman Street and southward near the Berkeley Meadow (Sylvia McLaughlin Eastshore State Park), but none were seen anywhere in Cesar Chavez Park.
The reason is unknown, but may be related to the killing of an owl, almost certainly by a dog, in December 2016. The fence around the Burrowing Owl area consists of low, loosely spaced cables that a dog could easily jump over or slip through, and the northernmost quarter of the fence, in the areas where owls were most recently seen, has a missing top cable. It’s also true that these owls have been in long term decline in the Bay Area and statewide.
In any event, Burrowing Owls that visit the nearby Bay shores have taken off for their home breeding grounds, which are also unknown, but are thought to lie in Idaho and other north-central states. Thus the area reserved for them in the park is open again to featherless bipeds (humans).
The chief attraction is a circular seating area on the southern edge, which was designed as an open air classroom. It’s also the prime bird viewing area on the east side of the park, and a comfortable spot for conversation. For details on the interesting history of this artwork, read this feature article.
On the north side of the area lies a charming paved walk along the edge of the North Basin. It currently features probably the most abundant California Poppy display in the park, along with a riot of Purple Vetch, some vigorous Fennel, and others.
No owls took up residence this past winter, but the Ground Squirrel population thrived. At least one and possibly a pair of Black-tailed Jackrabbits have a burrow in the area. A female Mallard was seen in the high grass several times and may have nested there.
The entire area lies outside the dog park and dogs must be on leash if they visit.