Owl Diary Feb. 16-23

Saturday 2/23

Another two-owl morning! Made me feel all warm inside. The east owl stood in its rocky hideaway, visible only with difficulty. Except for the high overcast that dimmed the rays of the rising sun, the bird looked exactly the same as yesterday. See the photos from Friday 2/22.

The north owl made early park visitors happy by being present a second consecutive day. However, this bird showed a very high level of alertness — or nervousness, anxiety, stress. Even at 8 a.m., its head RPM measured 46, for an average dwell time of only 1.3 seconds. See for yourself:

P.S. On returning to the park at 4:30 in the afternoon, the north owl remained in the same spot. Its head RPM had slowed to 34.

Friday 2/22

At last! A two-owl morning. Around 7:30, not long after sunrise, the east owl stood high on its pyramid stone, where you could see it from the perimeter trail if you knew where to look, and you could make yourself quite tall. I measured its head RPM at 8, same as the last time I checked it in the early morning.

East owl on pyramid rock just a few steps east of its hideaway, shortly after sunrise
East owl as seen from perimeter trail +

Minutes later, I saw the north owl perched on its rock between the two fennel stalks again, where we park visitors could readily admire it as we so often have in the past. It was a delight and a relief to see it again after its absence of the past few days. It showed a level of alertness, or nervousness, more than twice as high as the east owl; its head RPM at this time in the morning measured an even 30, or an average of one head rotation every two seconds. Check out the video:

Thursday 2/21

Sunny, cold, north wind raking the waters. When I visited at 8:40 in the morning, the east owl perched in its hideaway in the rip-rap, invisible to the world other than high magnification viewers in the Open Circle viewpoint.

The north owl was absent. Again. I thought this was its fourth consecutive absence, but then photographer John Davis posted that he had seen it just before sunset on Tuesday. Intrigued by the possibility that the north owl made a regular practice of sunset visits, I returned to the park in late afternoon, as the sun sank behind the coastal range. Alas, no north owl.

However, the east owl chose this moment to emerge from its hideaway and perch out on the plateau, on the far edge in a spot where previously I’d only seen it during rain. Three park visitors who had never seen a Burrowing Owl before got lucky.

East owl in full view on far edge of grassy area

In this exposed position, the owl’s level of alertness, as indicated by the frequency of its head movements, rose to an RPM of 16, twice what it was yesterday morning with the owl in its sheltered hideaway in the rip-rap. See for yourself:

Wednesday 2/20

High overcast, light breeze, cool. The east owl at 9:30 a.m. stood in its hideaway behind its rock, low, and under its awning, a position where it cannot be seen except in very long zoom from the Open Circle Viewpoint.

East owl low in its hideaway

An hour later, the bird stepped a few inches to its right and higher up, with its head pushing aside the brush awning.

East owl high in its hideaway

In that position, if you know where to look, you can see the bird’s head from the paved perimeter trail.

East owl visible from paved perimeter trail

I counted the bird’s head movements for one minute, as I did on Monday, and again came up with an RPM of 8. This is a bit like a nurse taking a patient’s pulse, isn’t it?

The north owl, meanwhile, was absent for the third consecutive day. I’m worried about this bird.

Tuesday 2/19

The east owl stood in its usual rip-rap hideaway when I passed by at around 11 this morning. Several people have asked me whether I could see this owl with the naked eye when I’m standing in the Open Circle Viewpoint. My answer is no. I’m guessing that’s a distance of about 70 yards. However, other people have better eyes, so to help them get oriented where the owl might be, I’m publishing this picture. This is a partial telephoto zoom, not a naked-eye shot. Look for the chopped off bush on top; directly below that is the owl’s usual position. The owl is smack in the middle of the photo. Do you see it?

East owl in the rip-rap, center of photo

With a little lift up on a slight rise, and a moderate telephoto zoom, you can see the owl, when it’s in this position, from the paved perimeter trail. I’ve published that view several times before. This morning, it looked like this:

East owl peeking out from its hideaway in the rip-rap

The north owl was absent again today. That owl is out there somewhere. Please contact me if you see it.

Monday 2/18

This morning at 8 when I visited, the east owl was perched on its pyramid rock in the rip-rap, fully visible in the morning sun when viewed from the Open Circle viewpoint. From the perimeter trail outside the fence — to be exact, from a little rise just inside the fence — I could clearly image its head and torso. Two other park visitors at this early hour saw the bird and expressed their delight. I made another one-minute video to get a read on the bird’s level of alertness, or anxiety, or whatever it is that the pace of its head rotations indicates. The video below shows eight head movements in the minute, for an average dwell time of 7.5 seconds.

That compares with a dwell time of just a fraction over two seconds (or an RPM of 29) in the north owl yesterday; see the post and video just below.

The north owl was absent this morning.

Sunday 2/17

The sun shone, a few clouds decorated the sky, a crisp breeze blew: it all added up to a glorious Sunday at the park. The two seasonally resident owls rose to the occasion. The east owl hid in its hideaway in the rip-rap, but at around noon it allowed its head and neck to rise above the sheltering stone so that sharp-eyed or optically enhanced humans could make it out. At least a dozen park visitors stopped and looked and chatted and marveled. It looked exactly like yesterday; check out that item, below.

The north owl, absent yesterday, graced the park with its presence today, looking radiant as the sun rose to bathe its soft feathery form with its warming rays. I took a lengthy video, from which I excerpt three “action” snippets: the owl stretching one leg, the owl putting on its “look how big I am” show for a passing ground squirrel, and — very special — the owl coughing up a pellet. Here’s that video:

I’ve only filmed a Burrowing Owl coughing up a pellet once before, on October 27 last year, with an owl that only stayed in the park for a bit over a week, and then moved on. Pellets contain solid matter that the owl’s digestion can’t soften enough to push out the back end, so they eject it through the beak. Read more about owl digestion here.

The north owl’s level of alertness around noon today struck me as more relaxed than yesterday, but still fairly high. In an effort to measure this quality, I took a video exactly one minute long, and then counted the number of times the bird moved its head. In this video, the bird swiveled its head and changed its focus 29 times in that minute, for an average focus time of a hair over two seconds.

Three park visitors were standing with me watching the north owl and chatting when two medium size dogs ran up from behind us, crossed the path, and charged down toward the water, exactly where the owl stood. It was an invasion very similar to the one I filmed on Tuesday. We were shocked; we yelled at the dogs, we looked around for the owners, to no avail. The dogs then retreated across the Nature Area (where dogs are prohibited on or off leash) and up the ridge to the northern edge of the Off Leash Area, where we could see people to whom the dogs probably belonged. We were furious, and felt like you feel when your house has been burglarized. The owl, of course, took off, but fortunately returned some minutes later. I kicked myself afterward for not catching any of the episode on video; in the surprise of the moment I pushed the wrong buttons on the camera. Murphy’s Law.

Saturday 2/16

When I arrived at about 11:30, the east owl perched in an exposed position on a rock at the east edge of the fenced area. I have not seen this bird in this exact position before. As I watched, from about fifty yards away in the Open Circle viewpoint, the owl turned around and scurried down into its familiar hiding place behind a rock and under a brush awning. I was lucky to have my video camera running at the moment and caught just an instant of the owl moving on its feet. Normally one sees this owl only standing still in one spot or another; rarely in motion.

It was good to see that the owl looked dry and fluffy, with no visible damage from the long atmospheric river of the past few days.

I then moved to the perimeter trail outside the fence, hoping to catch a glimpse of the owl from there. A glimpse is what I got, just the top of the head and sometimes an eye or two, but that was a thrill for several groups of park visitors who stopped and peeked at the camera display. Those who had binoculars were able to spot the bird also, but to the naked eye the owl was as good as invisible.

East owl peeking out from its hideaway in the rip-rap

The north owl, meanwhile, disappointed owl seekers with its absence. It had seemed quite anxious when I viewed it yesterday morning. I scanned the whole northern waterfront east to west looking for this bird. There is another place it goes to when it’s not here. That other place may well be somewhere else than in Cesar Chavez Park.

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One thought on “Owl Diary Feb. 16-23

  • February 21, 2019 at 10:30 am
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    Saw the North owl in its usual spot at sunset Tuesday the 19th. Haven’t been back since.

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