Owl Diary: Feb. 24 – Mar. 2

Saturday March 2 2019

After a heavy night of downpours, the morning cleared up. At around 11 a.m. the east owl took up position in the mouth of a burrow at the edge of the pavement bordering the rocks at the east edge of the fenced area. From there it could see everything, but you’d have to have extraordinary vision to see the bird. Here’s what it looked like with the naked eye:

East owl in plain view (you don’t see it??)

You don’t see it? But the owl can plainly see you! Look:

East owl seeing you!

This is the spot where I’ve several times seen the owl during rain storms, except then it sits up higher. When it rains there is little traffic in the park and the bird feels safer, it seems to me.

The north owl had a whole string of admirers at midday while I set up my tripod and filmed it. The owl has occupied this spot off and on — mostly on — since December, but there are still people who have not seen it. This bird gave several people the thrill of seeing their first Burrowing Owl ever, in years of walking the park. In this video I’ve edited the sound track to record the reactions of park visitors when they see the bird.

Note that the bird appears unconcerned with the presence of visitors looking at it and talking about it. It preens and looks about and rarely even peeps at the visitors that gather maybe twenty yards above it. Dogs on leash, of which there were several, did not disturb it in the slightest.

Friday March 1 2019

At 8:30 on this cold, overcast morning, the east owl stood as deep in its hideaway as I’ve seen it. Impossible to see from the perimeter trail. Almost impossible to see from the Open Circle Viewpoint. “How did you ever find it?” asked a park visitor who peered at my camera display. All that the screen showed, very far away, was the owl’s head and a bit of its shoulder.

East owl low behind its rock

The north owl, as usual for it, stood fully exposed between the two fennel stalks where it has made its habitual perch, when it’s here.

North owl

Thursday February 28 2019

High overcast, then sun; mild temperatures, slight breeze. Both owls in the places where we’ve got accustomed to seeing them. The east owl sat high up in its hideaway. free of its brush awning:

East owl in rip-rap

When the owl perches in that position, a tall person can see its head and shoulders from the paved perimeter trail. The owl, in turn, can peep much of what happens on the grassy plateau inside and beyond the ornamental fence. As my video camera ran, the owl’s head movements seemed mostly relaxed and within the head RPM range of 11 to 14 where I’ve recently timed it. But on a couple of occasions, the owl craned its neck to see what was going on north of its position (to its right). A fisher, an old man with a white cap, had stepped over the fence on the north side and begun to cast. (Three of us, Phil Rowntree and John Davis and I, talked to the man and persuaded him to move his hobby outside the fenced area.) The owl also raised its neck and focused intently on something to its west (left). Using my cell phone, I filmed a big grey German Shepherd off leash just across the path and in the Nature Area (where dogs are barred, off leash or on). Its owner was nowhere to be seen or heard. After that dog disappeared. the owl settled down for the time being.

The north owl looked quite beautiful in the early morning sun. At the moment its immediate habitat looked free of intrusions and the bird had a moment of peace.

North owl at 8:30 a.m.

Wednesday February 27 2019

Scattered showers in the morning after a night of atmospheric river. At 8 a.m., no north owl. East owl standing on its pyramid rock looking wet but not daunted. It hardly had its eyes open. I counted a head RPM of 11, a record low.

If you were wondering about the muted sound track on that clip, it’s because the camera was inside a sandwich bag:

P.S. Photographer Phil Rowntree saw and photographed the north owl in its habitual spot later in the morning. Thanks, Phil!

Tuesday February 26 2019

Caught a pause in the atmospheric river around 9 this morning and got to see both owls without me getting wet in a major way. A brisk south wind ruffled their outer feathers. As on previous rainy days, both owls stood in spots that offered no shelter from the elements.

The east owl, when I first saw it, chose a new spot, and a very clever one. When its outer feathers are wet, the bird looks a darker brown than when dry. In that condition it blends well with the rusty piece of iron that lies on the edge of the rip-rap.

East owl next to rusty iron

When I first scanned this spot, the bird must have had its back turned, and I missed it entirely. Then photographer John Davis came along and spotted it. We then went to look at the north owl, and when I returned, the east owl had shifted its position a few feet north to the mouth of the burrow where I had photographed it several times before during rainstorms.

East owl atop burrow in customary rain position

In this position, its head RPM came to 14, the same rate as when it stood next to the rusty iron piece.

The north owl is beginning to rehabilitate its frayed reputation as Old Reliable. It stood on its rock between the fern stalks for the fifth day in a row. It looked wet and scruffy. I timed its head RPM at 45, which includes moments of scratching and fluffing its feathers.

North owl scratching
North owl fluffing

If the owl kept up that rate for today’s eleven hours of daylight, it would have rotated its head 29,700 times before dusk set in..

Monday February 25 2019

Heavy overcast, cold drizzle this morning; heavy rain and wind in the forecast for this afternoon. At 9:30, both owls perched in exactly the same position where I saw and filmed them yesterday morning. See below.

I counted the north owl’s head RPM at 34 this morning. Here’s the video:

If the owl took up its position at 8 am and continued until 6 pm at that rate, it would have rotated its head 20,400 times.

Sunday February 24 2019

Heavy overcast, temperatures in the 40s. No matter. Both owls “present and accounted for.”

At 9:30 in the morning, the east owl perched on its pyramid rock, a couple of feet east of its hideaway rock and the brush awning.

East owl seen from Open Circle Viewpoint

When the bird takes that position, a tall person can see the bird’s head from outside the fence, like this:

East owl seen from paved perimeter trail

By 10:45, the bird had stepped off the pyramid rock and retreated under the brush awning, just a foot or two to the west. In that position, the bird is invisible from outside the fence.

East owl in its hideaway under its brush awning

If you have strong binoculars or a long zoom lens you might be able to pick up just the top of its head, a light brown bump.

The north owl stood in its customary spot for the third consecutive day. Or rather, it returned there after being chased (again) by a pair of dogs. As I approached the area, three dog owners were standing by the bench just above the owl’s usual position. They were watching two of their dogs running off leash in the fennel on the north shore — an area where no dog is allowed off leash. I asked them politely but urgently to leash their dogs. One owner did so immediately, as the dog had come up to the path. The other dog ignored its owner’s call, and she chose to pursue it down to the water’s edge and then back on the path to the west until finally she was able to retrieve and leash it. “Sorry” she said as she departed. Here’s a short video of part of the episode:

Naturally, when I set up my tripod minutes later, there was no owl. Eventually the bird returned, and things quieted down. As chance would have it, several among the park visitors who stopped to admire the owl were dog owners and had their dogs properly on leash with them. I was running the video and the sound track captures some of their delight at seeing the owl. The owl, for its part, showed no alarm whatever at the presence of four dogs on leash at the same time around the camera. One of the visitors — you can hear her on the sound track faintly — said that she had been visiting the park for a long time, and there used to be a lot of owls in the northeast corner, but the dogs would go over there and kill them. By the time the fence was put up, very few of the owls still came. She was very pleased that at least some owls had come back.

This short video ends with a sequence I’ve not seen before. A ground squirrel passes quickly in front of the owl, apparently catching the bird unaware. As if to teach the rodent some respect, the owl takes off in pursuit. I’ve run this clip in slow motion.

At that point my time in the park ran out and I had to leave before the owl resumed its spot, if it did.

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