Owl Diary: March 3-10

Sunday March 10 2019

On my first visit to the park at around 11 a.m. yesterday’s time (noon today), neither of the owls appeared. I’m reconciled to the probability that the east owl has gone home for the season, but I clung to hope that the north owl remained, but chose not to claim its spot in the a.m. Fortunately I was able to get back to the park around 5 p.m. (yesterday’s time), and saw my hope fulfilled. The north owl was very much there. I set up my camera on tripod, and soon several groups of park visitors also saw it with wonder and delight. For most, it was their first Burrowing Owl ever. By standing out in the open so near the trail, this bird has been an effective ambassador to humankind for its endangered species.

After filming and talking with park visitors for a while, I headed west to photograph the sunset. That turned out to be lovely to look at but not photogenic, so I returned in the semi-darkness the way I had come. The north owl still occupied its perch. With my lens opened as far as it would go, I filmed a few minutes, excerpted below.

Soon it was too dark to get an image at any camera setting. I kept watching. At precisely 7:36 (today’s time) the bird stepped off the rock to the east and vanished from my sight. I folded up my set and walked east. As I rounded the bend on the northeast corner, I saw the silhouette of a raptor against the dim red of the western sky. It flew low like a harrier, but it was smaller, and flew more slowly, with many dips and changes of direction.

Saturday March 9 2019

During a break in the day’s serial rainstorms, I found the east owl again absent, and the north owl present. The weather in eastern Oregon and eastern Washington has mellowed somewhat from its midwinter lows, and temperatures have climbed into a range where a well-insulated bird could very well survive. Nobody knows where the owls in our park make their homes, but it’s possible that the east owl was among those who live in the states due north of here, and has gone home. How a bird knows when its home area has warmed to the point of safety, I cannot imagine. It must be taking a chance.

The north owl, on the other hand, remains in place, at least in the late mornings and afternoon. Possibly it comes from further north, like inland British Columbia, where temperatures are dancing above and below the freezing point. In any event, here it is, in a moment of repose, though its keen ears are always alert:

North owl at 11:45 a.m.

Friday March 8 2019

At 8:30 a.m. neither the east owl nor the north owl made an appearance. The east owl was last seen on March 4. The north owl was absent yesterday morning but present in the afternoon. I probably will not be able to get to the park this afternoon to check whether the north owl has repeated this pattern.

Thursday March 7 2019

The north owl took the morning off but reappeared after noon in the spot where we’ve grown accustomed to seeing it. Here it is, moments after the sun managed to poke a hole through the clouds. It’s stretching its right wing.

The east owl, however, appeared to be away for the third day in a row.

Wednesday March 6 2019

Rain, rain, rain. The east owl may have had enough of the rain already and taken off for drier pastures, wherever they may be. But the north owl is sticking it out. It stood out in its usual spot through shower after shower, visibly wet and possibly annoyed, but undaunted.

Here’s a short video sample of what it looked like and sounded like. The rattling noise is the rain on my umbrella over the camera.

Tuesday March 5 2019

Today I could not get to the park until 3 p.m., and what I saw gave me grounds for concern. Or rather, what I didn’t see. I didn’t see either the east owl or the north owl. I haven’t had a no-owl day probably since early December or earlier.

Fortunately, photographer John Davis visited earlier in the morning, and saw the north owl in its usual place doing its usual thing. That’s a relief. But he saw no sign of the east owl, despite thorough scanning with his monster zoom lens. That’s worrisome. The east owl has about five spots where it goes, all within a few yards of each other, and if you don’t see it in one of them, you’ll see it in another. Not today.

Here’s what the east owl’s hideaway looks like when the bird is not there. Just to express my feelings, I’m posting this in black and white.

Monday March 4 2019

Today was special because I had the privilege of owl-watching with Stuart Luman, a young reporter for Berkeleyside. Stuart, himself a dog owner who often comes to the park with his 40-pound terrier-shepherd mix, wanted to explore the issue of irresponsible dog owners invading the habitat of the beloved and threatened Burrowing Owls. As luck would have it, both owls showed themselves, at least part of the time, and Stuart was able to observe not only the birds but also the delight of a number of park visitors who stopped to admire them. The east owl stood in its rain position, in the mouth of a burrow, much like on Saturday:

East owl in mouth of a burrow

The north owl perched in its usual position between the fennel stalks, and appeared relatively calm compared to yesterday.

North owl turning its back to park visitors

Sunday March 3 2019

Both owls showed themselves this cloudy Sunday morning, each in its own particular way. The east owl perched in its rocky hideaway, practically invisible from the passing traffic on the paved perimeter trail. The north owl, by contrast, stood with its full body visible, hardly twenty yards from the stream of big mammals. I can’t help thinking that the gap in the birds’ level of alertness, or anxiety, stems from these contrasting levels of exposure. Here’s a split screen video of one minute in the birds’ lives, the east owl on the left, the north owl on the right. I counted 16 head movements for the east owl, tucked away in its rocks, and 40 head movements for the north owl, exposed at the water’s edge.

What do you think? I noticed early in the season that birds do have individual personalities. Some birds were cool with close contact; others took wing at the slightest approach. It just might be that the north owl is a more high-strung bird. But I tend to think that the north owl’s exposed position puts it at greater danger. More than half a dozen dogs have invaded its space that I know of. Some people, also, have not kept their distance. If I were a bird in that position, I too would develop a higher level of alertness.

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3 thoughts on “Owl Diary: March 3-10

  • March 9, 2019 at 5:18 pm
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    Thank you for the beautiful photos. As a dog lover, I am very aware of the fragility of this system and keep my dog away. It seems to me the barrier for the owls is insufficient as a dog deterrent but effective as a person one. I resent not being able to sit at the spaces created for us.

  • March 5, 2019 at 4:23 pm
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    Thank you for your kind words. It means a lot to me.

  • March 4, 2019 at 10:41 pm
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    My hope for these beautiful birds is to have total freedom from harassment from the dogs off leash (and on leash). Thanks for your beautiful photography of the animals in the park, the park itself, and caring about such a special (non smoking)! home to so many.

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