Owl Diary: Sunday 1/13

No display of expertise goes unpunished. Just yesterday I held forth about “site fidelity” as a quality of Burrowing Owls, as if I knew anything about it. It was a phrase I picked up from a book. So, today the east owl teaches me about “site ambivalence.” That’s not from a book, I just made it up.

When I first approached the area at about 10 a.m., I stepped over the decorative fence to the Open Circle viewpoint and scoped this owl’s past hiding place in the rip-rap, as I have done many times. I found that the bird was not there. OK, then it was probably up top in front of the slab with the white spot. Nope. Two ground squirrels busy there, but no bird. A careful scan of the whole northeast corner revealed no owl.

Just then some park visitors approached and asked about owls, as many do. I explained that I was disturbed and concerned not to see the east owl in either of its habitual spots. As we were chatting, the visitor exclaimed, “There it is! Isn’t that it?” Sure enough, about twenty yards south of the slab with the white spot, on a rock plainly outlined against the blue water of the North Basin, stood the owl.

East owl shows itself momentarily on rocks, 10:18 a.m. Minutes later it went into hiding.

I had never seen it in that spot before. I clicked away. Less than a minute later, the owl hopped down into the rocks, out of our sight. I waited for fifteen minutes for it to show again, in vain. I returned to the Open Circle viewpoint and aimed my longest zoom at the spot in the rip-rap where the owl had roosted when I first saw it on December 6. Bingo!

Consider. December 6 was not the first day the owl roosted in the rip-rap. It was the first day anyone spotted it there. It might well have been there since early October, without anyone knowing. It persisted there and built up “site fidelity” to that spot. It wasn’t until December 30 that I saw it in its new location, in front of the speckled concrete slab with a big white spot of lichen on it. So, its “site fidelity” to the new spot is relatively recent and superficial. This bird has split fidelity. It has site ambivalence.

Meanwhile all seemed serene a few minutes’ walk west at the site of the north owl. It was there, in partial shade, as usual, old reliable.

North owl at 10:45

Reliable, but not asleep. Moments later, while my eyes were full of the camera screen, the bird disappeared. It vanished as quickly as turning out the lights. If it flapped its wings or moved its feet, it did it so fast that my eyes could not catch it. I looked up, and only then saw a Northern Harrier gliding past, two feet or so above the fennel tops. Luckily for the owl, the harrier never paused or gave any sign of interest. The vegetation canopy had protected the owl from detection. Harriers and other raptors of its size are deadly enemies of the Burrowing Owls. These owls are small birds, much smaller than they seem with their feathers puffed up.

I waited some minutes for the owl to resurface, but had to leave. The harrier cruised on over the northern section of the park for some time; I and other park visitors followed it with our eyes as I walked back to the car.

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