It looks like we have two resident owls in the park this winter season.
The east owl (a/k/a “Owl on the Rocks”) had gone back to its hiding place in the rip-rap when I passed by around four in the afternoon of New Year’s Day. Photographer Phil Rowntree saw this bird early in the morning up on the plateau in front of the big slab where it was sighted yesterday and the day before. Maybe the bird is forming a new habit of going topside to the slab when the sun is shining, and back into hiding among the big rocks as sunset approaches. By the time I got there, the sun was so low and the shadows so heavy that my photos needed post-production massage to bring out the bird. The bird didn’t help by hiding so deep behind the rock that only the top of its head and one shoulder stuck out.
At one point, a Black Phoebe flew in and landed on the rock directly in front of the owl. I worried a bit. After all, owls are raptors, and big owls could certainly be bad news for little birds. But the Phoebe showed no concern and the owl showed no interest. Burrowing Owls are quite small, even with their feathers puffed up, and underneath that fine coat, they’re smaller still. The owl held its position behind the rock.
The north owl, by contrast, obviously having survived the stormy winds of yesterday morning, perched in its usual notch by the water’s edge, plainly visible from the paved trail. I set up my camera on tripod there and had the pleasure of treating at least a dozen park visitors to the delight of their very first encounter with a Burrowing Owl. Out of approximately thirty park visitors who passed, only two declined my invitation to look at the bird, and these had their heads buried in head phones and lived in an alternate universe.
When the light dimmed I moved west to shoot the sunset. On retracing my path, I saw in the semi-darkness what looked exactly like a Burrowing Owl in the grass just north of the trail. As I approached, with a lost dog following me, the bird flew silently across the path into the Nature Area. I lost it there in the dusk. I wonder if it has a place in that little quasi-wilderness where it spends the night, or if this is its hunting ground. The light was too dim for me to see by, but for the owl, it was probably as good as daylight, and without the glare. They are crepuscular, and this was the crepuscule, as the French say.