Two days ago I could not find the owl despite scanning the area in high magnification for close to an hour. A photographer friend with an even longer lens could not find it either. So today when my scanning turned up nothing but grasses, weeds, and ground squirrels, I gave up and started walking westward on the paved perimeter trail. I took just one parting glance south, and BAM, there it was. The owl was sitting boldly upright, plainly visible, a few feet from the abandoned dirt road that used to bisect the Nature Area, and not far from the perimeter trail. The bird had moved to a new spot entirely. Its behavior is quite unlike that of last year’s owl, which stayed in the same exact spot, give or take a couple of feet, for the entire season.
While I watched and filmed, some remote human moron sent his drone whining overhead, breaking at least three different FAA regulations (out of sight, over people, over pathways). The owl reacted sharply. But since the drone was not a known owl predator, the bird held its position. After the drone’s pass, the owl looked directly at me, as if to ask me if I was responsible. Thereafter, the owl scanned the sky repeatedly, looking nervous and stressed. As I stood watching, some other trigger I could not identify spooked the owl and it flew off eastward and disappeared from my view into the low vegetation. I could not spot it again after that.
The park’s wildlife has enough to worry about without adding drones. There are valid and highly useful things that drones can accomplish, but running random exploration and harassment missions is not one of them. Out of consideration for wildlife and for people, other parks in the East Bay have banned drones entirely. Is it time for the City of Berkeley Parks and Waterfront Department to do the same?