The first Burrowing Owl spotted in the park this season chose the Nature Area on the north side of the park as its winter home, at least for now. Credit goes again to Mary Malec for being the first to spot it yesterday; she was also the first to spot the owl last year. This was not easy. I scanned the site yesterday and did not see the bird. This morning, after having seen Mary’s report, I spent a good half hour scouring the site with a long zoom lens, inch by inch, without seeing it . I was ready to give up when finally I saw a familiar silhouette half hidden in the grasses. The bird sat in a small shallow and could be seen only from one angle. It stood upright for a few minutes while I clicked and filmed, then suddenly dove into a nearby Ground Squirrel hole. The reason became obvious in a couple of seconds: a loose dog, its owner nowhere to be seen, was roaming the Nature Area, sniffing and poking its head into holes. (The Nature Area is closed to dogs and humans.)
The owl’s location at the moment lay about fifteen yards further east and about 20 yards further south than the location of last year’s owl in the Nature Area. The best viewing spot this morning was on the paved path about nine or ten paces east of the green post sticking out of the ground next to a slim white plastic pipe, just east of the Barn Owl box on the north side. From there, the bird lay about 50 yards south-south-east. The owl could not be seen from the dirt road that begins below the Barn Owl box.
Burrowing Owls are sociable when breeding. This they do in the warmer months in northern latitudes. The only owl seen here that could be identified wore a band indicating it had come from Idaho; this was years ago. Veteran bird watchers estimate that owls that come to winter here probably came from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and farther north. During their winter stays, the birds are solitary. Males and females are practically indistinguishable except to one another. Whether the owl seen today is the same one that was here last year is probably unanswerable.
Want to know more? A YouTube film about last year’s owl in the Nature Area is the “Meadow Owl Movie,” 6:24 in length. A longer documentary (23:54) that looks at the owls that visited during the 2018-2019 winter season is “The Owls Came Back.” This website also contains more than 100 short videos and snapshots featuring Burrowing Owls in Cesar Chavez Park.