Last year, the owl that perched on the rocks on the eastern slope of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary departed for its Spring migration on February 19. Here, on the anniversary of that date, the owl appeared calm and content, even drowsy at moments, and gave no signs of imminent departure. But then, what signs would there be? It doesn’t have bags to pack or tickets to buy. It could just hop into the air, spread its wings, and fly. How often have I wished I could do the same!
A streaming crowd of more than two dozen park visitors, including four kids, got a glimpse of the owl this sunny Sunday morning. It stood in Perch B, of course. As usual, it completely ignored its admirers. During the 40 minutes or so that my video camera filmed it, nothing unusual took place. The owl had no alarms and did no exceptional movements. There was a bit of light preening, and the yawn shown above. Given this lack of “action,” I’ve skipped posting a video and am posting only a still image today.
I hope to be out again tomorrow morning to see whether the owl is doing an extended engagement. In the past, owls have often stayed until the middle of March. It all depends on their estimate of what the climate is now in their breeding grounds, on the level of their reproductive hormones, and on their comfort with the here and now.
Early Bloomer in Native Plant Area
One of the native plants that Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers planted in November 2021 is in full flower this week. It’s the Red Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum. When we planted it, it was about eight inches high. It’s now almost four feet tall and looks to be thriving. The California native plant database, Calscape.org, has this to say about it:
Flowering Currant or Red-flowering Currant is a species in the Grossulariaceae (Currants and Gooseberries) family that is native to western coastal North America from central British Columbia south to central California. It is a deciduous shrub growing up to 13 feet tall. The bark is dark brownish-grey and the leaves are 1-3 inches long and broad. When young in spring, they have a strong resinous scent. The flowers are produced in early spring at the same time as the leaves emerge, on racemes of 5-30 flowers; each flower is 5-10 millimeters in diameter, with five red or pink petals. The fruit is a dark purple oval berry 1 centimeter long, edible but with an insipid taste, best left for the birds. Near the coast it is flexible as to water and exposure. Inland it prefers more water and shade.
Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers. Other birds are attracted to the fruits. It is host plant to several butterfly species.
The Wikipedia writers add that “Both indigenous and non-indigenous people use the berries for food, eating them fresh or dried or making them into jams, pies, juice, or syrup. The flowers can be used to infuse beverages, especially spirits.”
Seeds were brought to England in the 1820s and the plant rapidly became popular. Several cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. In New Zealand, however, it’s considered an invasive weed that crowds out local native vegetation. It’s considered an environmental weed in Tasmania.
This plant is located toward the southern end of the Native Plant Area, not far from the old and now barely visible sign that announced creation of the Native Plant Area in 1984, and close to one of the white plastic poles used to mark the landfill gas extraction wells. Almost all the other natives we planted in late 2021 are also thriving. The Flowering Currant just happens to be among the very earliest springtime bloomers, and one of the prettiest.