Owl’s Morning Ritual

First Owl around 9 a.m. on December 16 2021 (Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia)

The First Owl — first to be discovered on November 2 — continues to remain invisible to most park visitors. To remedy that, the video shows a two-minute excerpt from the owl’s almost hourlong morning ritual of preening, fluffing, and scratching. This is serious business for birds; they depend on their feathers like we depend on our clothing, but they can’t throw it in the wash at night, so daily maintenance is a must. This little video also shows the relaxed relationship between the owl and the resident Ground Squirrels. Two of the squirrels squat less than a yard from the bird, and at one point both bird and squirrel are having their morning scratch. Neither seems in the least pressurized by the other.

To see the First Owl, you have to stand in the Open Circle Viewpoint, and to get there you have to cross the knee-high fence that’s clearly marked “Area Closed.” Due to a design decision made more than a decade ago, and now clearly in need of correction, the artistic fence around the northeast corner of the park cuts off access to the Open Circle Viewpoint. the prime birding spot in the park. As a Burrowing Owl docent and photographer who has documented these owls for several years, I cross that fence. I’ve also shown the owl to a few serious photographers and birders equipped with long lenses, and I’ve discouraged people not so equipped from entering the viewpoint. The bird sits 100+ yards away and without optics you can’t see it. It would be ideal if birders with scopes could set up in the viewpoint and invite the public to see this owl, as is often done in other contexts, but the mislocated fence makes this practically impossible. As I’ve been saying for years, the fence ought to be relocated just to the north so that the viewpoint is open while travel further into the owl sanctuary is blocked. There has been talk that Park management is moving on this fence but so far it’s been just talk.

First Owl with two ground squirrels around 9 a.m. on December 16 2021 (Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia)

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