(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) and Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina) Jan. 20 2023
Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)

I saw this dark duck in the water off the west side of the park, and wasn’t sure what it was before it suddenly dove and disappeared. That happens all the time. But a second later, a foot or two away, it seemed to be back. That’s unusual. Wait a minute! That’s not a duck! That’s a harbor seal slowly paddling backwards. I worried. Had the seal gobbled the duck? Luckily there was no mess of feathers around its big snout. Half a minute later, the dark duck came to the surface again, in one piece. Sigh of relief. It stayed topside long enough and turned enough angles in the light for me to identify it as a female Surf Scoter. The males have big weird colorful beaks. The females, as is common in the bird world, subscribe to a much more conservative color scheme. I did not see a male.

Surf Scoters used to swarm the Bay waters in the thousands. Now, the appearance of a single bird commands attention. Although seals have been reported killing and eating some species of ducks, it isn’t the seals that caused the drop in the scoters’ population. It’s the loss of habitat and marine disasters, notably the huge Cosco Busan oil spill of 2007.

Harbor seals’ eyes sit on the upside of their heads. When they swim along with their bellies down in what humans would consider a normal position, they can see clearly what’s above them but can’t see very well what’s beneath them. To see the bottom they have to get on their backs, and they spend a significant amount of time swimming in this position. Source. That’s what this seal was doing, leaning way back to scan the water below.

Burrowing Owl Update

The Burrowing Owl in the park this morning sat in Perch A, much to the disappointment of the Sunday morning throngs of park visitors who wished to see the bird. Not only humans wanted to see it. As the photo below shows, the Ground Squirrels also wanted to take in the sight of their rare visitor from another world. It looks like the squirrel crowd consists of one parent, above, and two first-year pups. The owl, for its part, made a show of ignoring them.

California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) and Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Jan 22 2023

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