Sunday, February 26, 2012

Borrow Your Burrow?

Burrowing Owls are probably one the top five cutest birds of all time. They're small, they live in prairie dogs burrows (and other excavations), they've got owl proportions, and they've got attitude. Somehow I managed to live in Arizona for 18 years without seeing them in the wild, though to be fair I've only been seriously birding for the last couple. I finally got proactive and went out to the Rio Salado preserve in south central Phoenix. There were reported owl sites near an old gravel pit, and the rumors did not disappoint.


A couple of these bold sentinels stood guard above their burrows and watched the setting sun. There is a railed walkway that guides the spectator parallel with the dirt ridge where the owls make their homes, keeping about thirty feet distance between the owl ridge and any onlookers. It was too bad that the evening sun was somewhat behind the birds. But on the other hand, I like this negative lighting. Maybe this is stretching it a bit to say, but there seems to be something very western about that bright setting sun and the silhouettes its leaves, and there's something western about the Burrowing Owls. After all, the sun sets in the west...


There are also communities of Burrowing Owls around the Scottsdale Community College, so I went there in the hopes of getting some closer, albeit less scenic shots. Driving around the campus, I wasn't exactly sure where the owls were supposed to be, but then I had to slam on the breaks! There, standing next to a little drainage hole in the curb of the parking lot sidewalk, was Mr. Owl.


Well, you can't always pick your spot. I was thrilled to see the bird so close, but his position and the lighting did necessitate that I get on the school-side of the parking lot, which meant that the owl's lower half was mostly hidden from the camera. 



As you can see from the red stripe, this Burrowing Owl had made his home, quite illegally, in a No Parking Zone! He seemed quite unconcerned, and spent most of his time looking skywards, though I did not see any hawks or other birds myself.


Here's a quick look at the nictitating membrane, as well as his blurry nostrils.


I really couldn't figure out what he was staring out. Now I think maybe he was just prognosticating, you know, looking into the future? Given this expression, he must have seen something quite shocking. I like how the pupil in the left eye is smaller than the right. Behold, the symbol of WISDOM!


I had a blast with the Burrowing Owls this week. They're beautiful in their whites and browns, and they will give you more expressions in fifteen seconds than any other bird, and probably more than most people.

What're you lookin' at, punk!?


I discovered a family of 4 Burrowing Owls near some farmland just north of the Tres Rios site in west Phoenix on 05/17/2012. The first Owl I spotted was actually perched atop telephone wire (the highest I've ever seen a Burrowing Owl perch). The next three were all sitting atop little marker posts on the edge of the field, watching the sun go down to bring up the night. 

30 comments:

  1. Terrific shots! Burrowing Owls were the school mascot where Maureen and I went to graduate school, and they made burrows in a few places on campus. We still never managed to get looks nearly this good!

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    1. That sounds like a very wise choice in mascot, hehe. I know they have em' in Florida. How about in Georgia?

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    2. Unfortunately, we've left them behind with the Snail Kites and Black-whiskered Vireos... No Burrowing Owls in Georgia :(

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    3. Oh darn. Well at least you all still have uh...peaches? I hope you didn't prefer oranges. Well, I'm looking forward to your Prothonotary presentation at any rate!

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  2. I'm green with envy! The few opportunities I've had to look for burrowing owls yielded nothing!! They certainly are adorable.

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    1. Sorry to hear Karen! Well, if you ever end up in Arizona, I know a great spot... : )

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  3. I love BUOW's! Great photos, you really captured their hilarious facial expressions. But perhaps seeing 'facial expressions' in birds makes us more even more nerdy than previously thought...if that is even possible! Good stuff.

    It's funny how we can live so long in a place and not see some of the birds that are there - I've been in Maine for years and I still have to get out to see an Atlantic Puffin!

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    1. Thanks Lauren. If it makes you feel any better I've never seen an Atlantic Puffin either, nor a Pacific Puffin. I thought I saw an invisible Puffin once, but the photos didn't turn out.

      Yes, I fear that geeking out about Burrowing Owls is a sure sign of nerdom, but it's too much fun to leave alone. Perhaps we need to buy nifty hats and then wear them backwards, that we might retain some coolness.

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  4. Killer shots Laurence! Cool encounter.

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  5. I am so jealous!!! I've been hoping to see a Burrowing Owl for a long time! What an amazing experience it looks like you had. Your photos are incredible. I love the close ups, especially the last one.

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    1. Thanks Tammy. I'll be looking forward to those Florida Burrowers when you get the shot!

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    1. Thanks Ken, always a pleasure to have you stop by.

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  7. These images are great Laurence, they sure show the character of Burrowing Owls well. I simply adore these owls, they make me laugh. And yes, there is somethng very "western" about Burrowing Owls.

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    1. Thanks Mia. Your fantastic Owl shots have had me yearning to see some Burrowing Owls for a long time now. I'm hoping there might be some juvenile later this spring, but that thought also makes me nervous since their burrow doesn't seem to be in the safest place.

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  8. Great closeups! Cool throat feathers...definitely one of the most photogenic birds we have. I worked on a Burrowing Owl for 2 springs in southern California, after that I only grew to love them more.

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    1. Thanks Seagull. They're beautiful birds that seem to combine their aesthetic very nicely with all the best expressions of grumpy elderly people. It must've been a blast to work with them up close.

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  9. Fantastic series of images Laurence, sadly no Burrowing Owls here in the UK but we do have plenty of Little Owls, very similar with loads of attitude only with shorter legs!

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  10. Thanks Paul. The Burrowing Owls and Little Owls do have remarkably similar plumage, but I do like the Little Owl's yellow beak. It's fun to read about your work with the Little and Short Eared Owls over there in the UK. But I must ask, are you ever tempted to go owling here in the U.S.? What'd be your top species if you did?

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  11. Super shot so these cute little Owls! thanks for sharing!

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    1. Always a pleasure dAwN, thanks for stopping by.

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  12. fantastic looks and photos Laurence. I would love to see these in person some day.

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    1. Thanks Dan. You've all got those woodland owls up your way so we can call it even : ) We'll have to trade one day

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  13. Priceless views! I agree they are on the top few for cutest birds :)

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    1. Thank you Debbie. I'm figuring Chickadees might be up there too. What else do you reckon can compete in the cute department?

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  14. I know very little about birds, but I dig your bloggie blog. Second to last photo is now my desktop background. Yes. I stole it.

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    1. Ha! Thanks Jacqui. I take that as quite the compliment. I'm glad you stopped by.

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  15. I'm on the hunt for these guys along with the Elf Owls. I must find them before the year is over. It's so hot up in Phoenix. I'm afraid I'll die:) However, we are heading up there at the end of this month. Maybe if I wear an A/C suit, I'll be okay:)

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    1. If you get that suit working Chris I want one. Let me know when you're heading up. I have a few Burrowing Owl spots that'll likely give us something. The Elf Owls...you're probably better off finding those in Tucson this time of year. I only hear of them in the Phoenix area during the fall. It think it's called the...Batiste Bed and Breakfast...they have breeding pair of Elf Owls for some years now.

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