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.