Saturday, May 22, 2021

Western Burrowing Owl - Owlets

My quest to find burrowing owl owlets found success Thursday in an unexpected way. First thing in the morning, shortly after sunrise, I drove down Vendel Road (north) at the Sunny Bono Salton Sea NWR. I only saw two burrowing owls on the way in, less than usual, and not much other bird life. Right before the NWR outhouse and bird-stand, I took a left turn (west) on the dirt road marked Trifolium Fourteen Drain on the map. I drove down to the section that has the blind, now completely dry, then turned around and drove back (east) to the intersection with Vendel Road. I saw a burrowing owl standing on a post near the intersection. I'd never seen one that far north on the road before. It flew before I could take a photo of it. I started to turn right (south) on to Vendel Road, to leave, then noticed that the owl was now posted on another post about 30 yards east on the Trifolium Fourteen Drain road and I saw several owlets in a depression underneath. 
Initial sighting of burrowing owl owlets. 
The road is posted as "no access" at the intersection of Vendel Road, but it was just a short distance, and I've been looking a long time for owlets, so I drove down and parked on the dirt road across from the den. As I pulled up, driver's side window open in my car, all but one of the owlets scampered inside the drain pipe that is their den, and that one owlet disappeared a minute or two later, after warnings from its parents. One parent waited outside the drain for a minute or so. 
So I turned off the car and waited, probably ten or fifteen minutes. Parents were posted in different places. 

Finally one owlet ventured out, just a peek at first, then got more bold. 

Then a second owlet ventured out. One parent flew in at that point and the most adventurous owlet, chirping away ran up to it. 

Finally a third owlet emerge. 

Then a fourth. 

Finally, both parents flew in together.

One parent looked at me, waving up and down, and scolded me. 
Unfortunately, a NWR employee came driving down the pipeline road from the east and the baby owls scampered back into the den and the parents flew away. He stopped between me and the owls and was very nice and said he would let me take a few more photos, but then I needed to turn around and leave. I knew it would take quite awhile for the owls to come back out, so I turned around and left. 

After this I thought I would be in owlet heaven, imagining seeing owlets all over. But this was it. I found the owls to be much more skittish this day, many flying before I could take their photos. I interpret that to mean that there are lots of owlets in dens, but I suspect that, as with this experience, it probably takes staking out a burrow and waiting awhile for them to appear, and taking a time-risk that the owlets may not be old enough to come out. 

1 comment:

  1. Those eyes seem so unblinking and so it is weird to see a photo with one blinking. They are almost cartoonish.