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Saturday, January 19, 2013


The forecast was calling for relatively large long period swell today, so how could I resist a trip to the coast?  I was walking along the outer bluffs of Bodega Head, watching the waves and trying to get some photographs.  

I wasn't having much luck, so I started experimenting with taking close-ups of the tops of the waves.

The green color drew me in:

I was standing in place and stopped briefly to adjust my camera settings.  When I looked up to scan the ocean for potential waves, I was shocked to see this bird sitting on the ground not that far away from me.  I hadn't noticed it, and it hadn't noticed me!  The only thing I can imagine is that the loud rumbling and crashing waves had masked the sounds of my footsteps along the trail.

Soon the bird sensed my presence and turned towards me.  I felt badly, as I didn't want to disturb it, but at that point there wasn't much I could do.

I stayed very still, but it took off and flew along the coast with the ocean in the background.

What an amazing view of such a special bird!  This is a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus).  You can see the "short ears" (actually feather tufts, not true ears) in the first two photos, and here's a close-up.  And look at those eyes!  And the beautiful tawny feathers.

I'm not sure what the owl was doing there, but I can't help anthropomorphize a bit.  When I first saw the owl, its position and posture made me think it was watching the waves.  It looked so peaceful sitting in the sun looking out at the ocean.  Who knows if owls enjoy waves, but it was fun to wonder about! 

[Later I read that Short-eared Owls are known to sun-bathe — "by facing sun, closing eyes, extending head forward and spreading wings." (Wiggins, Holt, and Leasure 2006)]

Short-eared Owls are rare winter residents on Bodega Head.  Small mammals, such as voles, are their preferred prey. 

Here's something else you can look for in the images.  Owls cough up the materials they can't digest (fur and bones) in a compact mass called a pellet.  Can you find a dark gray pellet in the first owl photograph?  Warning: a clue comes next.  

If you look carefully, I think there's a pellet just to the left of the owl.  I'm not 100% certain, since I didn't see it until reviewing the images, but it seems like a possibility.

P.S.  I feel obligated to say that Short-eared Owl populations have declined and that they are sensitive to disturbance.  This was an accidental encounter, and I didn't move once I realized the owl was there, but generally I would not advise approaching an owl so closely or disrupting its behavior.

1 comment:

Joyce Wilson sanford said...

What an eye you have ANDthe ability to let us see what you see.