By Frances Dupont
The Burrowing Owls are back!
And this year, Golden Gate Audubon is expanding its Burrowing Owl docent program beyond Berkeley to cover a 30-mile stretch of the East Bay – from Point Pinole to Hayward.
Over 30 enthusiastic volunteers attended the annual Burrowing Owl Docent Training Workshop at the Shorebird Nature Center in the Berkeley Marina on Sept. 28. GGAS now has twenty new docents and 19 experienced docents to cover the expanded area during the 2013-2014 season.
The first owl of the season was officially spotted the day after the workshop by our youngest docent ever – a nine-year-old bird lover who had just been through our training!
The owl showed up within the boundaries of the art installation at the northeast corner of Cesar Chavez Park, where owls have now been observed for up to 10 years. The area includes protective walls and fencing that discourage dogs and people from disturbing the owl, and signs that talk about the Burrowing Owls and other wildlife that inhabit this former dump site.
Golden Gate Audubon docents visit this area regularly to help people find and observe the well-camouflaged little owls, using binoculars, scopes, or cameras with large lenses. Docents answer questions about the owls and offer suggestions about how to protect them, including gentle reminders about the importance of keeping dogs on leash along the shoreline trails.
The Burrowing Owls come to Chavez Park around the 1st of October after a busy summer raising families somewhere farther north. One banded owl was found to have come from Idaho. A recent study of Burrowing Owls in Washington state concluded that it is mainly the females who come as far south as California, while most of the males stay closer to home.
Because Burrowing Owls are found all along the East Bay shoreline, the GGAS Burrowing Owl program is expanding its scope by attempting to locate and document as many as possible of the shoreline owls between Point Pinole and Hayward. This will be a tough task, considering how well hidden they can be, and that some of the sites where they might be hiding out are inaccessible.
We know that the owls come to Chavez Park in Berkeley, Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline Park in Alameda, and Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont. Those three locations are great places to look for the owls if you want to see them. Finding the others will be a matter of luck, effort, and help from other bird-watchers.
Next spring, a male Burrowing Owl in Idaho or Washington will be standing at his burrow, waiting for a mate to arrive from her winter vacation in California. Let’s hope it was a good vacation at a safe burrow with lots of insect and rodent food, and not a constant struggle to remain safe from careless human feet, loose dogs, predatory raccoons and foxes, poisoned mice and bulldozers.
This year we hope to post monthly updates on the owls, how to enjoy them, and how to protect them.
How to help: You can help protect the overwintering Burrowing Owls of San Francisco Bay by reporting owl sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are collecting information on when they arrive, when they depart, and GPS locations of the burrows. The goal is to document the presence of the owls and to protect them when possible.
Frances Dupont is a retired biologist and volunteer who works with several local organizations that serve to increase appreciation and conservation of the unique San Francisco Bay urban wilderness interface. She has served as a docent with Golden Gate Audubon’s Cesar Chavez Park Burrowing Owl program for four years.