Downy Woodpecker

Golden Gate Park Owls by Walter Kitundu

The four young Great Horned Owls of Golden Gate Park's Stow Lake are on the verge of dispersing. They have been the darlings of bird watchers and photographers for the last few months. Now capable of catching their own rats (the squirrels seem too elusive for the moment), they are becoming competition for their parents and will eventually leave or be escorted from the area. I haven't been out to see them much this season but I did spend an evening with them last week.

Owls often look fierce but this one just looks frustrated. I'm guessing this isn't the first time it has been tormented by the squirrels.

Stretching in the early evening light, the owls prepare for nightfall.

This youngster stays tucked in the longest. Perhaps it had a mid-day meal and is in less of a hurry to hunt. Below, one of its sibling has other ideas.

Success! An almost casual hop into the grass produced a large rat. After making quick work of its meal, the owl settled in for a rest (below).

The squirrels were pressing their luck and tried to sneak down the trunk past the resting owls. The result was this lunging dive straight down the trunk in an attempt to pluck the squirrel off the tree. You can see it escaping down the right side of the trunk.

Having missed its target, the owl pulls out of its dive and, while I'm not one to anthropomorphize, I sense frustration.

This is the same evasive little squirrel. As comfortable with people as with owls I guess.

It really is wonderful to get the chance to see them at close range. There is something to be said for urban birding. The close quarters brings its own challenges but also creates a familiarity/comfort that is hard to find among birds in far flung wilder places. I guess this reverts once you get so far away that lack of exposure brings a comfort aided by ignorance (i.e. the Dodo).

In the dying light I managed this shot of one of the owls rejoining its siblings. They were now very active and calling from all over the hillside but with no light and a long commute I called it a night.

Bonus Bird: Things often happen when you are waiting for birds to do something interesting. This little Downy Woodpecker landed about four feet from me while I was watching a motionless owl. It flitted about for two minutes softly tapping the branch and then jumped into a cavity to roost for the night. While this was going on, the motionless owl executed a beautiful full-body wing stretch that I could only watch from the corner of my eye, my camera settings having been changed to accommodate the woodpecker. A lesson learned...