Our weekend Burrowing Owl trip to Joshua Tree, California

For those of you that know Anne and I you know that of all the species of owls the Burrowing Owl tops our list of flavors. At just under 10 inches long, with a wingspan of 21 inches and a weight of 5 oz. these guys have a personality and clown like behavior that instantly grabs your heart. So when my brother calls me Friday morning to tell me he spotted 15 to 20 Burrowing Owls a few blocks from his house in Joshua Tree California my first reaction was, “we’ll be there tonight”. Now, Morro Bay to Joshua Tree is 350 miles and 6 1/2 hours of cross country semi trucks and impatient drivers speeding to reach their destination. You start by going over the Coastal Range and Cascade Mountains to Bakersfield, over Tehachapi to Kramer Junction, straight to Barstow, then down Hwy. 247 to Joshua Tree. I only mention all this because Anne was so busy at work Friday her first call to check in was at 3:15 in the afternoon when I broke the news that we were leaving for the desert as soon as she could get home. Before we knew it the car was packed the dog was at her favorite weekend retreat and we were heading for the desert at 4:30, just 45 minutes after Anne called me. I ramble on because I am confessing that I will never again drive that route on a Friday night, not even for a box of twenty dollar bills.
After arriving at my brothers house just after 11:00 pm we exchanged a few hugs and settled into a glass of wine to relax. The conversation quickly changed to the Burrowing Owls when my brother informed us that he had decided to check out the burrow that afternoon. He said that when he looked into the burrow he could see several eyes looking at him just inside the hole. It was then that we knew our hopes to photograph a colony of juveniles and adults numbering 15 to 20 was now but a dream. If there was one or two clutches of fledgling owlets and adults the adults had most likely already relocated their offspring to a safer secondary burrow or location far from the threat. My brother not realizing it had himself become a predatory threat just as if he was a Desert Fox or Coyote. We did however stay with the plan to arrive at the burrow site just before dawn in hopes for a successful morning of photography. Unfortunately our suspicions were indeed correct and by the end of the morning our only sightings were the two images I posted here and on my Flickr page. Just before wrapping up the morning we did spot several perched in and under a Creosote bush about 200 yards away but at that distance could not tell if adults or juveniles. We reluctantly decided to be there again on Sunday morning but this time we did not have a single sighting or even hear the familiar sounds of the morning calls. I am indeed happy with the two singles I captured and only disappointed that the 15-20 were not around. The moral of this story, if there is one, is to inform those not familiar with the behaviors of the wild to stay clear and be curious from a distance only.

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