Golden Gate Park (1/11/2022)

Today I went to see if I could find the Great Horned Owls of the Chain of Lakes. They’d been reported in the solo pine tree opposite the Bison Paddock over the weekend, where they’ve nested for many years. And, I FOUND THEM!

Well, not at first. I looked in that tree when I first arrived, foolishly thinking I might be able to see them. NOPE. Just some fantastic clusters of Honey Mushrooms and some blooming Bird’s-eye Speedwell across the street from it.

I moved on to the Chain of Lakes Garden, planning to end my Naturing with another visit to that pine tree. I was expecting very little to be happening at the garden, but stuff was happening! A couple sages, Red-flowering Currant, Sandrose Mallow, Orange Bush Monkeyflower, Blueblossom, California Bee Plant, Perez’s Sea Lavender, and Three-cornered Garlic were all blooming.

I even spotted a cluster of young Honey Mushroom. They’re always so cute when they’re young and small and haven’t turned into pancakes yet. They always look like they’re huddled together and think they’re hiding successfully or something.

Onto North Lake, where I always do the loop around it clockwise. No idea why. First stop was the first feeding area. Despite the sign, people always feed animals here. Squirrels and California Towhees and Song Sparrows were all there. And, oddly, a medium size group of Mallards were just sitting on the lake. Not moving. Not making noise. I felt like I had come upon a group meeting, and they were holding still to not look like they were up to anything. Even a Japanese Carp was hanging around, underneath them. Still. Very still. SO WEIRD.

Crossing the bridge, I got to see water on the non-lake side, for the first time ever?? As I reached the other side of the bridge, I was overcome with a deliciously sweet scent. Blooming Cherry Laurel! I’m so glad I smelled it as I’d have missed it otherwise. Definitely going in The Book.

Got to a spot where I could see across the lake, and two Black-crowned Night Herons were dozing far apart from each other amongst the reeds. Nice. I love when I can see them.

Sage-leaved Rock-Rose were blooming away. I recognized Sugi on the island ahead. And, more Honey Mushrooms were hiding along that secret path to the lake edge.

Right about then, I started hearing a Belted Kingfisher. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear it once I got to the north end. And, I sadly never saw it. I hate when I can’t see them.

At the north end, I started to hear Red-winged Blackbirds. Can often hear but can rarely see them. Northern Shovelers were doing their thing. Don’t think I’ve ever seen them at North Lake before? Plus, a couple Buffleheads, one of which pedaled right to me. And, that was ODD to me. They are so skittish at Stow Lake!

Got to the east spot where you can get to the lake edge, and the Mallards were going to town on some seed-looking thing on the ground someone dumped there. I sat there for a bit, looking at the birds across the lake. Ring-necked Ducks, Pied-billed Grebes, Hooded Mergansers, and American Coots were all around.

After failing miserably to get a decent photo of a Common Yellowthroat that was hopping furiously through the reeds, I noticed A BUNCH of sparrows sitting patiently in the Blueblossom bushes. SO WEIRD. Were they just enjoying another warmish winter day? After realizing they were focused on the Mallards the entire time, I got it. They were waiting for an opportunity to get in on that seed stuff on the ground! They were not just chilling. Not at all.

At the last openish spot to the lake on the east side, I spotted a Black-crowned Night Heron across the way that was actually awake! And, some newtome (I think) mushroom (I think) – White Tubelet?? And a Double-crested Cormorant way up high in a tree. Same spot I saw one in some months ago!

Blooming and fruiting Silverleaf Cotoneaster and blooming Golden Currant were ahead. While admiring the latter, I heard a waterfall sound from the south end. And, I was able to walk over to it. Never heard it so loud before, maybe? Never got such a good look at the pipe and waterfall over there.

After stopping to look at the blooming Winter’s Bark at the corner, I made my way back to the owls’ pine tree. And, as I got to the Bison Paddock fence, I heard SUCH LOUD HOOTING. I couldn’t believe how loud it sounded. And, coming right from that pine! Both started hooting away. I approached someone taking photos with a long zoom lens and asked if she was seeing them. YES. I let her know the female was the one making the high pitch hoot. She appreciated the info. She showed me a couple great shots she got and left, planning to return another day.

Both of the GHOs were WAY HIGH UP. It was tough to see them well. And, I only got crap pics of them. So, crap pics below for the owl fans.

Luckily, I was able to stay a while. So, I did. I’ve never watched this pair start hunting from this side of JFK before. And, I was very curious which direction they’d go.

Two people soon appeared behind me, one was trying to record them (in vain, due to all the motor traffic on JFK right there). We watched for a while, remarking on how they nested in the pine to the right last year. It’s neat how many people pay attention to this pair and their owlets. Guess that happens when they’re so close to a major walkway and roadway.

I walked over to the east side of the tree and completely lost where the male was. Then, he climbed up near the very top. At which point, I could not help but notice the glorious sunset the opposite way.

The female flew off first, to that pine they nested in last year. Both continued to hoot. At that point, an older Russian couple came up to see. We chatted about the owls for a bit. They knew a lot about their nesting trees, too. Then, the female flew southeast into the eucs. Another younger couple came up, looking for the owls. And, we all chatted about them. Then, the male owl flew the same direction as his partner. And, we all talked about the various birds on North Lake right now. The Russian couple listed everything they’d seen. And, I got to tell them what Northern Shovelers were.

After all the catching up on what birds were at North Lake today, we all parted ways. And, it felt nice. It felt like we all felt it was nice to chat with others as interested in all the birds we saw at North Lake today. It was more than nice. It was good. It’s good to have positive interactions with strangers. Especially these days.

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