By Vic Leipzig
When I first moved to Orange County back in 1981, I saw Burrowing Owls just about every day. I saw them when I commuted to the UC campus in Irvine, and when I visited the campus of Coastline College in Fountain Valley. I also found the birds at Costa Mesa High School and Centennial Park, as well as the Plano Trabuco and Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
Some of these birds were winter visitors, coming down here from their breeding grounds farther north and at higher elevation. But many Orange County birds were year-round residents, like those that bred at the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. But even in the 1980's the owl was in decline. Its grassland habitat was being gobbled up by urban development.
Today, the Burrowing Owl is in decline statewide, and is completely gone as a breeding bird in Orange County. About 70% of the breeding population today is in Imperial Valley, but it is in steep decline there as well, with only about 4,000 breeding pairs remaining. It is probably past time to put Burrowing Owls on the Endangered Species list.
We still get the occasional winter visitor. We are delighted when we get the chance to see one, like the single bird that arrived a few weeks ago to a burrow adjacent to the Brightwater Trail on the Bolsa Chica mesa. Take a stroll along the trail. Look between the Tidal View Lane access and the Kennebunk Lane access for a small, pale brown lump with bright yellow eyes. You'll find it posted at the entry to a burrow in the small ravine below the trail. Wish the bird good luck when you see it. It will need it.