February 2014 home page

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Owls on the Prowl
Shirley King | Avenida Primavera

Top left:  Pocket gophers are stout-bodied rodents with small ears and eyes and large clawed front paws.  Google Images
Bottom left: Barn Owl in flight.  Google Images.
Right: Barn Owl Nest Box at Shores Park.  Photo Shirley King
Click on images to enlarge.

Having teeth that never stop growing and powerful forearms and paws with pick-ax claws make the pocket gopher an unstoppable tunnel-borer. Pocket gophers may move earth more reliably than tunnel-boring machines such as Bertha that is stalled in downtown Seattle’s Highway 99 Tunnel project. But pocket gophers are sinking their teeth deep into the turf at Del Mar’s public parks and many of our back yards.

Our Shores Park is being excavated by pocket gophers right under the noses of the many dogs who visit the green space. Despite the dogs’ inquisitive snouts thrust into the burrow entrances, these gophers stay put moving a ton of soil to the surface each year. If only we could give them a bus ticket to Seattle.

At this time we don’t have a job opening for the ecological services provided by the gophers. Nor are we ready with our Shores Park Master Plan that may eventually require some earth moving. We must move on to a plan to preserve the integrity of our Park’s soil. The Del Mar Garden Club has taken the lead once again with a thoughtful action plan to accelerate natural gopher population control - offering tenancy to a predator.

Attracting barn owls with a secure shelter for reproduction and of course a nocturnal source for nourishment is a good environmental arrangement. The Garden Club hosted a meeting in November when Sharon and Bert Kersey spoke about the use of a barn owl nest box. Soon after, a nesting box with a camera system was purchased and installed by the Garden Club just to the east of the basketball court. With luck a barn owl couple will start a family in January, the eggs hatching after thirty days and flying the coop by April. If the supply of food is sufficient, - they search within a mile radius - then they may start another family in the summer.

No doubt our neighborhoods can supply the barn owls with the 1000 rats, mice and gophers they consume each year. But it is ever so important that we give up the practice of using poison to bait the pesky rodents in our yards and that goes for the neighboring hotels and restaurants. The Garden Club doesn’t want to lose its foster home license. And we should let the barn owls become our pest management services.

If you would like to become a landlord to a barn owl family, the boxes without cameras cost about $160 and are available from a local source in San Diego. Ask Becky Dembitsky for the contact or write The Sandpiper at editor@delmarsandpiper.org

Many thanks to the Del Mar Garden Club for coming to the rescue again.


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