Byxbee Park (one of the local bird spots I visit occasionally) has seen a recent explosion in the california ground squirrel population. While I have always seen plenty of these squirrels running across the trails, or peeking their heads out of the tops of bushes, it has never been in these numbers. When this park was created from an old landfill conversion, small mounds were built to create habitat for these squirrels. I’m not sure what has caused the increase in population, but they have been thriving this fall and winter.
A healthy ground squirrel population is a sign of good things to come for birders (and bird photographers!) First and foremost, there have been an abundance of raptors, more than happy to contribute their part to squirrel population control. This park has always been a good place to see birds of prey in flight, but a high prey count can only help. Secondly, an increase in ground squirrels means an increase in burrows. The burrowing owl will take residence in existing homes (including those of the ground squirrel). While I have not seen any burrowing owls in this area yet, I am hopeful that one or two families might take up residence here. The main deterrent to burrowing owls here is that this park is also a popular dog walking area. Too often I see dog owners ignore all of the signs, and let their dogs roam off-lease, potentially disturbing sensitive habitat. For the burrowing owl, all we can do is wait and see.