By GEORGE VARGA
On the evening of May 30, a group of students and their teacher from John Muir School who were camping at Kumeyaay Lake Campground joined me for a star party. As I was setting up at the Day Use Parking Lot, a greater roadrunner came by twice to check up on me. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera to document this bird and what was to come.
When the students got on the scene, it was still not dark enough so I aimed the telescope on an aircraft warning light atop the tallest radio towers by Mast Boulevard. Then out of the no-longer-blue sky, a great horned owl appeared. It circled majestically over the group and landed in a tree no more than 30 yards away.
Quickly, I aimed the telescope on the bird, got it in focus and had the students start observing. Excitement was the order of the evening as the students shared their views with others who were waiting to observe. With about four or five students still waiting to look, the owl took flight. The disappointment of the students was palpable.
The owl must have heard the words of disappointment because it changed its flight plan and circled overhead once and landed atop another tree a bit farther away. The bird posed long enough for all students and the teacher to view the owl. Many of the students then got a second view before the bird was off to hunt for its meal.
At a magnification of 78X, all we could see of the owl was a little bit of the breast and its beautiful head with the prominent ears. In both views, the owl was looking right at the telescope.
At the end of the evening, the students and teacher agreed that observing a few globular clusters, the star Arcturus, and the planet Jupiter with all four Galilean moons was exciting, but the “star” of the evening was the great horned owl. I wholeheartedly agreed.
— George Varga is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.