Editor's Notes

The owls of Bernal Hill
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tredmond@sfbg.com

I complain a lot too. I understand: The buses don't run on time. Everything costs too much, particularly a place to live, if you can even find one. Traffic is terrible, and there's no place to park. Developers keep destroying good stuff and putting up ugly stuff.

And then there are moments like last Sunday afternoon, when my kids and I spent a couple hours communing with the pair of great horned owls that decided to take up residence in a tree on Bernal Hill.

The owls showed up a couple weeks ago. They sleep during the day, on branches maybe 25 feet off the ground, opening their yellow eyes every once in a while to cast a nonchalant glance at the humans and their dogs gawking up from below. They don't seem to mind the fact that they're constantly the center of attention, that it sometimes feels like a zoo exhibit up on the hill — except these aren't captive creatures. They actually live here.

Great horned owls don't tend to hang out in urban areas; I've never seen one before in San Francisco. But our new neighbors seem well at home on the hill, where there are plenty of mice, rats, and other small mammals to hunt. They've become quite the attraction; even Vivian, who isn't exactly a nature girl, was excited to walk up and see them.

Michael, of course, was way into owls long before these guys showed up. He knew that they eat their prey whole but can't digest fur, feathers, bones, teeth, or claws, and that once a day they burp that stuff up in a tight wad called a pellet. Naturally, we had to go looking.

So we climbed around the base of the tree for about half an hour, searching for owl pellets. They don't look a whole lot different from dog turds, which are also common to this particular habitat, but I'd brought a couple sharp wooden barbecue spears to poke around with. After a few unpleasant errors, I snagged one; we took it home, picked it apart with tweezers, and managed to extract what appeared to be almost an entire mouse skeleton, which is now in a carefully labeled specimen jar on a shelf in the kids' room.

After a quarter of a century in San Francisco, the city continues to amaze me.

I mention this in part because I happened to be looking for something else on the SF Weekly Web site the other day and came upon a peculiar and typically nasty piece columnist Matt Smith had written in the guise of advice to out-of-town reporters descending on the city to find out about the place whence comes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

I'm sure he was trying to be funny, but in the end all I got was bile and vitriol. One typical comment:

"People move here, meet a group of fighting-mad friends, then join one of the city's myriad wars: dog-owners vs. parents, renters vs. owners, bus-riders vs. drivers, bohemians vs. geeks, everybody against newcomers.

"A few years ago, I denounced the city as a petty battle zone."

That's one way to look at it. Me, I love the fact that people in the city care enough to fight for its future.

Not to go after our corporate-chain rivals (who? me?), but I have to wonder sometimes: do the folks at the SF Weekly even like San Francisco? *