Every year, the Venice Area Birding Association plans a trip to visit the burrowing owls of Cape Coral. For quite a few years, we combined this trip with a visit to Pine Island’s Randall Research Center. But as the years went by, we observed fewer birds at that site.
This year, we decided to stop by the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center’s Alligator Creek Preserve. This site was established in 1987 and was leased to CHEC. The center is used for environmental education and recreational activities. There are approximately 4 miles of walking trails. We chose the yellow trail, which is about a mile long.
Our group of 11 gathered together at the entrance. The first pond did not have any bird activity, and neither did the second. I started to get concerned about the lack of birds and bird noise. We are always listening for bird song.
Soon we started sighting some black vultures overhead and hearing cardinals singing in the brush. We also sighted and heard several red-bellied woodpeckers. Mourning doves cooed at us as we hiked on through dense woodland. It is always more difficult to sight birds when the spring foliage blooms out on the trees.
We watched several ospreys as they flew over. One had a large fish in its talons. We later spotted an osprey nest located on top of a huge water tank.
It was apparent we were not going to see an abundance of birds this day. It was then that Celia reminded us that the Japanese take walks through the woods to enrich the soul and being. This was a beautiful thought and reminded us that even a day with a low bird count can still be a very good day.
We heard and sighted several catbirds along the trail, and also heard some red-winged blackbirds and a Carolina wren. We got a quick look at a blue-gray gnatcatcher. We stopped still in our tracks so we could all have a chance to see a black-and-white warbler working the bark of a tree for insects right at the path edge.
A marsh of black needlerush did not have any sparrows popping up for us. However, Celia spotted a pileated in the snag of a tree far across the marsh. This is what we call having a good eye. She also noted that the needlerush foliage is used for basketry.
At the same site, Jean called a belted kingfisher. This was right after we were talking about whether they all had gone north yet. We do not have these birds in Florida over the summer. As we headed back, Brenda thought she heard a great crested flycatcher and soon it was spotted. The breast was a beautiful green color instead of yellow — quite unusual.
We were eager to get to the owls, but lunch came first. After all, even birders must know their priorities. Afterward, we went to an area where we knew the burrowing owls have created a community. It was sad to see several owl burrows were disturbed by construction.
On one lot we counted five burrows. They may not all have been in use. Just in that two-block area, we spotted at least a dozen owl burrows. The areas are staked off with white pipes, and observers are not supposed to go beyond this line. The owls can become distressed and may abandon their eggs or nest. We are very careful not to intrude on their privacy. If they are unhappy, they will tell you with their distress call and flight.
Everyone loves these adorable creatures and we all want them protected. Lee County has issued building permits for several properties we observed and the owls at one property are no longer at that site. This is quite sad. The owls prefer being in communities with other burrowing owls.
In her burrow, an owl can lay anywhere from two to 12 eggs. The eggs are approximately 1.5 inches long. They are mostly monogamous, but who knows these days. They have a wide diet and that includes worms, dragonflies, lizards, turtles, rabbits, songbirds, waterfowl and snakes.
We all were happy to see these creatures that look like adorable Beanie Baby cousins. If you come upon a burrowing owl at his burrow, please just observe from a distance. This is their home and most likely there is a pair nesting with eggs and or babies. Give them their space and let them do their owl thing.
Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.