Day 12 – 7 March – A long ride, Burrowing Owls and Hooters

Warmer still, warm in the night and breakfast in warm air. We cycled around the island after and stopped for coffee and a toasted cream-cheese bagel at the Bean. There is an extensive cycle route around Sanibel that largely follows the roads. It is, however, separate and narrow so it has a comfortable, human scale to it and is very pleasant to use. Add to that warm sunshine, a cool breeze and dappled shade and it makes for an extremely pleasant experience.

Using a cycle track also means that you see a lot more, stop and nose around more often and get to discover things. Last evening we went into the Sanibel marina, checked out the boats, the restaurant and some of the houses around it. That would never have happened if we’d been driving. Today it was the same; a park in the centre that was part of the land acquisition programme by SCCF and some recycled water-storage reservoirs. This last place was deserted apart from us, thirty Wood Storks, Mottled Ducks, various egrets and a Bald Eagle. You always get so close to the wildlife here, too. We cycled back via the Bailey Tract but no Bobcats today – about 14km in all.

Anna wanted to see Burrowing Owls. These are, I have to admit, cute little guys and I’d never miss an opportunity of seeing some. Unlike other owls, they breed and roost in holes in flat grassy parts of the Americas. Numerous subspecies have been described and many are endangered but the bird occurring in Florida and the Bahamas, Athene cunicularia floridana, is under particular pressure. The areas that they prefer for nesting and feeding are also those that people find easy to build on. As a consequence it’s quite normal to find nesting burrows on vacant plots between houses and alongside estate roads with cars passing on one side and children playing on the other. We’d read that there was a largish population in Cape Coral and set out to find some. We drove to the area, sought out some flat land that was being developed and began to cruise the estate roads. It was much easier than it should be and, on a plot that was ‘for sale by owner’ between two houses, were five or six burrows. Two owls were up and about.

Local information is confusing. One source says that you need a State licence before you can develop over a burrow; another says you have to wait until it’s unoccupied while a third source states that you can’t develop at all if owls are present. Whatever the requirement, the reality is that housing and development are rapidly covering the breeding areas and one of the principal reasons for the owl being endangered is loss of habitat. There has, however, been some success in avoiding the loss of birds from encroaching development. A passive translocation process has been used which gradually entices birds to take up residence in suitable locations nearby before development commences on or near existing burrows. This avoids the stress that forcibly removing them would cause and, where it has been successful, owls happily move over permanently in a few days.

Enough of that serious stuff. The journey back allowed me an indulgence – chicken wings and curly fries in Hooters, a highly sophisticated and politically correct watering hole that is always on my ‘must do’ list over here. I have no issues with being served excellent guy-food by nubile young girls whose silicon-enhanced tits are popping out of their tiny tee-shirts.

A day’s birding tomorrow.


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