This is a bad news/good news story.
The bad: Our owl population has decreased in recent years, due in part to drought conditions and possibly because of sewer construction.
The good news: More bird lovers than ever are coming here to enjoy the owls, especially the newly born chicks.
These little raptors are achingly cute as they pop in and out of their burrows, perching on city-provided cross-sticks inside squares of brightly colored tape and official notices not to hassle the perky critters.
They’re often the poster kids for a great array of birds and other wildlife that draw tourists here. A few examples of the impact on our town and region:
Florida is second only to California in people who take part in wildlife-viewing recreation. In 2006 these critter lovers brought $653 million to the state’s economy.
Bird watchers spend at least $477 million a year to pursue Florida’s plumage. Our own Rookery Bay has about 250 bird species, making it one of the nation’s top birding spots.
When all wildlife-related travel to Florida is measured, the economic impact on Florida’s economy is somewhere around $5.25 billion.
Jim Trunk and Debi Surlas are excellent examples. Their owl photos here and many others are available on their Web sites: jimtrunck.com and http:/nawtymouse.snugmug.com.
They come here often from their homes in Naples. As Debi wrote to us recently: “We were on Marco at sunrise and found owl chicks at most locations. After hours of taking photos, we ate at Snook Inn, where we have lunch every time we come to the island.”
Jim has been visiting Marco off and on for 30 years, “but I didn’t know about the burrowing owls here until recently. I had been going to Cape Coral to photograph them. Marco’s much easier to get to, with great places to eat after our photo shoots.
“And the Marco people we’ve met are friendly. Many of them stop by while we’re shooting at the nesting sites. They give us detailed information about the owls’ nests and often tell us where to find others.”
Marco’s resident expert on our burrowing owls and their place in the pecking order is Nancy Richie, the city’s environmental specialist.
“The year 2004 had the season with the highest number of owl nest sites and also had the largest number of active owl pairs, 62. Since then the number of active pairs has decreased to 31 sites, below average for the decade.”
Why is our owl population diminishing? Says Nancy: “Other than construction, vehicle hits are important. Owls fly low and, at night, often fly in front of headlights. Another factor is mowing of vacant lots, required by the city.
“Many wildflowers, herbs and grasses were mowed and never came back. The remaining weeds don’t support insects and that’s what burrowing owls primarily feed their young.
“Then there’s the drought, which lessens food availability — insects, frogs and lizards. Pesticides on our lawns also are harmful because the owls eat the poisoned bugs.
Is there a chance the owl population will bounce back?
“I can’t predict, but there’s hope,” says Nancy. “A few burrows that were abandoned for years had one or two adult owls back this season. Although only 31 burrows produced young this year, they have three to five chicks per clutch. That makes me hopeful.”
Collier Circuit Court Clerk’s timely travel reminder
America’s travel laws will change significantly Monday.
Circuit Court Clerk Dwight Brock reminds us all that we will need passports for land, sea and air travel to foreign countries, including Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and Caribbean nations.
Brock is issuing the reminder primarily because it’s his office that handles passport applications for Collier County residents. That office does not issue passports directly but acts as a passport acceptance facility for the U.S. Passport office in Miami.
E-mail Chris or Don at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.