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Vehicle runs over, collapses owl burrows on Marco Island empty lot, Audubon says

A vehicle ran over two owl burrows located on an empty lot on Marco Island causing them to collapse, according to a news release from Audubon Western Everglades.

On May 8, Audubon staff and volunteers arrived at 1631 Collingswood Court finding two collapsed burrows heavily decorated with palm fruits and grass clippings, "indicating it was being used as a nest," wrote Allison Smith, Owl Watch project manager and biologist.

A pair of burrowing owls had been reported weekly at the burrows since the beginning of this year’s nesting season in February, Smith said.

Because of the "strong likelihood" that the collapsed burrow contained eggs or chicks trapped underground, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers allowed Audubon staff to excavate, according to the release.

"After over an hour of digging with the help of five volunteers, we were unable to find any intact portions of tunnel or the nest chamber," Smith wrote."The dirt around this burrow was so compacted from vehicles that the tunnel was no longer intact and could not be found."

Burrows at this lot had previously been damaged, according to the release. On Nov. 16, a vehicle collapsed a burrow and narrowly missed a second one after the fencing used to protect them was removed.

Aerial photograph of 1631 Collingswood Court on Marco Island, Florida.

The lot owner also owns a second vacant lot on 1878 Cascade Court where burrows were run over on Nov. 30, according to Smith. The fencing around the burrows was found pulled up and dumped on the side of the road.

None of the burrows were fenced off at the request of the landowner, Smith wrote. "We sent a letter to the owner asking permission to re-post the burrows on both properties, and he responded saying we do not have permission for these or any of his other properties in the future."

Property owners are not required by law to fence owl burrows but it is "an extra step most landowners choose to take to protect the burrows on their property from accidental collapse," according to the release.

Audubon provides all fencing, installation and year-round maintenance free of charge as part of its Owl Watch program.

The presence of burrowing owls or their burrows does not prevent the sale or development of a property, according to Audubon. "If the owner of the property wishes to build, a permit from FWC is required, and the burrow can be removed outside of nesting season."

Collier County Property Appraiser's website lists Pinnacle Investments 1994 LP as the owner of the lot on Collingswood Court. A person named Jim Bertelsmeyer and the same company are listed as owners of the Cascade Court property. 

Marco Eagle's attempts to contact Bertelsmeyer by phone and email were unsuccessful. 

A FWC spokesperson confirmed burrows were collapsed on Nov. 30 at 1878 Cascade Court and on May 7 at 1631 Collingswood Court.

On Feb. 11, FWC identified three collapsed owl burrows and one dead burrowing owl on an empty lot on 940 Hyacinth Court, according to Audubon. The owner of the property is listed as Ronald Postma.

Smith and an officer with FWC met at the site and found the burrows under tire tracks across the property.

"(We) excavated the collapsed burrows to check for owls trapped inside with a burrow camera scope," Smith wrote. "One deceased adult burrowing owl was found near the entrance of one collapsed burrow, entombed in the dirt."

The burrows on this property were also not fenced off at the request of the landowner, according to Audubon.

In January, a Marco Island realtor accused of putting mothballs into an owl burrow last year pleaded 'no contest' as part of an agreement with the State Attorney's Office.

As part of the agreement, Roger M. Fleming was sentenced to six months probation, 75 hours of community service and a $200 fine, according to Samantha Syoen, SAO's communications director. Fleming also had to pay $270 for court and prosecution costs.

"The defendant plead no contest and that plea was accepted by the court," Syoen wrote in an email to the Eagle. "'No contest' by definition is when a defendant accepts conviction but does not plead guilty."

The defense asked for a withhold of adjudication but the prosecutor argued for an adjudication of guilt, according to Syoen. The judge adjudicated Fleming guilty on Jan. 24.

Burrowing owl nesting season ends in July.

If suspicious activity is detected at a burrow, Audubon encourages people to call FWC at 888-404-3922 or call Marco Island Police Department’s non-emergency number at 239-389-5050.

Contact Omar Rodríguez Ortiz at omar.rodriguezortiz@naplesnews.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.