December 27: This morning it was time for another visit to Storm Water Treatment area 5 (STA-5) in Hendry County, FL, this time to help my young friend Ari Dinerman find some new Florida life birds. The area is generally not open to the public, but one can make arrangements to visit on alternate Saturday mornings. Many species of water fowl and shorebirds can be found here, and it is the most reliable spot in the state for seeing Snail Kites. Notable of the 55 species seen this morning were five Snail Kites, four Fulvous Whistling Ducks, eleven Common Ground-Doves, five Roseate Spoonbills, and a Great Blue Heron white morph (Great White Heron). Just outside the entrance road (Deer Fence Road) we counted five Scissor-tailed Flycatchers along route 835.
On the way back to Boynton Beach we made a stop south of Belle Glade to visit with Rick Raid who was kind enough to spend two hours helping us find some Barn Owl nesting and roosting spots. Prior to today, the only Barn Owl I had managed to photograph in the wild was sleeping in a cave on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos.
This northwestern part of Palm Beach County is an important sugar cane growing area where small rodents abound making for ideal Barn Owl habitat. Barn Owls are nocturnal hunters and like to spend their days in a dark secluded corner among the roof rafters of an old building. In addition Rick and his group have set out over a hundred nesting boxes in the sugar cane fields, virtually all of which have attracted families of Barn Owls. Unlike most other species, the eggs are laid three days apart so that hatchlings in the nest are typically in different stages of maturation. We found many regurgitated “pellets” which, when dissected, reveal the fur and disjointed skeletons of the voles and mice that comprise the major portion of the Barn Owls’ diet.