Special to The Eagle
Now that the season for the snowbirds is over and the music concerts, like the block party and the get-together at the Old Fish House Marina with the Yard Dogs and Jim Morris, are at an end as they go north to entertain the gang up there, we start to go into slow mo. We get a chance to go out to the great outdoors all alone.
Ahhh, the peace and quite. The oneness. Just me and my yak, paddle and fishing pole. Deep in the beautiful quiet mangroves of the back bays of Southwest Florida.
Just think, here I am paddling the same trails that the Calusa Indians, explorers and some even say pirates may have paddled only a few hundred years ago. Just to be alone with oneself to have time to think lazy thoughts, where is my next adventure? Summer days. No more projects until the opening season, nothing needs to be done right away. Just me all alone ... what I said that already? Well, I am alone right? Oh, you must be thinking about them.
You know them, the eyes. The ones that have been watching us for over a half-mile away.
As you paddle up to the edge of the mangroves you see them. The eyes of a masked bandit with his fluffy tail. Oh, yes, he is eating oysters and shellfish but he still has his eyes on you.
Or maybe it was the eyes of that osprey perched up high on that dead branch. You look close and see he has a fish but he is still watching you, as is that big bald eagle on the next branch over. Oh, you can see them now but they have been watching you for quite some time now.
As we paddle along the waters edge, we see a large blue bird, with a 6-foot wingspan take off from the next tree. He is squawking and letting the others know we are on his turf. Now they all know we are here.
Up under the branches we see a bird sitting there motionless - yep, he is looking at us to. It's a yellow crowned night heron, and he thinks we don't see him, so he won't move.
Now it's starting to get a little creepy, thousands of eyes looking at you as you pass by the muddy banks. It's fiddler crabs and mangrove crabs watching us and running for cover.
Well it sure was nice out there all alone but now we have to paddle back to the car and get to the base camp at Gulf Coast Kayak.
As we drag our yak through the grass, once again I feel that I am not alone. Was that a small head I just saw pop out of that hole over there?
I turned my head fast and see nothing? Then I turned my head again; yes I was right there were a pair of yellow eyes looking right at me from the grass. It was a ground owl, and when I looked closer there were two - looking at me. I think I am starting to get paranoid?
Well, now that we have seen them, let me tell you some things you may or may not know about this little guy.
Borrowing owls are a species of special concern in Florida. Special concern means they are protected by state law, and have been since 1979. The law says neither the owl nor its nesting burrow and eggs can be harassed, injured or disturbed in any way.
He is 9 inches tall and weighs about 5 ounces. They have white spots and lines on there brown feathers, they have a short tail, and their legs have no feathers on them.
Folks in the bird bizz say that there are about 3,000 to 10,000 of the birds, and most live right here in Cape Coral and surrounding communities.
Now these guys have to watch out not only for us humans but hawks, raccoons, snakes, dogs and cats - all want a little taste of this little fellow. The ones I saw were in the borrow in the grass, but they can live in turtle and armadillo holes, or even drain pipes. Sometimes the pipes under your driveway too, as long as it's dark and long, you may find them there.
They like to eat frogs, snakes, little lizards, little birds and even road kill, and some times fruit and seeds.
They mate from February to July. Then they have to get out of the hole, and above ground before the flooding heavy rains of summer arrive.
They have six to 10 eggs and fly in about six weeks after hatching.
Now did I mention their eyes? They are big and yellow and they move them side-to-side when looking around, but he cannot see that well in the dark, that's why we see them in the daylight.
So once again, we are never alone, even when we think we are. Somewhere out there they are watching us.
Hope you have a great paddle out there, and remember It's always a great day in Mat-La-Sha and thanks for paddling with Mel the Guide.