Upon hearing of a nest of Barred Owl chicks in Everglades National Park’s Mahogany Hammock, I eagerly made arrangements for an early morning visit. I had never seen a Barred Owl and the attraction of a sighting thrilled me. The tropical hardwood hammock features a serpentine boardwalk designed to provide visitors with a look at its unique vegetation and occasional peeks at animal life. Equipped with camera and binoculars, I inched along, alert for sound and movement that would reveal a coveted view of Barred Owls and their young. Before going too far, I spied a giant mahogany tree. Considering it a likely nesting spot, I scanned it methodically with my binoculars. I was delighted to find a pair of White-crowned Pigeons, but no obvious nest and no owls. Yet, every few minutes I heard the unmistakable sound of chicks calling for their parents, but no parental who-cooks-for-you answer. Where were they? As deep shadows gave way to morning light, I strolled the entire length of the boardwalk. The chicks quieted and although I searched and searched, I could not find the nest. Please Lord, I thought, could have just one glimpse of this bird?
I had traveled a long way to see these beautiful owls and wasn’t about to be disappointed, so I started around again. This time another photographer caught up with me. He had visited the hammock recently and knew the location of the owl nest. At his direction, I scanned the branches carefully but no fluffy little heads appeared. The other photographer, however, suddenly found something of interest behind my back and was intent on capturing it. I turned and there on a branch over the boardwalk, just above our heads, was the most beautiful Barred Owl I could imagine. Moving in and out of sleep, the owl didn’t scare even though we were within feet of it. I moved closer. Awakened by the clicking of our shutters, the owl slowly opened its eyes and studied us for several minutes and then went back to sleep. We had several opportunities to photograph this elegant bird. I have no idea if we had found mother or father, but it was within yards of the nest and obviously had pulled guard duty. Apparently it decided that we posed no danger to its chicks. I can’t help but wonder if the owl hadn’t been there all along and I had missed it by looking in all the wrong places.
This great raptor became my morning’s joy, an answered prayer. I plan on going back as soon as possible in hopes of catching a glimpse oft the chicks. If I am so fortunate, I’ll be sure to share the photos here.