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Owl time

By Staff | Feb 21, 2012

Thousands attend the annual Burrowing Owl Festival to have family fun, be up close with nature and celebrate the official bird of Cape Coral’s – the burrowing owl.

“In the birders’ world, Cape Coral is famous, and birding is huge, and one of the biggest pastimes in America – it’s amazing how many people bird,” said Charles Sobczak, a local naturalist and frequent guest speaker. “And Cape Coral has the largest population of burrowing owls in the eastern United States.”

The event is sponsored by the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife and Cape Coral Parks & Recreation Department and will be held this year on Saturday, Feb. 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Rotary Park Environmen-tal Center.

There will be a wide variety of wildlife-related displays and presentations available at the festival, including live birds and animals, guided birding tours, bus tours to active owl burrows and owl starter burrow demonstrations.

It will be many things owl, and more.

There will also be a student wildlife art contest, a silent auction, a butterfly house, a drum circle and more. In addition, there will be authors, wildlife artists and photographers and balloon art. On hand will be the Cape Coral Police Department K-9 unit and Cape Coral Fire Department, with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office offering fingerprinting for children.

Don’t forget the food and refreshments and live music.

The burrowing owl nesting season runs from mid-February to mid-July, said Susan Porreca, president of the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife.

“We have our festival now and celebrate that. It’s a family event, with many fun things, and a chance to see the wildlife up close and personal.”

The Friends of Wildlife is an all-volunteer organization and Porreca said the Burrowing Owl Festival is the group’s only fund-raiser of the year.

“This is our 10th year and each year it gets better,” she said.

Monies raised will be used to fund equipment to maintain burrows, gas for volunteers, to purchase wood to make tea wood perches for the owls, and for the group’s donated butterfly house, to maintain it and replenish the plants needed there.

“We do a lot of educational work,” she said. “Our main purpose is to preserve and enhance the habitats of protected wildlife species, with specific attention to the burrowing owl. We also try to educate on Cape Coral’s other wildlife resources, including the gopher tortoise and purple martins.

“We’ve also raised funds to erect the butterfly house in Rotary Park, and a purple martin house. We’d like to build a bigger and better butterfly house. Also, in Sirenia Vista, we erected another purple martin gourd house.”

“Last year, my wife and I went to the event and we just loved it,” said naturalist Sobczak. “We gave a talk and I will do another this year at 1 p.m. The name of the talk is called ‘The Nature of Southwest Florida,’ and it really deals with all three of my non-fiction titles.”

A published author, he’s written three popular books – “Alligators, Sharks and Panthers,” “Living Sanibel” and “the Living Gulf Coast.” A local expert on wildlife, he is a regular contributor for the Sanibel-Captiva Islander, one of the Breeze newspapers.

“I think the booths that will be there are a great place to learn more about local wildlife destinations, and just to meet other regional naturalists and people who love nature. A neat thing about the festival itself is the focus on the burrowing owl. Most cities can’t brag that they have a large population of a rare bird.”

The cost is a $5 requested donation, with children under 16 free.

The Rotary Park Environmental Center is located at 5505 Rose Garden Road, Cape Coral. For information, call Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife at 980-2593 or Rotary Park at 549-4606.