I found myself at Big Island Wildlife Area yesterday, and stayed until late afternoon, when the Short-eared Owls emerged. The number of owls using this nearly 6,000 acre wildlife area has grown steadily since I last reported on them. We saw about ten of them at once last evening, and many others were present elsewhere. There might be as many as 40 or 50, all told.
There's a reason that so many rather antisocial owls are packed so densely, and the answer dwells within this tunnel. If you find yourself at Big Island on an owl-seeking mission, take a moment to scan the snow-encrusted ground for holes such as this. Then look within, and if the occupants have been active of late, you'll likely see fresh grass cuttings and tiny feces that are shaped like Tic-Tacs.
I have to chuckle at the nattering nabobs of negativity who love to chatter about wetland/wildlife restoration projects funded by sportsmen's dollars. They perpetually claim that such work only goes to benefit ducks, as that's all that hunters care about, and the agencies that oversee such projects only aim to create "duck habitat" and could care less about nonhuntable critters.
A short decade ago, the land now frequented by these owls was in rotations of soybeans, corn, and wheat, and had been for decades. Miles of drainage tile siphoned away the water that moistened this fomer wet prairie, drying the soil enough that crops could be grown. Now, because of the Division of Wildlife's restoration work - funded by sportsmen's dollars - a much more diverse ecological system of prairie plants thrives. Wilson's Phalaropes have bred here, as have many other nongame wetland-dependent birds. The spike in plant diversity jumpstarted the food chain, allowing important prey species such as meadow voles to flourish. And thus the owls have come, to delight the scores of (mostly) non-hunting birders that come to admire them.
If you don't pay for habitat conservation via a hunting license, consider purchasing a Migratory Conservation and Bird Hunting Stamp ("Duck Stamp") or the beautiful new Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp.
A scan of the map in THIS LINK will reveal all of these sites, and if you make the trip soon I'll guarantee you'll see owls. Just remember, these flat-faced hooters are most active late in the afternoon, towards dusk, and that's when you should visit.