In order to inspect the boxes, I use a telescoping monopod with a camera attached. I set the camera to flash, turn on the ten second timer, then hoist it up into the entrance hole. This is a good strategy if a) you don't want to get stung by potential insects, or b) you don't want to get mauled by a Barn Owl. I only inspect the boxes a couple of times a year in this manner, as any disturbance could scare away desired inhabitants. Please don't repeat this procedure if you come across a nest box on your own!
I'm sad to report that I didn't find any Barn Owls this weekend. That doesn't mean there aren't any of the owls in the area. There just weren't any in the nest boxes. I did have my heart skip a beat, however, at a box at Mapleview Farm. See the white feathers?
When I first glanced at the camera screen, I was sure I was looking at Barn Owl feathers. However, after closer inspection of the image at home, and consulting with friends, I realized the feathers lacked the characteristic golden or cinnamon tones. Plus, I saw a grey feather or two mixed in with the others. Rock Pigeon, perhaps?? The only bird known to utilize Barn Owl boxes on a regular basis is the American Kestrel. These were certainly not Kestrel feathers, though, and those pesky pigeons seem to turn up just about everywhere. For now, I'll assume these feathers are from undesired feral squatters.
Roughly a third of our boxes were affected by insect nests this year. One box in particular had become a party house for all sorts of crawling and flying critters, from spiders to mud daubers to wasps. Thankfully, this was the only owl home that had fallen into severe disrepute.
Most of the boxes were fairly easy to clean, once the ladder was set up. (Hauling the ladder was the toughest part of this job). Remaining wasp nests, which now sit empty after a severe freeze, were easily scraped away and removed. Here's what my collection of wasp nests looks like.