Bird lovers are familiar with Anilorac Farms, too. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers nested here in 2011. Dickcissels have been spotted during the past few spring migrations. Warbling Vireos once nested in a large oak on the property. And several grassland species thrive here: Northern Harriers in winter, Eastern Meadowlarks year round, and Bobolinks in early spring. Anilorac is the most likely place to see Grasshopper Sparrow in Orange County.
When I spoke to local biologists about our Barn Owl project, almost all of them mentioned Anilorac as an ideal location. So I approached my friend Bonnie Hauser, a rural activist and director of Orange County Voice. She told me she would introduce me to Charles Snipes, the owner of the farm.
Mr. Snipes, in his 80's, was very interested in helping us out. He was well aware of birdwatchers taking advantage of his avian abundance. "Wherever you want to put a box," he told us, "is ok with me."
Walking the land with Bonnie, I spotted a few ducks. A Northern Shoveler and couple of Hooded Mergansers graced the farm ponds. Tree Swallows hawked insects overhead. A Northern Harrier worked the open land. After some time looking, we settled on a perfect location for a nest box.
The following weekend, Norm and I drove out to Anilorac for the installation of Box #8. Mr. and Mrs. Snipes chose to stay inside, as it was quite cold out for late March, but Bonnie and her friends Noah and Marilee came for support. On the way out to the site, Norm and I actually flushed two Wilson Snipe from the edge of a pond. The coincidence was uncanny. Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Snipes were shapeshifters. . .taking bird form when humans weren't looking. We got to the installation site, and got right to work.
This particular nest box is probably the most likely of the original eight to get Barn Owls. The habitat is spectacular, and Barn Owls reportedly nested in the area as little as a decade ago. There are hundreds of acres of farmland within a two mile radius. And there are several old buildings on the property, which most certainly harbor cotton rats, mice, and voles. We soon had the box up and in place.
The best part about this box is that it can be viewed from Dairyland Road, making it easily accessible to local birders. PLEASE respect the landowners and stay on the road shoulder when viewing. Do not approach the nest box!! Barn Owls, when present, are typically seen at dusk or dawn, as they fly over open fields in search of prey.
Below is the view from the road shoulder. The box is adjacent to a red cedar, approximately 200 yards away. Be careful when viewing from Dairyland Road, as the shoulder is narrow, and drivers are not accustomed to pedestrians in this area.
Box #8 successfully installed!! Anilorac Farms: a refuge for grassland bird species in Orange County. Will that list soon include nesting Barn Owls? Stay tuned to find out.