LARGO — No sooner have they completed one contest than the folks at McGough Nature Park have taken on another.
On Friday, the city of Largo announced the winning name for its "Name the Great Horned Owl'' contest launched in May.
The great horned owl with the broken wing that arrived at McGough in April will now be called Franklin.
More than 650 people submitted entries. The name Franklin, with 212 votes, was originally submitted by members of the Friends of the Largo Nature Parks to honor Frank Arthur, 78, a nature parks volunteer. Arthur died from cancer May 28.
Arthur began volunteering at the park with his wife, Sandie, in 2009. When J.R. McGough Nature Park's first great horned owl, was illegally released by vandals in January 2011, Arthur helped park staff search for J.R. When the bird couldn't be found, Arthur made sure that J.R.'s memory was kept alive in the hearts of those who visited the park.
In an email announcing the winning name, Largo parks superintendent Greg Brown recalled the volunteer work Arthur did for the park.
"Frank was a true friend of J.R. when he was released,'' Brown wrote. "He led families on walks daily looking for J.R. and telling his story. We are very pleased that the memory of Frank will live on in the name of our new great horned owl, Franklin.''
But the naming contests are not over. The park has a new bird, so a new contest to name that one will begin Monday.
Two weeks ago, the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary delivered another juvenile great horned owl, a female weighing approximately 4 pounds, to McGough. The bird had an injured eye and was partially blind. She was rescued on the Fox Hollow Golf Course in Trinity by Barb Walker of the Clearwater Audubon Society.
"She was sitting by a pond on the course and one of her eyes was completely black because it had blood in it," Walker said. "I brought my towel up to block her view but she could still see well enough to try to make a run for it. I got ahead of her easily . . . She put up her talons and I grabbed her feet with my left hand to capture her.
"She is a magnificent bird,'' Walker said.
After a team of veterinarians at Busch Gardens treated the owl, she was taken to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary.
Have an idea for a name for the new owl? Visit largonature.com for instructions about how to participate in the contest.
In a few months, McGough Nature Park staff hope to see the new owl and Franklin sharing a new home built by Casey Sammel. The Eagle Scout candidate spent six weekends building the large structure.
But for now the two owls will live side by side with a divider in the center. "Only time will tell as to how the two will get along,'' Walker said.
Matilda, a barred owl that arrived at McGough in October 2011, will continue to reside in a neighboring pen.
"Great horned owls and barred owls are not friendly to each other. They cannot live in the same enclosure,'' explained Peggy Mann, a Largo recreation leader based at the nature park.
Joel Quattlebaum, who was the manager of McGough Nature Park for the last two years and will soon report for military duty, is pleased to know that after his departure, the nature park will continue to work with rescued owls.
"They are such a great teaching tool for the children who come in here,'' Quattlebaum said. "And with the new owl, kids are going to be able to learn even more — how she uses her other senses since she is partially blind.''
Quattlebaum's replacement will be Kyle Vogel. Vogel is enrolled in the master's program in environmental health at University of South Florida. He has worked at the Newfound Harbor Marine Institute in Big Pine Key, where he captained marine vessels carrying students to coral reefs, sponge flats and coastal waters to learn about the different plants and animals in each community.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.