On Christmas Day, my husband and I went out to Fernridge Reservoir to do some birding. It’s become our backup plan to snow shoeing, as the last two Christmas Days have not had enough snow in the mountains for us to complete our traditional event. Imagine our surprise and joy when we stumbled upon (almost literally) a Snowy Owl, that rose up gracefully not 15 feet in front of us and flew away.
Fast forward to today, when we went out to walk to try to glean some calm and serenity in what has been a very difficult end of January and February (see previous post). Again, we went to Fernridge Reservoir. What with the heavy rains of the past few days, it required crossing a fast-running stream (thus soaking our feet and socks, and tops of our pant legs) to try to see the Snowy. And …
WE DID!! THIS time, it stayed around. We watched it bob up and down among it’s perch on the rocks (just past the small building on the dike) for about 40 minutes. In the rain. And wind.
Why? BECAUSE!! IT’S. A. SNOWY. OWL.
In dogged pursuit of a rare bird
THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEWSandy Milliken proved that wildlife photographers are a hungrier version of the common bird-watcher by going the distance to make pictures of snowy owls this month.
Failing to find the snowies reported this season within a few miles of her home in Post Falls, Idaho, Milliken filled her vehicle’s gas tank and redoubled her efforts.
She was determined to seize the opportunity provided by this winter’s stand-out migration of snowy owls across the northern United States.
The white birds catch the attention of birders almost every winter as they scatter in ones and twos south from the Arctic to winter hunting grounds that extend into the northern United States. But this year’s nation-spanning migration is a well-publicized owl-apalooza.
Snowy owls, popularized by Hedwig in the Harry Potter movies, come from tundra regions where humans are scarce, but they have little fear of human activity. Boston’sLogan Airport typically has New England’s high count for snowy owls tallied in a winter.
A tip from a Bellingham, Wash., photographer steered Milliken toward the driftwood beaches along Boundary Bay in British Columbia just southwest of Vancouver. The last “irruption,” or unusually large migration from the north, of snowies to congregate there occurred in 2007, birders say.
“My friend was getting great photos of snowy owls and he told me right where to go (south of the Boundary Bay Airport),” she said. “But the wind and rain was horrible there for weeks through the holidays. I waited until there was a break in the weather. Last week I went for it.”
Fog and drizzle greeted her arrival, along with a mother lode of snowy owls.
“I counted 26 snowy owls as I walked a path along one marsh the size of two city blocks,” she said.
She pounced on one big, brief moment to capture 11 snowy owls in a single frame through a 100-400 mm zoom lens on Jan. 7.
There are 10 mature white snowy owls and one heavily barred darker snowy owl — likely a female — in the background, she said.
Milliken said she came home from Boundary Bay with images that will take her weeks to sort.
“Out of thousands of photos, that group shot is one worth remembering.”
Snowies in Oregon
Portland Audubon reports that the unusual influx of snowy owls is also being seen this winter in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Sightings this fall and winter include in the Gray’s Harbor area in Washington and, in Oregon, near Burns, Albany, Salishan and the South Jetty of the Columbia River near Astoria. A snowy owl was even reported at River View Cemetery in Southwest Portland in November.
The owls are attracted to open treeless places that resemble their breeding grounds on the tundra — in the past they’ve been spotted on Bayocean Spit near Tillamook, says Steve Engel, adult education programs manager for Portland Audubon.
Most winters, Oregon has no snowy owl sightings, and the last ones were in the winter of 2005-06, he says.
If you spot one of the white owls, Engel says to enjoy watching it from a distance that’s comfortable for the bird. If the owl starts looking agitated, back off so you don’t spook it into flying and burning energy.
Adult males are mostly white, females have some black markings and juveniles are heavily barred. Barn owls can be light-colored but aren’t that snowy white.
The arrival of unusual numbers of birds from the north is believed to be linked to the boom and bust cycles of lemmings (the snowy owl’s main food), weather and other factors, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.– Laurie Robinson
What does this have to do with Spanish? Not much! But it’s a piece of joy that was very much needed. If you want to see it, go soon and wear boots!