Saturday, December 17, 2011

Snowy Owl Obsession

Photo courtesy of Keith Carlson

I currently have an obsession. It's a Snowy owl obsession. It started innocently enough when, about a month ago, reports starting filtering in from around the Northwest that a few birds had been seen.  At first I didn't give it much thought other than that I thought it would be nice to see one someday, but I figured my chances were pretty slim. The obsession was starting to quietly take hold, though I didn't know it yet.

My interest was piqued when I started receiving information that the owls were being seen all across the northern states this winter. It seems we are in the midst of a Snowy owl invasion or "irruption" in birder terms. This happens sometimes when food sources change for a species and it moves out of it's normal range (in this case Canada and the Arctic) looking for something to eat. Sometimes it's a territory thing and there are too many birds in one area so they move. Whatever the reason, this year all across the country the northern states are sighting this rare, Arctic visitor in large numbers. Perhaps, I wondered, one might come as far as my area?

A few days later I checked my emails and a snowy owl HAD been sighted in my area within a short driving distance from my home! Suddenly my heart skipped a beat! I ran from my computer to find my husband and excitedly told him one had been seen near here. He was so calm and just said, "I suppose you'll have to go look for it."   Well......yeah!!
The only problem was that I couldn't just run off looking like I normally do. I had other obligations. 

  The days ticked by before I had an opportunity to go looking and when I did I couldn't locate the bird. As other sightings came in I took every opportunity I could to follow up on the reports.....getting up before dawn to try to find one before going to work, driving miles around the countryside on my days off, but the birds were never there when I was. The illusive Snowy owl was only seen in my dreams swooping through like a phantom.

Snowy owl watercolor sketch

 I became possessed by visions of large, white birds and I was beginning to think I would never see one before they moved back to their Arctic home.

Then one day last week my bird watching friend, Keith, took pity on me and called to tell me that another bird had been located and was regularly coming to the area around Mann Lake. If I met him there he'd help me find it. The morning we went out was cold and gray and light snow was falling. I tried not to get my hopes up just in case it didn't show, but shortly after I arrived at the designated spot another birder friend, Larry, showed up and told me my owl was about a half mile up the road. I raced over there like a crazy woman hoping the bird would not leave before I arrived. As I stepped out of the car I saw it. After almost two weeks of searching, the bird of my dreams was calmly perched on a small shed looking for it's breakfast. It was magnificent!
Catherine's Snowy Owl
We spent almost two hours admiring this bird from a fairly close distance. It was as beautiful as I hoped it would be and I couldn't have been more excited. I felt so privileged to be in it's presence, standing there with my friends on a snowy day. It couldn't have been more perfect!