Wow, I can't believe we are in the midst of another Snowy Owl invasion! It was only 2 years ago since the last one. Yet somehow this one sure seems bigger or I am just reading and hearing a lot more this time around.
The birds are just popping up everywhere! Earlier this week there was a count of approximately 200 in Newfoundland. The Snowys were making news as authorities wanted to cull the birds around JFK airport in New York. I believe 3 were shot on December 7th. Of course this caused some uproar from the public, both birders and people in general because everyone just loves the Snowy Owl. One Snowy Owl even made it down to Bermuda in recent weeks. This is causing some commotion down there as it is the third Snowy Owl to hit that island in 30 years according to my research.
I've read some sad stories of starving birds in the past couple weeks. And most did not have a very good ending. By the time the birds are discovered, they are just too far gone. The Owl Foundation has had many Owls come into their centre already.
In 2011 we had the invasion, and by the end of winter I had 13 Snowy Owls seen with my own eyes. The sightings went across the shores of Lake Ontario from Kingston to Burlington. It was an exciting winter and one day I had 4 Snowys in view from one backroad intersection just north of Toronto. I couldn't believe it! And for whatever reason, I just didn't pick up on very many stories of starving birds, injured birds, dead birds. I'm not complaining and chalk it up as most of the Owls did very well that winter.
This photo shows Snowy Owl reports from so far this year compared to last year. The blue is Nov/Dec of 2012 and the orange is Nov/Dec of 2013 and we still have a few weeks left in the month. 2012 had 119 reports and 293 so far for this time around.
In the past 2 weeks I've done a couple outings myself, seeking out them Snowy Owls.
I saw a few reports but decided to take my own route to areas we've seen them in previous years. First outing... nothing. A few days later I give in as my sick time from work was coming to an end and I wanted to end it with a BANG so I try the for the areas where birds were reported just east of Toronto. Once again, nothing. I did however have the pleasure of watching a male American Kestrel hunt roadside which certainly sated my appetite for something really cool to see.
Angie and I found ourselves escorting an injured female Snowy Owl to the Owl Foundation. But really this didn't count for a sighting even though our eyes met as she was taken away upon arrival at the foundation.
Monday December 2nd I make another attempt as my return to work date is on the 4th. I hit those northern roads I am familiar with and it was looking pretty barren once again. But just as I was about to give up, I spotted one atop a hydro pole! I was grinning from ear to ear now. Over the next ten minutes or so I observed the bird and his behaviour towards my presence. I am no where near him but just watching him as I rolled the truck closer, one hydro pole at a time. He's pretty chill up there and I decide to get out and try to get a few photos. He's still not bothered by my presence. He'd look at me, then look elsewhere and so on. I'd snap a couple, look at them quick, adjust the settings, take a couple steps closer and try again. With him being up on that pole there is no need to walk in too close because you'd just be shooting up at the bird. A few minutes later, I'm totally satisfied with the sighting and a couple decent photos to take home. The Owl never left that pole, which was awesome to me. I hate making them flush because I've accidentally spooked them.
On my way home I tried another area where a report of one came in. And luck have it I found one way out in the field. As I drove the truck around to try and get a better view of the bird, I stopped at one point to see where my sight line was, and as I am watching the bird in my binoculars, suddenly another bird comes into view and attacks the first bird! Holy s**t! Snowy Owls are big freakin' birds and to see the two of them take to the air and scrap it out is beyond words. Unfortunately as they fought, they went further away from me and all I could do was watch. I don't think I could have picked up my camera, taking my eyes off this action. Finally one bird left and headed west while the other went back to the ground and commenced "chilling out". Its okay I didn't get any photos because the ones in my head are a million times better than what I could have ever captured with the camera.
I was going to lecture about how to act around the birds but most of you who visit my blog know where I stand on this. Simply put, please respect them and their space.