I should be feeling for the lemmings and not just the Snowy Owls because a population decline in one, becomes a tough time for the other, and so both are suffering. The up side for humans, is an irruption of big beautiful birds “down south” in North America.
One of my goals of 2012 is to make the extra efforts to live my wildlife life. Today that meant getting up at 4:45a.m. driving over an hour to the “flatlands” (the plains) and visiting Barr Lake State Park. I do not chase birds, but word on the Colorado Birds mailing list was that this might be as much as a 40-50 year irruption. Snowy Owls have been spotted for the past few weeks, and much as I’d hate to stress and already stressed species, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see such an amazing creature. I could keep my distance, and still get an amazing experience.
I arrived at the fields where a darker (and perhaps younger) Snowy Owl had been spotted, and I arrived in the dark. I was driving slowly down a dirt road when all of a sudden the owl materialized in front of me, big white bird in the dark, and a big wide white wing span. Oh my gosh, I had but arrived and there was the bird. I pulled over, turned off my lights/car and sat. Not pleased I had come closer than I intended, but hoping to minimize any interruption. It was pitch dark but the bird was just ahead on a short post. It didn’t seem bothered by me (now) and I was blessed with a sunrise slowly illuminating this beautiful bird. We must’ve sat there for 20 minutes or more.
The bird flew north over the field, presumably still hunting, but oh so low … even a northern harrier would be hard pressed to fly like that. I watched the bird fly low across the field, land on a post, sit, then repeat. After a while I noticed the bird land in the middle of a field, and seemingly just hang out. (Most photos I’d seen of Snowy Owls had been atop power poles, and it was fascinating to see how low this one was happy to be. I now know to check fields and low perches for the birds.)
I moved on, hoping I’d kept my distance sufficiently (after the initial unintentional encounter) and went for a hike at Barr Lake. There I saw Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Harrier and a bunch of Buteo and American Kestrels.
A morning most definitely worth losing sleep for…