I am sure that a lot of you have read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and know Hedwig, the Snowy Owl that also appeared in the movies. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie about the Snowy Owl, I would encourage you to read and go see it to immerse yourself in a beautiful presentation of a beautiful bird. If you opt out of that, I would suggest that you might spend some time at the Cheyenne Bottoms and see the real deal. We have had one of these beauties in Pool 4 for a few days this past week.
A sighting of this Artic bird used to be a rare event for folks in the lower 48 states. The National Audubon Society has a annual Christmas Bird Count. That count is a big deal in the world of birds. This most recent count was the 115th year of this event. Volunteers conduct a estimated 2,400 counting sessions from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. It involves North, Central and South America, the Caribbean and some South Pacific Islands. As of this past Wednesday, with about a fifth of the count completed, there were 303 Snowy Owls sighted. Last year, there were 1,117 seen. The previous high was 563 counted in 2011. The “epicenter” of this migration seems to be in Ontario, the Great Lakes and U.S. Northeast. Geoff LeBaron is the project leader and he commented that “this is a big flight” but he doubts that it will surpass the 2011 number. The “experts” aren’t sure why the number of sightings has increased, since the birds usually travel only in search of food, but they have not implicated “climate change” as part of the process.
We have been protective of the bird in pool 4. He has been down the dike a short distance, and nobody has pushed or bothered him off the main road. It is wise to be careful in that respect-- if they are harassed, it may be fatal. Most of these birds are starving and usually don’t survive. They are not strong hunters, and are tormented by our hawks and raptors. I saw a Northern Harrier put one of the Snowy Owls on the ground by diving and hitting it while the owl was flying and hunting. Watch and get all the pictures you can without getting too close or flushing the bird.
Eric Geising and I found a Snowy Owl in Pool 2 on Feb. 16, of 2012. It was injured, and we took it to the Raptor Center in Great Bend. It had been shot with shotgun pellets-- possibly mistaken for a Snow Goose since goose season was open at that time. Brian Hanzlick found a couple of dead birds that apparently starved to death. Eric and I had high hopes for “our bird” but he died from his injuries. The gentleness and care that Eric utilized in handling that bird remains very clear in my mind. I miss Eric even though I know he is busy and happy working for corporate America. I bet he misses us, too.
These are some of the more magnificent birds in the world. Don’t miss a chance to see one if it pops up again.