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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Snowy Owls

January 8th, 2012 · No Comments

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Snowy Owls nest in the Arctic tundra of the northernmost stretches of Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia. They usually winter through southern Canada and Eurasia. Rarely do they fly down to the Lower 48.

But some of them are here now. Birders call this an “irruption,” probably the result of the boom and bust population cycle of their preferred prey, lemmings.

The vast majority of Snowy Owls in the Lower 48 this winter are in the East, according to eBird. People have spotted some snowies as far west as Washington and Oregon. And three or four of these magnificent raptors have landed in Colorado.

I have been chasing them all year. On New Year’s Day I drove 120 miles to the Aurora Reservoir, after reading a report on CoBirds that one was there. No luck. Then, on Tuesday I drove 80 miles after reading reports that people had seen two Snowy Owls on a snowy field two miles from Barr Lake. Again no luck.

I figured that the off chance of seeing a Snowy Owl was worth a third trip. After all, I had made three trips in April and May before I could see a Mandarin Duck. So this morning I went back to the fields near Barr Lake.

We had perfect weather for photography today. After a light snow yesterday, the skies are completely clear, and we have no wind. Rather than planning to be there at first light, I consciously waited until mid-morning, because I didn’t know where I would find the owls. I didn’t want to have to shoot right into the sun.

But this morning after driving the length of Harvest Road, where people had reported them, I looked everywhere but saw only a couple of hawks. No owls. On my second pass along the road, there they were in a field to the west. But so far away that I could barely see them. Still, I rejoiced in seeing the first Snowy Owls of my life. Birders call this “a life bird.”

Then, another photographer came by and told me that they were closer to 136th Street, which was a right turn just ahead. They were closer, but still a speck. Then, I thought that they could be closer yet from Gun Club Road, another right turn. And they were closer, although still far away.

The Darker -- Younger -- Snowy Owl

The Darker -- Younger -- Snowy Owl

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Snowy Owls are one of the few owl species that are active during the day. They are also our largest and heaviest owl, according to one of my favorite books, Owls of the United States and Canada, by Wayne Lynch. His chart on page 6 says that their average body weight is 4 pounds and their average wingspan is 52 inches.

The Older Snowy Owl

The Older Snowy Owl

Click on the picture above to enlarge
The Snowy Owl Flies Off

The Snowy Owl Flies Off

Click on the picture above to enlarge

What a thrill to see about half of all the Snowy Owls in the state of Colorado on one morning. What luck!

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