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Lifebird #555 – Let it Snow

Snowy OwlWeather was the big topic across much of the country over the winter of 2013/14 and especially in Minnesota. The Midwest was trapped inside of the “polar vortex” for what seemed an eternity, making it one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record.

Everyone was sick of snow. Birders, though, couldn’t get enough of Snowies.[1]

This brutal winter saw the biggest irruption of Snowy Owls into the continental United States in anyone’s memory. In normal years this boreal forest species ranges south of the Canada border in limited numbers. But, in years following a spike in the population of voles on their breeding grounds, the resulting excess of juvenile Snowies pushes some of them to range far south in search of food. This was one of those years.

The Snowy Owl has been a “nemesis bird” for me and Joann. We struck out on the last irruption year, and by January of this year were starting to think we might come up empty again. Snowies had been seen by just about everyone, it seemed, starting in the fall of 2013. Joann and I hadn’t really made many attempts to go out and find one, and the brutal weather wasn’t making it easy for us.

On a holiday Monday morning in January, though, our good friend and birding buddy, Allison, called us and wanted to know would we be interested in riding along with her to the town of Ramsey, Minnesota (less than 10 miles from us) where at least two of the owls were being reported on the Minnesota birding lists?

Yes! Yes we were.

I don’t know why we had to be “pushed” to get out there and do this. Just a little bit of motivation on our part would have been enough to get us this bird, but it took an invite from Allison to get us to act. We could not be happier that she thought to call us on that morning. After a short pleasant visit with her on the way to the site, we pulled over to the side of the road near where the owl had been reported. We hadn’t scanned for more than two minutes when Allison said, “There it is!”

There it was. A nemesis bird no more.

Thank you, Allison! (The photo used at the top of the page is hers. Please click on it for more.)

Species  Snowy Owl / Bubo scandiacus
Where Ramsey, Minnesota
When January 20, 2014
With Joann and Allison J
Number 555

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  1. The movie The Big Year probably won’t be considered a career highlight for Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, or Rashida Jones, but birders loved it! It was very good for me. But for the bird cognoscenti, it contained at least one ‘owler (pun intended). The hero’s nemesis bird was the Snowy Owl. He spent Christmas in northern Minnesota trying desperately to find it to complete his “big year.”
    It is the Great Gray Owl, not the Snowy, that lures birders to brutally cold northern Minnesota in winter. Snowy Owls, despite our bad luck and laziness over the years, is not that difficult to find. It is found every winter in limited numbers over large swaths of the northern third of the U.S. The Great Gray is much more difficult to find, and the north part of our state is the best place to do so. [^]


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