Friday, November 25, 2011
It's definitely an irruption year for Snowy Owls. According to Ryan Brady, expert birder from Ashland, so far the owls that have come down to our neck of the woods are immature birds of both sexes. He said this suggests "a good year of productivity and subsequent dispersal/migration of these hatch-year birds to the south." Brady says this movement of owls may not be tied to current lemming populations on the Arctic breeding grounds but added, "If we start seeing a significant influx of adults ... this probably would be more indicative of lower prey populations up north."
Check out this map of Snowy Owl sightings!
Another birder from Madison, Jessie Ellis, created a nifty google map plotting sightings of the Snowy Owls across the upper Midwest [now the entire US]. There have been a number of Snowy Owl sightings just north of Pheasant Branch Conservancy over the years, in particular near the intersection of Fisher Road and Pheasant Branch Road.
While these birds provide excellent opportunities to educate non-birders about birds, migration, and conservation, nothing brings out cuckoo birder behavior quite like an northern owl. The last time a Snowy Owl visited the Middleton area, some photographers trespassed on private property and flushed the owl in order to get pictures of it in flight. One farmer was pretty upset after a photographer frightened his cattle, walking along the barnyard fence line to the owl perched atop a silo.
Should you encounter a Snowy Owl during the day, please view it from a respectable distance, no closer than 30 to 50 yards. Better yet, watch it from the inside of your car. If the bird appears to be hunting, turn off your car engine – the noise may hinder the owl’s ability to hear potential prey. If you want to try and photograph it, use your car as a blind – it works great! When in doubt, go with ABA's birding ethics: "Everyone who enjoys birds and birding must always respect wildlife, its environment, and the rights of others. In any conflict of interest between birds and birders, the welfare of the birds and their environment comes first."
Snowy Owl © 2011 Mike McDowell