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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Hedwig Drops in for a Visit

California miracle: a Snowy Owl
Nothing I love more than climbing on some boat and being taken out to stare at birds from a new perspective. Birds out on the water are a thing to marvel at. I mean, you see some 6 oz bit of fluff sitting happily in the middle of all that water, not a care in the world and unlike the humans staring at it – it isn’t freezing its adorable feathered arse off. 
Today I went on a new kind of pelagic trip and it was quite different from the usual; we sailed on a fresh water craft, and we were going after one specific bird that was not waterfowl – we went after - of all things - an owl . 
In crappy years when the pickings are tough in the Arctic, Snowy Owls, especially the youngsters, fly south in search of nice fat juicy rodents. How far south the arctic raptors fly depends on how desperate things get up north. Last year a Snowy Owl popped up in Northern California – the first Snowy seen in these parts in about 30 years. I went to see the owl and take a few photos. It was thought it would be another 30 years before we’d see another snowy. Nope! Another youngster showed up last week. This beauty of an Owl is hanging out on a fresh water lake in private and public lands. At noon I climbed aboard the good ship California Sunset for a pleasant 2.5 hour jaunt through relatively narrow waterways, south. A local, Captain Dan Thiemann was nice enough to ferry - at a cost to cover his gas and a bit of profit which he certainly deserves - a lot of about 40 oh-so-excited birders (which included ‘moi’). As in all birding trips there is no guarantee whatsoever that you are going to see what you are looking for, but today, for the third day in row, Captain Dan delivered. Birders well armed with binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras while standing practicing their sea... river legs.
Miss Hedwig, wide awake, swiveled her head like a scene out of the Exorcist. Most exciting,her talons and her fluffy, white leg feathers were stained with blood so it is safe to say that someone has been finding enough fat little rodents to keep body & soul together. As the late great Steve Irwin would say, 'Isn't she beautiful!'
UPDATE January 11, 2017: Lovely news, Snowy Owls that fly south are not doing so because of starvation & a lack of prey in the arctic. Recent study proves the snowy rascals are flying south. Here is a direct quote from a Cornell University publication:

 “We’ve been finding owls with significant fat stores, some so plump they can be classified as ‘morbidly obese,’ because they’re coming from a part of the Arctic that’s overrun with rodents and other prey,” says Scott Weidensaul, a Project SNOWstorm researcher. He says it appears that when these owls erupt and appear in large numbers in the U.S., it’s due to a bumper crop of young snowies during a very good breeding season—not a lack of food.

They're FAT and well fed! Young owls just venture south, more or less the equivalent of hitting the gym and finding a cool new place to hang out while waiting for spring to return. I have something in common with Hedwig. Now that is magic.

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