An email alert came in that a Snowy Owl was spotted in Tuscola County about an hour and a half away. The next day, another alert. The day after, another. I called my sister and asked her if she’d like to join me on a little road trip to look for the Snowy Owl. What were the chances we would see this bird? I didn’t know if we would find him at all but a day trip with my sister and the hope of finding him was enough for me to give it a try. It was a win-win situation whether we found him or not.
My sister recalls that when I said "an owl" it meant that we would see all kinds of these owls in Tuscola County. She told me that at one point in our search she realized that I really meant ONE owl. Not a "flock of these owls" (as she characterized it) but one single owl. She said it was that moment she knew I was "next-level" bird watching.
I drew up a little map of the area and marked the location of each sighting (i.e., third telephone pole from this corner, in the field west of the second house, near an old barn on this street, etc.). There were no Google maps or GPS. I packed up my camera, spotting scope, tripod, and binoculars and we headed out the next morning.
It was mid-January in Michigan. It was cold. The ground was covered with snow. The sky was overcast. The main roads were clear. The county roads were icy.
We drove slowly as we neared the location, keeping our eyes open for the Snowy Owl and other birds. My sister wasn’t a birdwatcher then (and still isn’t) and this was still a very new hobby for me, but she joined in the “scavenger hunt.”
We arrived in the general area and slowed down to scan the fields, telephone posts and structures. I would see things in the distance through the binoculars but was continually disappointed after discovering it was just a stray white grocery bag or other object on the ground and not the Snowy Owl we were looking for. This happened over and over again. We passed by the marked spots on my map a few times and were beginning to give up on finding this owl. But then, I saw yet another “something” on the ground in the far distance on a snow covered field. Visibility was poor, and like before, I couldn’t tell if this was a mound of dirt and snow, the Snowy Owl or something entirely different. I kept my binoculars on it for quite a while, got out of the car with my spotting scope/camera combo, and took a few photos (horrible photos as it turns out) in the hopes of identifying it later on the computer and then.....it lifted off the ground and headed our way. This WAS the owl we were looking for. My heart started to beat faster and faster as he flew closer. This is all very vivid and in slow motion in my mind. He flew low over the field, slowly increasing altitude, and crossed the road right in front of us. He didn’t zoom by but passed with long, steady wing beats. The best word to describe him and the only word that immediately came to mind—majestic. Yes. Majestic. He was beautiful. He was badass.
We were both extremely excited. You would have thought we just won the lottery. Seeing this Snowy Owl in person for a brief moment in time, for the very first time ever, and watching him soar was better than any photo I had ever seen of a Snowy Owl. We did it. We found that one reported Snowy.
None of my photos were great that day, but it was an adventure we will never forget.
(Snowy Owl - Take 1)
Badass Bird - Take 1
A year later I began receiving reports of two Snowy Owls in that same area. I had to give this another try. I mapped the sightings as I did the year before, and headed out on another adventure. The skies were gloomy and gray like the year before but I found the owls and took some photos. The excitement was just the same.
(Snowy Owl - Take 2)
Badass Bird - Take 2
A few weeks later I coaxed both of my sisters into another Snowy Owl adventure. Even though it was cold outside, the skies were blue and the sun was shining. My sisters were patient as we stopped to look at other birds along the way. Only someone as close as a sibling could be so patient.
We found the owls and I took some photos, this time with a beautiful blue sky in the background. Now I was satisfied!
(Snowy Owls - Take 3)
Badass Bird - Take 3
I no longer live in an area where I’ll ever see a Snowy Owl, but I’ll always be grateful that I was able to see them in person, in the wild, a few times. And nothing can replace these adventures with my sisters.
Some Owl Tidbits:
A group of owls is called a parliament.
A baby owl is called an owlet.
Owls can turn their heads as much as 270 degrees.
Owl eyes are tube-shaped and completely immobile, boosting depth perception to fully focus on prey.
Some Snowy Owl Tidbits:
Snowy Owls hunt during the day.
Snowy Owls have an average wingspan of 4-5 feet.
Snowy Owls have bristles on their beaks to help them sense nearby objects.
Snowy Owl feet are covered with feathers to provides ample insulation for cold climates.
Other names for Snowy Owls: the snow owl, the arctic owl, the great white owl, the ghost owl, the white terror of the north
Ever hear of a snowy owl 'irruption'? Check out this article: https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/what-is-an-irruption/