Snowy Owl Sighting

snowy-owl_peytonco_20100110_lah_6250-1We got the call yesterday afternoon. “Come quick! I’m staring at a Snowy Owl!” Of course, we dropped everything, grabbed the scope and camera, and went running. Amazing—a Snowy Owl turning up just 20 minutes from our home near Colorado Springs. That doesn’t happen every day.

It’s a good thing Pete was driving—I probably would have had a hard time keeping to the speed limit. We pulled up behind the line of vehicles, and half a dozen people glanced up from their spotting scopes. I jumped out of the car while Pete helpfully assembled camera and scope. I had just gotten the adapter last week—a late birthday present—and barely knew how it all went together.

Our recent above-freezing weather had melted all the snow, and the magnificent white owl was easy to spot against the tawny dead grass of the open fields. It was sitting on a fence post about 200 yards away, staring at us with big yellow eyes. Everyone got a good look, and those with cameras were clicking away.

snowy-owl_peytonco_20100110_lah_6306-1Either the owl got bored, or something startled it, because it suddenly spread its wide wings and  flew up onto the roof of a near-by house. Can you imagine adding “Snowy Owl” to your yard list? Over the next couple of hours, it moved several times. Whitewash on the shingles marked the perches it had used all day.

As you can see, our visitor was a youngster, with spotted, immature plumage. It had probably hatched last summer on the arctic tundra. A colder-than-usual winter combined with a scarcity of lemmings has pushed the Snowy Owl populations southward this year, with reports coming from northern states such as North Dakota. Finding one as far south as Colorado was very exciting.

The sun was sinking behind the mountains, the air was growing colder, and we were anxious to see how the photos had turned out. It was time to head  home. As we got into the car, I kept repeating, “What an incredible bird—and my first ‘lifer’ of the year!”

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