Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Snowy Owl Irruption Winter 2017-2018

Snowy Owl on a rock in a farm field east of Warren, Minnesota 
©HvHughes, December 2, 2017

The first report of the season came in on 15 October.  Bonnie and Tim Howard spotted the big white bird in their backyard, west of Warren, MN.  They called Hollie Chaney, who went over with her camera and took the photo below.

                                        © Hollie Stone Chaney, the October 15th Snowy Owl near Warren
That's early, I thought.  But no,  according to the records (a big thank you to Minnesota Ornithologists' Union for making bird records accessible on their website - moumn.org), September would be "early."   It's "normal" to start seeing snowies in the Red River Valley in October and November.

Over the next couple of weeks, there were a few reports of snowies north of Crookston near US 75  and west near Minnesota Hwy 2. 

On November 19, the UMC Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society reported seeing a Snowy Owl between Euclid and Angus.   I went out to look for it the next day.  When I didn't find it, I called Sandy Aubol and asked if she'd seen any lately.  She drove out to meet me.  We headed towards Crookston on Minnesota Hwy 2 to the last place she had seen one.  

As we looked at the field full of corn stubble in front of us, I thought "needle in a haystack."  We looked at the field and agreed:  It would be a miracle to find in in that field.

I headed back to my car.  As I opened the door, Sandy said:  look down the road. 

I did.  There it was, sitting in the middle of the road:  my first Snowy Owl of the season.  

Driving back to Warren, another one flew up from a ditch right in front of my car.  I had been creeping along on a farm road, but I still had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting it.   I called Sandy to let her know there was another one on the township road - in a tree by the ditch. 

When they're this close, it's tempting to drive down the road to see if you can get closer.  Please don't.   It can be fatal for them.  Pull out your binoculars and watch from the comfort of your car.

Thanksgiving week, the reports of Snowy Owls in the Red River Valley increased, so I checked the Pennsylvania-based ProjectSNOWstorm.org website to see if this winter might be another big one.  Yep.  That's what they're predicting.

Agassiz Audubon sent a news release to local newspapers in NW Minnesota - asking residents to report where and when they see Snowy Owls.   On December 1st,  calls, texts and emails started coming in from all over Northwestern Minnesota:  Warren, Radium, Euclid, Angus, Alvarado, Oslo, Stephen, Argyle, Hallock, Thief River Falls, Goodrich, Crookston, Plummer, McIntosh, Traill, Badger, Holt, Kennedy, Fosston, Donaldson... and more.  They're here in great numbers.

If you see one, please view them from a distance - for more advice click on this link:

If you spot one in the Red River Valley of the North, please send us a text (218-745-5663) or email (AgassizAudubon@gmail.com) with the following information:

your name
phone number
date and time of your sighting
location (nearest intersection or GPS coordinates)
and a photo - even if it's not a great photo, it may be useful.

Thank you!!!