Saturday, January 18, 2014

January Snow: Snowy Owl Irruption

 
Around a month ago, I began to notice snowy owl photos taken in Presque Isle State Park and posted by some of my Facebook friends.  Reports of Snowy sightings kept filtering in until it was clear that a major Snowy Owl irruption was underway.


My niece, Amy, a devoted birder e-mailed me about a late December sighting in neighboring Franklin County and then later about a report of a bird sighted in the Clear Ridge area of Fulton County.  Following up on the Clear Ridge tip, I spent a Sunday morning unsuccessfully trying to locate the bird.  When she e-mailed again Wednesday that Snowies were being sighted again in Franklin County near Mercersburg I drove through the area on my way home from work and spotted one bird a long distance from the road.  Returning the next evening I located two owls.  The photos above are of the second bird.

 
This morning Willard and I were in the area at daybreak and spotted our first owl well before sunrise.  With the temperature in the low twenties and the wind howling we set up the tripods and tried to shoot sharp images even though it was impossible to steady the cameras. 


This owl was quite active, taking flight and relocating several times.



From what I have gleaned from the reports on the 2013-2014 irruption, it is pretty much an eastern phenomena with at least one owl reported as far south as northern Florida.  Some are reporting that this is the largest irruption in fifty years while others describe it as a once-in-a-lifetime event.



As for me, Wednesday evening was the very first I had ever observed a snowy owl followed by my first photographs on Thursday making the impressive white owl my first lifer for the year!



Later in the morning after the first owl had moved out of range we spotted another snowy a mile or so away from the first.


 
This owl relocated a number of times with this photo being of one of its landings.


While reading about this unusual owl irruption on the web I ran across an ongoing snowy owl migration study called Project SNOWstorm, a study involving GPS tracking.  Currently three owls have been fitted with transmitters and are mapping their travels.

12 comments:

Lindsjö taxar said...

How exciting! Lovely Pictures.
Hope they can have more owls with transmitters to follow them

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

The Snowy Owls are a treat to see. I am still waiting to see my first one this winter,but then I have not been out looking for them.

ASHE said...

I should have known you AND Dad would be after them. Haha. LOVE the pre-dawn photograph especially.

Can you tell what kind of birds are with the owl in the last pic? Would be neat if they are horned larks!

Steve Ferendo said...

Good job. I'm glad you found some. I am still searching for a second visitor to Frederick County. The wife and I are going to Assateague on Monday where a number are supposed to be present.

eileeninmd said...

They are beautiful Owls. Lovely series on the Snowy Owl!

Coy Hill said...

Ashe, I'm not sure just what is in that photo but there were mixed flocks of horned larks and snow buntings all around us at that location.

ASHE said...

Uncle Coy, if you had snow buntings you a life bird up on me! :)

Jessica said...

Gorgeous photos -- what an experience! My son believes he saw a snowy on our way to Gettysburg recently...I can't verify it or not, but he sure was excited!

Elaine said...

Exciting to be able to add the Snowy Owl to your lifer list. Hopefully you'll be able to spot a few more before you're done with winter.

bailey-road.com said...

What an awesome sight!

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

I hope 2014 proves to be a good year for you and yours!

Montanagirl said...

I don't know how I missed this post! Congrats on your "Lifer". I took hundreds of photos of these magnificent birds in the winter of 2011-12. We had an irruption here as well. So glad you got to see one.