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.