This afternoon, Arthur and I drove out to Ogle County, where a Snowy Owl was spotted a couple of days ago. A note posted earlier in the day on the state listserv indicated the bird was being seen this morning. She wasn’t too hard to find once we reached her favorite field – as a birder on the listserv mentioned yesterday, “my keen birding instincts told me I was close when I saw the line of six SUVs on the side of the road with a half-dozen spotting scopes mounted.”
We got to watch the Ogle Co. Snowy Owl for almost two hours. She stood in a field north of Rte 72 and west of N. Fork Creek Road from the time we got there at around 2pm for about 90 minutes. She did a little bit of preening, and at one point she stretched out one of her legs behind her, showing off a gorgeous fluffy limb. Most of the time she was on the ground her eyes were nearly closed, either horizontal slits or impossibly cute upside-down U-shapes, making her look like a cartoon of contentedness.
There were several cars parked along Rte 72 while we were there, and occasionally a driver would slow down and ask us what we were looking at. Once, a woman asked “hoot owl?” when I told her we were looking at a Snowy Owl. I repeated myself, and then answered her blank stare with “the white owl!” As she drove off, I heard her tell the others in her car that it was a “hoot owl.” WTH?
A lot of the other owl watchers had binoculars and cameras, and I was happy to let them look at her through our scope. I would be staring through the scope for a while and someone would come up and ask hopefully, “Have you seen her yet?” It was really nice to give several fellow birders a good scope view of their lifer Snowy Owl.
It was cold and she wasn’t moving much, so I went inside the car to warm up a few times while we were waiting. We saw her flap her wings once while on the ground and Arthur and I leaped out of the car to get a better view. Looking through the scope we could finally see her beautiful big yellow eyes, open and alert. We could sense she would fly soon, and we were right!
She flew towards the road and then over the road. It was a beautiful, strong, silent flight, and I think everyone was just standing there completely awestruck. She flew right over us! She made a U-turn over the field and flew back towards the road, landing on a utility pole about a half block from where we were standing. Arthur and I started walking towards the owl, but just at that moment another viewer came up to US (of all people there) and asked US to tell her all about Snowy Owls. WTH? As I was telling her why the owl was thought to be a young female bird, and why she might be here instead of further north, the owl flew off the pole back into the field north of the road.
I had followed her flight through my binoculars and seen her land kind of awkwardly. We were able to pick her up again through the scope. She hadn’t landed awkwardly, she had pounced on prey! We got to watch her swallow it whole! After about 10 minutes she flew back to a utility pole along the road, about a block away from where we were standing. Arthur ran down the road along with a bunch of other viewers while I ran back to the car with the scope and drove towards the bird. We all approached slowly and about a dozen owl fans got to watch her on the pole for about 10 minutes before she flew far off into the field once more.
What a fantastic bird for my ABA lifer #249. I took some more pictures, which you can see here: Snowy Owl photos. There are some more amazing photos of this bird, taken by very talented photographers: Joan M’s Snowy Owl (amazing flight shot!); Illini Images’ Snowy Owl (look at the feet!); Rattlin Antler’s Snowy Owl (those eyes!).