Coralee, June, & I traveled over a hundred miles north Tuesday morning to Howard County in order to locate a Snowy Owl. In Iowa. This is the second winter in a row that Snowy Owls have been on an irruptive streak in the upper Midwest, traveling far south of their arctic tundra homelands. The bulk of the sightings in our “area” have been along Lake Michigan in eastern WI. We had been planning a trip to Wisconsin this month to visit family & to hopefully see a Snowy, but our schedule just hasn’t cooperated. Thanks to the awesome email discussion list operated by the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union, I was aware there was one, possibly two, Snowy Owls making their presence known in northern Iowa since the New Year. The listserv Monday night contained a fantastic description of where a confirmed Snowy had been spotted earlier in the day, so I told Coralee to be ready Tuesday morning. We were going to hit the road & hope for the best.
Late Tuesday morning we arrived in Howard County & drove around a section of bare agricultural fields for about 45 minutes searching for the Snowy without any luck. Saw a lot of Horned Larks. We parked along the side of Iris Avenue on a ridge overlooking the exact field on which the owl was sighted yesterday and began to scan again. I noticed a car parked on the road perpendicular to ours (70th St) with someone sticking out the moon/sun roof with a pair of binoculars. They had to be birders. We slowly made our way down the road & off the ridge, all the while Coralee was scanning the field for the owl with her binoculars. Eventually we parked near the other car; the occupants motioned us to drive up, windows rolled down, & the kind birders (I swear, birders in Iowa are some of the nicest people anywhere) told us the owl was out in the field–between two dirt clods. We pulled off to the side of the road and started looking. Took about a minute to find. No words. It was just so cool. In the photo above you can see one of the dirt clods & the Snowy on the far right.
We are fairly confident that this Snowy is a juvenile male. Definitely a male. And not quite full grown due to the presence of some black barring on its back & chest. Adult males are almost or completely pure white. White as snow. Females have a lot more barring all over. He sat in the snow the entire time we watched him. Constantly turning his head back and forth, sweeping the fields. A Horned Lark landed very close to him, possibly three feet away; he watched the lark for awhile, but made no movement toward it. He looked at our cars a lot. I’d estimate he was about 30-40 yards out, south of 70th Street. My “good” camera remains in limbo–needs a new battery, a new memory card, and the lenses need to be re-fitted. Coralee was so.very.mad I did not take care of all that before we left. I honestly did not think we would find the owl! Oh me of little faith!
And so Coralee was forced to resort to digiscoping photos, again. The girl is getting really good at this.
June was less than impressed after about 45 minutes of this crazy ‘birdwatching from cars’ that all her family members seem to enjoy so much. It was time to go. We needed to head back south anyway in order pick Merritt up from the bus on time. Plus the weather went from magnificent….
Coralee was particularly proud of this photo she digiscoped, so I’ve used it in the post twice. Coralee & I both added ‘Snowy Owl’ to our Life Lists today. Someday June can, too, if she takes up birding (poor kid if she doesn’t–she’s been on so many trips already!). If you are interested in finding a birding listserv in your state, click here. Some of these links are dead (like the Iowa one), but I’m sure most are not. We also saw a Northern Saw-whet Owl over the weekend in Iowa. February is quickly becoming one of my favorite months. For birding. It’s been gosh darn COLD otherwise! :)