Sunday, February 12, 2012

Snowy Owls near Regina

Snowy Owl (A), young male or female, 
on telephone/power pole
along Highway 11 near Regina 
© SB  
I've seen five snowy owls in two days — not a bad record for two short drives along roads north of Regina.

I decided to go snowy-owl-seeking after 1) a work colleague mentioned her sister had seen one, and 2) a Google search turned up a story by University of Regina journalism student Trelle Burdeniuk, who saw owls on Highway 11, not far out of the city. (The one in her photo looks like mine, at left. Lots of markings. Same bird? Who knows?)

What could be better? Potentially easy to find — and by car! (At minus 25C, the temperature on my drive yesterday, bird watching from a heated vehicle seemed like a very good idea. But yes, I did have to get out to take pictures.)

Snowy owls summer in the Arctic, where the young are born, then fly south to winter in places like sunny Saskatchewan, keeping our overall population numbers steady while the local humans flee the cold for Mexico, Jamaica and Hawaii.

Trelle's story quotes Denver Holt, who is called one of the world's leading experts on these birds, and Saskatchewan wildlife photographer James Page, who says the majority of snowy owls he's seeing are young, and still have many dark markings.

Looks like an angel...  Snowy Owl (A)  lifts into flight. 
Look at those massive feet!!! © SB 
The most intriguing bird I found fit this bill. It hunkered on the top of a pole watching me, waiting until I got close before it lifted into flight, wings stretched wide, huge feathered feet tucked under it. Let's call it Bird A. From its markings, it was either an immature male or a female... From my read of the descriptions on Cornell's All About Birds (which say young males tend to have a white bib, white back of the head, and fewer markings on the tail), I'd say young male — but who knows? There are two pictures on my other blog of Bird A in flight: one shows its back, the other, its belly. Guess for yourself!

I saw Bird B, the most beautifully snowy, along the same stretch of Highway 11 where I found Bird A. It was larger, with few markings and tolerated me walking back and forth along the shoulder of the road, below its perch. He (yes, a bird this white would be male) stayed still long enough for a semi-backlit portrait that shows a ruff of white feathers around one eye. (I've posted this online, too, on LatitudeDrifts.)

Birds C was (again, on the top of a power pole) on the old highway near Lumsden. It was not long after dawn this morning, and its white feathers picked up a slight gold tone from the sun. (Lovely light!)

Snowy owl (C). Awesome wingspan - and feet! © SB 

A,B, C = 3. What about the other two snowy owls? One was on a power in a field along Highway 11, the other was also near Lumsden, on a pole beside Highway 734.

Snowy Owl Telephone (Power?) Pole Club:   

Based on my experience (which is almost negligible, I'll admit!), the easiest way to find snowy owls is to scan the tops of power and telephone poles. In winter, of course. And being in Saskatchewan helps. Snowy owls are large enough to be visible a short distance away.

Snowy Owl B
Snowy Owl C

Snowy Owl B
(See LatitudeDrifts for
a great close-up!) 

Note: These pictures will open larger when left-clicked. You can zoom in or see slightly larger versions of most by right-clicking the opened versions, then clicking "open image in new tab" and going to that tab.  


What are these? Snowy Owls. For more pictures of these birds, see my post today on LatitudeDrifts
Location: near Regina,Saskatchewan: Birds A and B, along Highway 11, in the first set of poles (east side of the road) just north of the turn off to Condie; Bird C, along Highway 734, near St. Michael's, south of Lumsden.
Photo dates: February 11 and 12, 2012


Snowy Owls: An Irruption of Owls in Saskatchewan

Snowy Owl in Saskatchewan - photo by Shelley Banks
Snowy Owl along Highway 11. I love the feather ruff 
around his eyes...  (Yes, a bird so white is male.)
Bird B, on Prairie Nature © SB.
I don't understand migration. I like to think birds such as snowy owls follow inner maps, invisible energy lines that lure them north and south. But I can't visualize that.

Instead of trying, I'll watch the snowy owls, now wintering in Saskatchewan.


For many people, Saskatchewan must seem the deep and snowy north.

(When I was a student flying from the West Indies each August, Americans asked: 1: Where's your parka? 2: Do you live in houses? 3: Will I be cold? Responses: 1: It's summer; 2: Are you kidding? 3: Depends on your air conditioning... And that was en route to Toronto!)

But to some birds, including these Arctic snowy owls, Saskatchewan is the south. And this year, we're apparently benefiting from "large scale, periodic migrations known as irruptions".

An Irruption of Owls.

I like that.

Snowy Owl - photo by Shelley Banks
Wingspan, belly and huge feet of Snowy Owl
Bird A on Prairie Nature 
© SB 

Snowy owls summer and nest in the Arctic, then fly south to winter in sunny resorts (um, make that fields near Lumsden and Regina, Saskatchewan).

After hearing about them from a work colleague and reading the UofR story, I went looking for snowy owls near Regina this weekend. I didn't have to go far — I saw two the first time out, and three the next day. Three were along Highway 11, near the turn off to the Condie Nature Refuge, and two were along Highway 734, just south of Lumsden. (More pictures of those five owls are on my Prairie Nature blog.)

Feel the wind under their wings, the journey, the distance, the quest.

The magic of migration.
Snowy Owl - photo by Shelley Banks
Wingspan and back markings of  Snowy Owl 
Bird A on Prairie Nature © SB 

"Snowy Owls Make Rare Mass Migration", says the story linked above, from Reuters, via According to it, "Thousands of the snow-white birds, which stand 2 feet tall with 5-foot wingspans, have been spotted from (US) coast to coast, feeding in farmlands in Idaho, roosting on rooftops in Montana, gliding over golf courses in Missouri and soaring over shorelines in Massachusetts." 

For a local angle, see: "Snowy Owls Flocking to Saskatchewan in Record Numbers," from the J-school at the University of Regina.

If you're looking for snowy owls (and you're lucky enough to live in Saskatchewan), drive out of the city and watch for power and telephone poles. If you're lucky, from the distance you'll see a white blob at the top  of one that will coalesce to the shape of an owl as you approach. The snowy owls I saw were far less skittish than hawks; each watched me for several minutes before deciding to lurch up and fly


Note: These pictures will open larger when left-clicked. You can zoom in or see slightly larger versions of most by right-clicking the opened versions, then clicking "open image in new tab" and going to that tab.  


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