Hikers Track the Not-So-Elusive Snowy Owl
Sunny weather had hikers out looking for snowy owls last weekend. While the Skagit Wildlife Area didn't pan out, those who visited Damon Point State Park on the Washington coast or Boundary Bay Regional Park south of Vancouver, BC, were well rewarded.
Everyone is going gaga over snowy owls.
This arctic bird has made a rare foray into Washington this winter, delighting birders and non-birders from far and wide. Unlike most of its owl cousins, the snowy owl is diurnal - active during the day - and as much at home on a beach log as it is in a tree. It is big, beautiful and startlingly white, with piercing yellow eyes. What's more, this is the owl of Harry Potter, which makes it a magnet for kids.
There are many theories as to why the snowy owl has appeared in such numbers in the Lower 48 states this year. The most prevailing theory ties it to their favorite food: lemmings. These are small arctic rodents, known for their boom and bust cycles. A recent boom likely led to an exceedingly good breeding year for the snowy owl. Then the lemming population crashed, causing the owls to travel further south this winter looking for food.
Snowy owls started arriving in late fall and are expected to stick around until March. Last weekend's beautiful weather had people out in droves trying to catch a glimpse of the regal bird. Following sightings at the Skagit Wildlife Refuge by Trip Reporters "Bob and Barb" on January 27th, three WTA staffers traveled there independently last weekend. The result: bald eagles, yes; snowy owls, no.
But don't fear, the snowy owl is still around. "Hikingqueen" and "Weluv2hike" both reported sightings at Damon Point State Park on the Washington coast. Hikingqueen reported, "We saw at least 10! Tons of photographers lining the area. Get there early for a parking spot."
The current epicenter of the snowy owl, however, is Boundary Bay Regional Park, just over the Canadian border from Blaine. The owls have been there in large numbers since December, and the word is definitely out as people packed this park with their tripods and enormous telephoto lenses. Last weekend Bob and Barb Griffith saw 36 owls and 400 people in three hours. (Check out this photo of 11 owls by Ray Morris on the King5 site.)
Where will the snowy owl be this weekend? And how do we temper our excitement of seeing these amazing creatures with their need for space and peace?
The Tweeters List is a message board with sightings and excellent advice from well-versed birders. Posters recommend that people stay on the dikes or paths, remain quiet, refrain from the use of flashes and under no circumstances should anyone flush the birds.