Before last week, I’d never seen an owl in the wild. One of my friends teased me about keeping my eyes up so I could look on fence posts, and that’s a fair assessment — when we were kids a hundred or so years ago there was actually a note “from” her mother “to” my mother inviting me to take the school bus to her farm and spend the weekend. I’m not really sure why no one caught on that the note written in shaky script didn’t have capital letters after ‘L’, and used green felt pen on torn newsprint. There certainly were enough clues that it may have been written by a second grader still struggling with cursive letters — although in all fairness there may have been an omission to produce said note until after the weekend, and while under duress. Nonetheless, her farm was a forty-five minute bus ride away, and I read a book the whole time.
I still read in the car sometimes, but usually just on long trips. For this trip, we had a mission. I wanted to look for snowy owls, in spite of it being one of the coldest days this winter. If the owls could do it, we thought maybe we could too. So, we loaded the cameras and some coffee, wore extra layers and put the new Beatles CDs into the player and headed out.
First up? A bald eagle. My husband knew it was an eagle from miles away, recognizing the profile from his years living in Seattle. I was a bit skeptical, and had neither the camera nor the field glasses at the ready. As often happens, I should have trusted him automatically. I didn’t make that mistake again.
Our first snowy owl sighting was really more a people-sighting first — people who had crossed a ditch and climbed a fence and were stalking the owl. I did get out of the car to watch, but I don’t cross people’s fences or chase the birds. The whole point of owl-hunting is to get a picture of something amazing in the wild without stressing the poor thing out or being disrespectful of people’s private property. Responsible birding organizations are not posting owl sightings anymore because of this very behaviour.
We didn’t stay long with that bird, and not five minutes later, we were treated to owl number two. She was sitting on a billboard, so we again pulled to the side of the road and I took some pictures over the car. She didn’t seem to mind at all.
Owl number three was on a silo. We were both scoping those out because we’d had seen one there on our last outing. Owl number four was first on someone’s farm building but flew across the highway the second I got out of the car. We turned around and drove down three light standards to watch but he wasn’t about to hang around. He left quickly and flew to an inaccessible mound of something or other in the field.
Every single owl was spotted by my husband and I was glad to have him along. At the end of the day, we stopped in one of the larger communities to buy coffee. We got out of the car and shivered our way across the parking lot.
“Look”, I said, and pointed up a pole. At the top was owl number five.
The number of snowy owls this year is an unusual gift. In our case, it made for a remarkable New Years Day and we enjoyed it immensely. It was a wonderful start to 2014.