Monday, February 6, 2012

Snowy Owl Irruption

It had been a dark and foggy, early morning ferry ride to Tsawwassen where we hoped to find and photograph a snowy owl. From the ferry terminal, it was a short drive to where numerous other vehicles had parked and a short walk before we spotted our first owl, sitting on a driftwood log. It was respectfully surrounded by scores of people who used this dry day to wander down for a rare sighting of our traditionally, northern residents. The news casts have been talking about this irruptive event that happens about every 5 or 6 years. The Snowy Owls, generally younger ones, migrate southwards because their traditional northern food source, the lemmings, have died off. The birds fly south as far as the central USA looking for small mammals or ducks which they hunt, both day and at night time. How do the young birds find their way when they have never made this journey before? Why do they choose certain spots over others? In our case, why do they choose just this section of Boundary Bay instead of half a mile away? I guess we saw at least 15 different owls off the end of 72 street. There were probably more hidden amongst the driftwood, concealed by the fog.

The Boundary Bay Regional Park is located on the Pacific coastal flyway migration route for millions of birds. It is a very productive mix of shoreline, tidal marshes, inter-tidal mud flats, upland and woodland areas where hungry migratory birds can stop over to refuel and rest before continuing their migrations, both northward and south. For bird watchers and nature lovers, it is a wilderness oasis of of peace, nestled on the edge of a human population of over 2 million people. Here is a quiet place where you can walk, run, bike, wheel chair or push baby strollers along well groomed dykes, watching natures miracles while getting your own nature fix and exercise. Keep your dogs on a leash please.

I would say there were several hundred people wandering along the dyke looking at the owls, harriers and eagles. There were many thousands of dollars worth of camera gear deployed in the hopes of getting a great shot of this rare visitor. I did not wander out to the mud flats but could see it crawling with thousands of shore birds.

Today, it was all about the owls. The snowy owl is a large, white bird, standing about 24 inches tall, with sleepy, yellow eyes. They have a variable amount of dark spots and barring, depending upon sex and age. Young owls are heavily barred and adult females are more barred than the almost pure white color of the adult male. They eat mainly small rodents, hares, birds and carrion. They will lay 3 or 4, up to 10 eggs in a shallow, moss, feather lined depression on the tundra. They take about 35 days to hatch and another 3 to 4 weeks to fledge.

I enjoyed the day, in the company of the snowy owl. There is a quiet, regal look about the snowy owl, a look of wisdom, confidence and strength, beyond their young years. Safe journey home.

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