Friday, January 17, 2014

Tom and I Saw a Snowy Owl!!

Snowy Owls (Nyctea scandiaca) are rarely found in southwestern Ohio so it was exciting when a friend called and  said she was watching a Snowy Owl sitting on a light pole in The Home Depot parking lot in Washington Court House, Ohio.  She was about 30 feet (9 meters)  from the bird which had been sitting there for hours.  Washington Court House is sixty or seventy miles (96-112 kilometers) southeast of here.

There was no way we could get there before dark but the next morning Tom found information about the bird on a birding website.  The bird was still in the area but it was on the roof.  We were free after lunch so we decided to make the  trip.  We hadn't seen a snowy owl since the winter of February of 2001. (I had written the day and year in the field guide I note my sightings in.)

When we arrived in The Home Depot parking lot, there was no snowy owl on any light pole, there were no birders with binoculars and high powered scopes.  Tom called our friend who checked out the birding site with her laptop.  She told us to drive behind the building.

We did and at the far end of that section of parking lot we saw cars and vans and other vehicles parked, noses pointed the fenced edge.  We asked a man standing beside his SUV.  He pointed across the four-lane limited access road.  "It's there on the Walmart roof.  It was perched on the radar dish but now it's down on the roof.  You can see it with binoculars."

Using his directions we spotted the bird.  Tom took this picture with his updated camera steadied on the steering wheel.  (We do a lot of birding from the van since it is very hard for Tom to get out of the van.)

We were amazed when Tom enlarged the area where we knew the bird was.  If you click on the photo below, it will enlarge enough so you can see the head and shoulders of the bird.  Tom estimated the bird was somewhere between a quarter-mile and a half-mile away.  (402-804 meters)

Later, the bird flew back across the highway and landed in a field.  Tom estimated that it was 300 to 400 yards away. (274.32 -365.76 meters)  We saw it clearly with our binoculars.  Tom couldn't get a photo because the weeds blowing in the wind between us and the owl distracted the camera's sensing mechanism.

Back home, he started a search through old photos but didn't find the photos he took in 2001.  Here is a picture of a first year female that is from The Sibley Guide to Birds written and and illustrated by David Allen Sibley (ISBN 0-679-45122-6)

 The map below shows the bird's usual range.

The green dots mean it is rare in those areas.


  1. It must be having a hard winter being out in the daytime. I have not seen one in the wild. There is a new contraption that might work for Tom , I got one for Christmas it is a Car Window Mount made by Alpen Optics mine is model 703. I have not used it yet..too cold to have a window down:)

    1. Tom has a window mount, too. He uses it for our birding scope and for his camera. He used it on Monday to get bird photos. On Saturday, it wouldn't have been too nasty for someone from Minnesota but it was for us Southwestern Ohioans. We stayed snug in our van while the wind blew like mad outside it.