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A ‘Blizzard’ of Snowy Owls
Bird lovers from around the US have been given an opportunity to see a rare guest, the snowy owl. Usually held to the colder northern latitudes, these owls have been driven south by what experts assume is a shortage of lemmings in the arctic this year. With lemmings making up most of their arctic diet they have been forced to come further south to find food among the small rodents and other animals that provide a substitute to the lemming. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have been particularly lucky to get one large group of owls staying in Boundary Bay, British Columbia.
I could not pass up the opportunity to see the owls in the wild. It is an easy drive from Seattle to Boundary Bay. After crossing the border at the Peace Arch I only have a half hour more of driving before finding myself on a gravel covered dike separating the tide flats of the bay from the agricultural fields beyond. The tide flats provide habitat for a wide range of birds. Scanning the beach I see 8 eagles hunting small fish in the shallows. A great blue heron stalks its prey in the small grassy tufts of the tide flat as a trio of brilliant white swans swoop overhead.
The serine quiet of the southern part of the dike is soon behind me as I approach the owl area. One of the more unique aspects is the accessibility of the owls. To my right I can see the rolling green of a golf course and hear the soft hum of planes taking off from the Boundary Bay airport, just up the road. No more than 100 feet from the parking lot there are around 30 people huddled in small groups against the cold drizzle. Giant camera lenses poke out from beneath protective tarps as photographers wait to capture that ‘perfect’ shot.
The owls for their part are ignoring most of their now constant paparazzi. Today there are around 18 of the owls sitting on the tangled mess of felled logs and old pilings, a mere 30 feet away from the trail. Snowy owls stand about 2 feet tall and have an average wingspan of around 5 feet. I am close enough to see their golden yellow eyes as they swivel their head in my direction. They range from almost pure white to a heavily speckled grey brown. There is little movement in the group. At times one will stretch a wing or turn its head to gaze inquisitively at something in the distance.
They have been here since December and are predicted to stay through March when conditions should improve enough for them to move on. With the uniqueness of this event it has been well publicized by the local media which in turn has caused crowds to flock here for easy access bird watching. This is an amazing opportunity to help connect people with nature in a way that is accessible to anyone willing to make the drive.
For some however this amazing opportunity is not enough. Seeking that ‘perfect’ shot many visitors have ignored the signs, going off the path for an even closer view. These types of actions are unfortunately all too common in wildlife viewing, with people wandering off of marked trails to get closer to animals. These actions have a negative impact on the wildlife and their habitat. Stepping off of the trail can cause damage to the landscape and have a negative impact on the bird or other animal that one is trying to get a better look at. Getting too close to wildlife can also pose a threat to human health as many animals to not appreciate the infringement into their space and can harm people who are too close.
Bird watching is a wonderful way to connect with nature and there are so many different types of birds to enjoy! Learning how to identify birds and be a responsible bird watcher can help you Be Out There and enjoy the birds in your own area!
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