Sunday, February 23, 2014

Minnesota Winter Owls

I spent the first weekend of the new year in various places in central and northern Minnesota in search of owls.

Saturday was all about the Snowy Owl. What an incredible bird! It normally lives in the tundras of Canada and only goes this far south into Minnesota, (and other parts of the northern United States), when there is a shortage of food due to a collapse of the main food source, (the lemming), or there are too many owls for a normal food source to support. This is called an irruption and t's not something that happens every year. I believe that there are Snowy Owls that do overwinter in Minnesota every year, but they are normally in the very northern parts of the state.

Owl sitting in the snow in the middle of a field

We drove to the Sauk Rapids area, where we knew approximately where the owls were supposed to be found, but it's not an X marks the spot. You start with where they've been seen and widen your search. This particular trip, we went to the spot they were seen and we found the owl almost immediately. This was the first snowy owl I have ever seen and it was a joy to do.

We spent a couple of hours being entertained by this owl. Other people would stop and take a quick photo and then move on. A number of people told us that the owl has been in the area since Christmas. One person commented that there was another one south of where we were, so as the light faded, we headed out and found another snowy owl. This one was way more aloof and spent his time hunting out on the tundra.


Sunday proved to be a bit more difficult. We started out and found a couple of snowy owls in the Ramsey area, but it was very industrialized as well as a lot of car traffic, so I didn't get many good images and we felt very uncomfortable trying to get images around all the traffic, so we moved on. We then started our trek up north in search of some great grey owls. We ended up somewhere north of Aitkin Minnesota and we found no great grey owls, but we did find two northern hawk owls. These owls are miniature rocket ships! They launch of a branch and fall like a peregrine falcon, they fold up their wings and just dive! It was very difficult to get good images of these wonderful little birds, but I am happy with what I came home with.


Northern Hawk Owl Silhouette

In the end, it was a great weekend and for my first attempt at owl photography it was awesome. I am definitely going to go again!

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