“Stop!” My friend/mentor Mark Peterson stops the van with a jerk.
“What’s that big white thing?”, I ask.
“That's not it”, Mark says nonchalantly, without even lifting his bins, without even looking towards it.
I lift my own bins and see that it’s just a satellite dish.
Ok…we’re looking for something big and white and flecked all over. Got it? We were looking for a Snowy Owl. Birders were flocking from all over the state to see it. Even my non-birder sister was curious about the unexpected Hedwig.
We finally found the owl, perched cooperatively close atop a house. Instantly, Mark and I pulled out our scopes and began digiscoping. It wasn’t long before a car pulled up behind us and a woman in the passenger seat rolled her window down. She asked what we were looking at and we pointed to the owl on the roof. She commented on the bird’s profound beauty—something about it being big and white—and the car rolled on by.
We continued clicking our cameras and admiring the owl. It was a 2 year old male, nearly all white with minimal flecking on the wings. I tried to imagine this bird on the tundra, sitting on the ground, languorously turning its head to face me with lazy yellow eyes. Or sitting in the snow, so that all I can distinguish from the surrounding blankness are two ochre orbs.
So why was our owl here, in Colorado? Snowy Owls are eruptive species and are known to travel far in search of good hunting. Winter storms may also affect their movement. Although rare, Snowy Owls have appeared on the Front Range before. The last Snowy Owl in Colorado was spotted in April 2007 in Kiowa and Bent Counties. Our owl seemed a bit close to the mountains (they are usually found farther out on the plains).
For forty-five minutes we stood and took pictures—several cars pulled up to ask questions, two people got out of their cars to see the bird in our scopes. Thus ended my winter break…with a profoundly beautiful, drop-dead gorgeous, ginormous, white owl.
El Paso County Snowy Owl, Photo courtesy of Bill Maynard