Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Diane Chase: On The Prowl For Owls

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 2.19.54 PMMy children seem to attract wildlife like iron to a magnet. It is not because they are good trackers or particularly quiet, as neither attribute is consistently true. It seems that they are observant and often at the right place at the right time.

Quite consistently when they accompany me on a hike we seem to view more wildlife, though eagles and snowy owls have evaded me to date. Opportunities to come across such majestic creatures come down to timing, organization and just luck.

According to James Ryan’s book Adirondack Wildlife: A Field Guide, there are only three owl species common to the Adirondack Park: the Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl and Northern Saw-whet. This year in particular the Adirondacks and southern regions have seen an influx of snowy owls that has been attributed to a shortage of their common food supply. Though not wishing to take advantage of its plight, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more and possibly view a snowy owl.

For anyone not in possession of two wildlife-attracting magnets, the Friends of the Washington County Grasslands IBA (Important Birding Area) is celebrating its annual Winter Raptor Fest on March 29-30 at Gallup Ridge Farm in Fort Edwards.

For those that pre-register there are guided morning and evening bird walks. For a $10/adult admission and $5/child (12 and under) there are scheduled programs and lectures from the people at Adirondack Raptors, the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, NYS Wildlife Rehab Council, The Wildlife Institute of Eastern NY and Vermont Institute of Natural Science. (VINS) to learn more about raptors.  Other fun events include sleigh or wagon rides, children’s games, crafts and food vendors.

Another owl viewing chance is the Lake George Land Conservancy’s free evening Owl Prowl on March 29th from 7:30 – 9 pm at the Town of Putnam’s Last Great Shoreline. Participants will learn common owl calls and even be able to purchase an owl hooter ($10). My kids and I will be there and I hope to see you as well. The Owl Prowl will consist of a free 1.5-mile round trip moderate hike.

If none of those dates work, try searching nearby areas with the eBird Range Map. This real-time online list provides opportunities to help document your own birding observations.

One of our favorite places to learn more about raptors is the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington. Though the raptors there have either sustained injury and are used for educational purposes or are being rehabilitated, it is still a wonderful place to become familiar with raptors. It is open to the public from 10 am – 4 pm Thursday through Monday.

I hope that attending one or all of the above events will enable me to see a snowy owl before they make their way home.

Photo of Snowy Owl by Gordon Ellmers used with the permission of Friends of IBA


Diane Chase

Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time. She writes about ways to foster imaginative play through fun-filled events and activities in the Adirondack region.

From her home in Saranac Lake, Diane also writes a weekly family-oriented newspaper column for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and keeps her own blog Adirondack Family Time. Her writing and photography has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, marketing companies and advertising agencies.

She even finds time to assist her husband with Adirondack Expeditions guiding families and young adults in the High Peaks.




One Response

  1. Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

    An alternative explanation for the snowy owl irruption. While it’s true that less potential prey in a territory may cause a predator to wander in search of food, the opposite is also possible.

    Predators have the worst jobs on earth, attacking other animals, and suffer high mortality rates, with starvation being the most common culprit, and younger predators, particularly young raptors being the most common victims. If there aren’t enough lemmings being brought back to the nest by Dad, then the older chicks (eggs are laid sequentially over a number of days), being larger, get most of the food, even though female snowy owls are almost unique in trying to level the eating field for younger chicks. Still, it’s not unusual for only half the chicks to survive, and sometimes none of them do.

    But, what happens when there is a glut of prey? In that case, there is so much to eat that the young owls, most of whom survive, face a logistical problem. Since grown males aggressively defend their territories, even against their own offspring, the younger owls are forced to wander in search of territories, hopefully a territory with many rodents, and in a year in which most of the chicks survive, this will send them great distances, south into the Adirondacks, and other northern states.