For the past couple of years, every November I start getting excited to see Snowy owls. That is the time that they start to return to southern Alberta after their summer nesting season in the Arctic. This year, Great gray owls and mountain landscapes kept me away from the Prairies until December. When I head out to the open fields east of Calgary, I crossed paths with three separate Snowies and a Red fox – truly a windfall of good fortune!
The first Snowy owl was perched on a telephone pole overlooking a farm field where the fox was hunting. She was content to swivel her head around to keep eyes on everything around but not very excited by me, the traffic passing by, the farm dog that barked now and again at the fox nor the fox herself. So relaxed, that she stayed put for almost two hours. It was -22°C and the wind made it feel cooler than that. I couldn’t blame her for not moving around too much but it was quite a while to wait. I maneuvered my car to the far side of the road so that I could keep a lens on her from my seat and waited. The light flattened out and the clouds formed a white sheet behind her but I didn’t mind too much – I was happy to spend time with my first Snowy this winter!
When she did launch off the pole, it was to glide down to the field. She skimmed low over the snow and grass before disappearing behind a small rise. I hopped out and walked along the fence to a vantage point where I could see the owl again. She looked like she was preening after eating a mouse but I didn’t see the attack if it did happen. She sat and watched some more, staring at me lazily a couple of times – and once with the focused laser beams as seen above! After a few minutes, she stood up and quickly took flight again.
I love watching owls take off – they have strong wingbeats that have a clipped range of motion which seems effective to get them into the air fast. The Snowy owls, along with the Great horned owls, are enormous as far as North American owls go so it is impressive how much power they generate. She flapped hard and then levelled off about 2-3 metres off the ground as she retraced her flight plan back towards the road.
Near the fence line she climbed up to perch on a new telephone pole’s insulator. Once settled, she puffed up her feathers – the one acknowledgement to the cold I saw from her this time out.