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In search of the Snowy Owl

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On a winter day, if you're traveling down a country road, especially near a wide-open field like this you may encounter a little slow down. If the car in front of you is drifting at lower speed, and the passengers inside are using binoculars, there may be a good reason. Chances are, your fellow travelers are in search of a special winter visitor here in Mid-Michigan, the Snowy Owl.

For a bird watcher, the Snowy Owl is a site worth waiting for.

"This year they started showing up in mid-November," says Trevor Edmonds of the Saginaw Basis Land Conservancy

We spent an afternoon scouring southern Bay County, where Snowy Owls have been spotted this winter. Called an irruption, this migration from the owls' home in the arctic tundra doesn't happen every year.

"We've been experiencing them for the last few years, but it can be very sporadic. A lot of it does depend on food supplies, that are available to them in their natural habitat- which is far, northern Canada, above the Arctic Circle," Trevor says.

Trevor says Snowy Owls are definitely in the area, but they are not always easy to see in their favorite nesting spot- on the ground, "This is a farm field with some relatively fresh snow on it, and because of the coloration of the bird, being predominantly white with the black markings, as you can see, they would be able to blend in very well."

The Snowy Owl also likes to hang out up high, Trevor says, "A lot of times they will be up on telephone poles, on top of barns, anything where they can get a good vantage point and see a ways when they are hunting."

On this day, however, we looked low and high, for many miles, and no Snowy Owl.

"It's just like looking for any wildlife," Trevor explains, "Even if you know they are in a certain area, depending on the day or the conditions you never know if you're going to see them. You might go out and see five in one day, or you might go out and not see any."

Another thing that can make the snowy owl hard to spot is that they don't flock or group together, they are solitary, Trevor says, "Normally, when you find one, it will just be one on its own."

Ebird.org- a website run by the Cornell Lab of Oranthology- is a good place to track the Snowy Owl. It maps out reported sitings by date.

"You can look up any bird species on there, but specifically you can look up Snowy Owls on there and find out where recent spottings have occurred," Trevor says.

So, look high. look low, but if you're up for the search, you better look before the end of March. That's when the snowy owl hits the road.... or... air.

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