Last time this birder checked in the mirror, his horns were still very green – much too green to take knowledgeable stands on birding issues, let alone to refine and redefine such stands. For example, when I first got into birding, I didn’t understand why people were so secretive about owl locations. I thought they were just hoarding good birds for themselves or were just jerks, plain and simple. Over time, though, I started to understand that many withheld to protect the owls from bird paparazzi and overzealous birders who know no boundaries. I understood, yet I still remembered how it felt to be left in the dark and have to start at ground zero. Therefore when coworkers and students fed me a multitude of Snowy sightings the past couple years and when I discovered my own two this year, I freely shared the sightings and gave specific locations. I saw many people get excited over seeing their first Snowy Owl or finally seeing one for a specific county. That was quite a thrill for me; it was like playing Santa Claus for a bunch of bird-nerds. I vowed to myself I wasn’t going to be an old scrooge who keeps an owl to himself because he thinks the masses can’t be trusted with it.
In light of an event this weekend, though, I find myself in a weird state of change. It seems the Willmar Snowy Owls I have found have garnered the attention of those from afar, bringing out-of-town visitors. Quite possibly this is because I have been reporting them as all-white males, a coveted sex/plumage combo for birders and photographers as evidenced by all the blog hits I was getting directly off my list-serv postings. I mean, who can blame them. Wilbur is quite stunning.
It was reported to me that a photographer with a large lens was traipsing (more than likely trespassing) on private land to walk right up to Wilbur for closer shots while Wilbur was resting on a pole in a field far from the road. It was not nearly as atrocious as some birder/photographer behaviors you hear about when Snowy Owls show up closer to the Twin Cities metro area, creating mobs armed with cameras and binoculars, but still it was enough to rub me the wrong way. A little bit of innocence was lost.
So now I find myself wondering what/how to report if I get lucky enough to be in such a position again. I doubt I’ll go completely dark, but maybe I will. A highly-sought all-white Snowy may not be reported with that level of description or may just not be reported at all. I might report a Snowy like this one I found 2.5 miles from Wilbur just ten minutes after the sighting pictured above (my third double-Snowy day this month). I doubt anyone will cross a field to photograph his ugly mug.
Then again, he’s not that bad-looking.
So maybe I will keep ones like this quiet – tell a few friends, delay my eBird reports until long after the fact, etc. I really don’t know as I am still in a state of transition. One thing I do know is that I still want to be able to help anyone looking for a lifer Snowy.
More than likely I will still report cool non-owl species. It’s unlikely that a bird like this overwintering Western Meadowlark I found will create a circus, and serious birders would be interested in knowing about it even if they didn’t want to go see it. Owls are different though; people (birders and non-birders) get whipped up into a frenzy over them owls.
So it’s a new year and a new outlook. And my next post will highlight how I’d be put to the test right away.