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.

Snowy Owl

Wilbur remained on this perch after I left. My camera’s zoom allows me to get close without being close.

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.

Snowy Owl

Ugly Mug stayed on this perch after I left.

Then again, he’s not that bad-looking.

Snowy Owl

This pole was in the middle of a field. No boots were muddied in the taking of this photo, and it was taken from within my car. Yeah, the picture quality is terrible, but sometimes that’s just the way it is.

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.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark – a delightful dose of unexpected variety during this SNOWy winter. Plus it’s Dad’s favorite bird.

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.

8 thoughts on “Evolution

  1. This makes me sad. I was late to your similar post at MN Birding on FB, but without posts like yours, I would have never driven through rural Pope county this weekend looking (without success) for the just-north versions.

    The only two Snowy Owls I’ve seen in my life were ones with precisely reported locations: last year and this year in Maple Grove.

    Best place in MN to see a Snowy Owl has still got to be Arbor Lakes Shopping Center in Maple Grove. Open area to the public and no one will unduly stress out the bird that’s chosen to sit above shops in an outdoor mall. (The crows might, though.)

    I have some more thoughts based on things I’ve just learned about Owl biology, but I’ll have to reserve them for later.

    • Fear not, Adam, there will always be detailed reports of Snowies by other birders as well as those patient ambassador owls that pose for hundreds of cell phone pics in retail parking lots.

      I think we’ve reached the saturation point of SNOW reports for Meeker and Kandiyohi. The hard-core county listers have already nabbed their birds and the local birders have all seen at least one. Any continued reports I make will just bait photographers, encourage lazy birding by others, and annoy people who are no longer interested in the region. My last ditch hope for reporting is that visiting birders may turn up more SNOW or some other oddity. That hasn’t happened.

      Kudos to you for doing some intrepid Pope birding. I’m glad to hear reports like mine have motivated you to go out on your own. Unfortunately most people just take the path of least resistance to a Snowy which is what I’m tired of. Since we all know now that the SNOWs are out in force, everybody should be doing what you’re doing – exploring. My continued reports for this year are moot.

      Glad to have your insights, Adam. Go get that Pope SNOW and make sure it’s an all-white one!

      • I was actually hoping for the Snow Buntings and Horned Larks that my FiL tells me he’s seen (and maybe a Longspur that he may not even know to see), but the weather was no good. (Apparently sunny and subzero brings them to the roadsides. It was overcast and mid-30s) We still looked, but the best bird was probably a Red-tailed Hawk, or the eye-level-at-20-yards Bald Eagle (which was one of seven or so, but so close!).

        I might not have gone except gas was so cheap. I really don’t twitch, but I bird where I’m at, or at a relatively close (I drove a half-hour to Monticello to see the Swans). The onlyspecific birds I’ve ever gone after were the Maple Grove Snowy Owls (as I shop in the area anyways) and a Nicollet County Cattle Egret (when I drove from New Ulm to Minneapolis, and it was just a choice to drive that way).

        • The Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, and Horned Larks are MIA this year for some reason. In fact, the country roads are devoid of bird life except for the occasional RTHA or BAEA as you say.

          Keep birding close to home and you’ll eventually find something that was on no one’s radar!

      • The other thing I was thinking about was this article that someone posted to Minnesota Birding on facebook.
        It made me wonder about all of the worry about bothering Snowies is really about people having different ways of enjoying them. Don’t trespass, don’t be a careless driver or pedestrian. But are those aesthetic and human concerns. Does all the attention and harassment actually bother the birds more than just annoyance on par with what they feel for crows? (Unless they get flushed into traffic. Or crows.)

        This is a different issue than breeding territory owls or nests. But no Snowies are breeding anywhere nearby as far as I know.

        • I’ve read the article too. I don’t worry about them starving or expending their energy when flushing from a perch like some people do. I don’t even take a stand on the whole baiting issue. However, a well-fed, energized owl is no justification for taking liberties with its space, breeding or not. Bumping an owl from pole to pole interrupts its hunting and resting, and if annoyed enough it will leave for good. That’s what I don’t want to happen with the Willmar Snowies, hence the end of the reports.

  2. Great post, Josh! Ugly Mug, ha ha!

    Wilbur is way better looking, but Ugly Mug is the best looking thing I’ve ever seen with Ugly as a label.

    It’s nice of you to be the Owl Claus too. SNOW for all!!

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