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Second Chance For a Snowy Owl

Friday, January 26, 2018

A 3,112-acre happy hunting ground for Owl!

Presque Isle State Park is a mighty nice hunk of habitat for a snowy owl. Comprised of marsh, dune, and Lake Erie shore, it undoubtedly looks a whole lot more like home to an Arctic owl than do the  unbroken forests of West Virginia and southeast Ohio, described by Project SNOWstorm co-founder Scott Weidensaul as "hostile territory."

This map makes me happy. Find Erie on the south shore of that inland sea. Owl originally made his way far enough south to be just off the map, just below the lower notch in the Ohio/West Virginia border. By being driven to Presque Isle, he's been given a great boost north, 260 miles or more, the best chance the team could give him. There's lots of great snowy owl habitat all around.

 This wild beachy finger of Pennsylvania has the creatures Owl should be hunting: voles and rabbits and gulls, sea ducks and geese. No more quail and rat, served up on a wooden shelf. He's on to bigger game, and he's fit, fat, and ready to hunt.

photo by Joey Herron/
A flight of scaup,  part of Owl's food base in his new home. He might be watching where they go to roost at night. He may swoop soundlessly down and pluck a scaup from the water's surface at 2 AM. Who knows what he will do here? Wouldn't we love to know!

The owl was packed in the same wild turkey box in which he traveled to Morgantown. It's tall and narrow and confining; it won't let him spread his wings or beat up his feathers. The rush about releasing him is that the longer he stayed in the small wood-sided mew, the wilder and more rambunctious he got, and the more chance he had of battering his feathers into uselessenss. And we didn't want that. 

photo by Joey Herron/
The long trek to open ground, hearts beating in anticipation.
photo by Joey Herron/

I got the sweetest email from photographer and saw-whet owl researcher and bander Joey Herron when I asked to borrow his photos for this post. I wanted to share his own words, because they show  how this bird touches lives, and the kind of awe and respect he inspires.

Joey Herron bids Owl adieu.   Photo by Vince Slabe

"As I downloaded these pics I was overwhelmed with emotion  at the honor of being a part of this!
The experience will ever be etched in my soul!.....sorry you did not make it. I know you would have felt the same!

These birds have such a presence about my wife said when you spread their wings it's like an angel from heaven! Majestic and beautiful!

On their way out the point, the team found a red-morph eastern screech-owl. 

I've also included a couple Screech owl pics....this guy was just sitting along the road!
There were a dozen people or so with scopes and cameras across from it looking and taking pics......we stopped to see what was happening........little did these people know that in the back of our  car was a Snowy Owl in a box!!!......if they only knew!!!"

photo by Joey Herron/

I'll let Katie Fallon of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia tell it now: 

RELEASE:  January 20 2018 (a month after being taken in Dec. 21).

We are very happy to announce that the snowy owl from Vienna, WV, successfully returned to the wild today! 
The injured snowy owl was captured several weeks after being hit by a car; the owl suffered a fractured coracoid (a bone in the shoulder) and was emaciated at the time of capture, weighing only 1100 grams. Today, the owl weighed approximately 1800 grams, and he had fully recovered from his injuries.
While we would normally release injured birds back where they were found, this snowy owl was out of his normal winter range. We released him several hours north -- on Presque Isle along Lake Erie -- where snowy owls are routinely sighted in the winter. This area is near the southern edge of their normal winter range.
Thank you so much to everyone who sent the snowy owl well wishes, donations towards his care and feeding, and healing thoughts. He certainly has a lot of friends, and he touched many lives. 
Thank you to everyone who assisted and participated in his capture; thank you to the folks who documented and photographed the owl and his progress; and a huge thank you to the ACCA's volunteers for feeding, medicating, monitoring, cleaning up after, and nursing the owl back to health over the last month or so.
Thank you again -- and best wishes for a long, healthy life to this young snowy owl!


         Video by Vince Slabe, courtesy Joey Herron and Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia

And so it ends. But his story goes on in our imaginations, and perhaps in the binoculars and spotting scopes of lucky birdwatchers who come out expecting a wee red screech-owl and find a big white snow-owl. Of course, I'll be eager for reports from Erie area birders, if any come in;  you can contact me on my website,  I'd be happy to post any photos. Maybe we can match them to our beloved Owl. You never know.

And meanwhile, the work at ACCA never ends. This barred owl was hit by a car, and came in with a badly fractured beak and two broken coracoids. When Katie sent me his intake photo, I wouldn't have given you a nickel for that bird. I couldn't see how he could survive injuries that grievous.  Look at him on December 10, less than a month later.

Not all ACCA's clients attain celebrity status, but each one is cared for lovingly, fed and treated just that well.

 I thank Owl for the gift of his presence. I thank him for sweeping me and thousands of others away in the sheer drama and amazement of his story; for showing the cool, slit-eyed face of the Arctic to so many Ohioans and West Virginians who had never seen and may never see such a creature again. I thank him for making his way to the Grand Central Mall to ask for help, if ask he did.

 I hope from Presque Isle, he heads west or east then, when the time comes, north and north and still farther north, his strong white wings bearing him with ease, his magnetic sense telling him where home lies. I hope he sees the Land of the Midnight Sun again, where the lemmings swarm and line owl nests with fur and food, swelling small fuzzy owlets' crops with abundance. Most of all, I hope he never has to endure any of this, ever again.

Photo by Vince Slabe
I wish him strength and health and joy in flying free again, and I'm certain he feels all that. No creance to bring him up short now. Just air and space, sun and cold, and the promise of going home to the tundra as spring draws near. Fare thee well, Owl! You woke up this morning with a second chance.  

photo by Joey Herron

Two Zick Alerts: I'm speaking about Baby Birds at 1 PM Saturday, Jan. 26, in a Spotlight Presentation at the Space Coast Birding Festival, Eastern FL State College, Titusville, FL.  $15.00 Walk-ins welcome! Writing from a small hotel room as we speak.

 And I'll be telling the story of this valiant snowy owl locally on Feb. 6 in a special presentation to Athens Area Birders. Details on their boffo poster, below.


A truly beautiful story that ends with a wonderful new beginning. Wishing that Snowy and all the other owls whose paths cross with humans good healthy happy outcomes. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

So satisfying...!
Seems like a good time to share a Mary Oliver poem (she actually has several about owls, but I'll just pass along one):

Oh, how I wish I could be in Athens, Ohio, on February 6. That poster alone gives me chills! You are a national treasure, Julie, but Midwesterners are so lucky to count you as one of their own.

He was a very fortunate bird. Thanks Julie for caring and sharing all the photos and details.

Reading this and watching the lovely video with a lump in my throat.
Such a small miracle and triumph over the many ways that these lovely creatures (and many lovely creatures) get maimed, harmed or even killed.
So nice to see a "happy ending" for a change.

Go OWL! Live Long & Prosper!

So beautiful watching that release. Thanks for sharing!

Watching the video of the release made me cry unexpectedly. Wow! Thank you to everyone who helps such animals recover and return to the wild.

I have loved following the owl's story and that release video is the perfect end.

Owl's gaze on the poster looks right into my soul. I can't take my eyes off of it. Thank you Julie for starting all of this and letting us see to the finish on the human side and the beginning on Owl's side. God Bless You.

Thank you so much with sharing this with us, Julie.

Thanks for sharing the story from beginning to end to new beginning. And thank you for thinking of Presque Isle! I'm only 65 miles south of there and just don't get there often enough. Great release I think. I keep watching that slo mo video of the release - takes my breath away, but then again that is true when I see any of the big (or small for that matter) flyers in life. Kim in PA

Wheeeeeee :-D

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