Background Switcher (Hidden)

Sharing a Snowy Owl

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I left Lehman's Hardware, many pounds of popcorn richer, and went back to check on the distant owl in the cornfield. Yep, still hunkered down there, well out of camera range. Oh well. A huge flock of horned larks lisped over. I looked up, and an exquisite rough-legged hawk hove into view.

Against all odds, it came and circled over to check me out. Maybe it thought I had a mouse in my pocket. Maybe it felt sorry for me, not getting photos of the Kidron Road Owl. Maybe it had never seen somebody grin that big.

Oh, people look above you...
It's there your hope must lie
There's a (big) bird above you, gliding in one place
Like Jesus in the sky... 

(Jackson Browne, "Rock Me On the Water")

Rough-legs take my breath away and don't give it back for a long time. 

Oh thank you, Hawk, thank you.

 When the hawk flew out of sight, I headed for a small regional airport where a snowy owl had been hanging out for several weeks. I was excited at the possibility that I'd be close enough to focus my trusty 70-300 mm Canon lens on the bird. I didn't know that I'd make a bunch of new friends in the process. 

I pulled up next to the all-purpose gate/office/hangar/machine shop/pilot lounge building and began scanning the runway from my car. A gentleman came out and looked in all directions across the runway and surrounding fields. 

I had a hunch he'd know all about the owl. So I asked him if he knew where the big white bird might be. 

"Well, it likes to hang out on the watch shop, and that white aviation building, and the second telephone pole down toward the farm, and toward evening it generally sits on the green oil tank back there."

I knew I'd found The Man. David is Airport Manager here, and he'd been watching the owl for five weeks. Not, I'd add, with a spotting scope. He's borrowing mine here.

This man has 39,000 hours in the cockpit. He had that raptorial gaze, that far-off pilot look in his eyes.  I could not even imagine flying that much, that far. I wondered what all he's seen and done. I wanted to ask him a million questions, just listen to him talk, but he is a man of few words. I don't think I've done anything for 39,000 hours in my life, unless it's lollygagging.

I indulged my fascination for flying machines, peeking into the spotless hangar. Ohhhh. David was very relaxed about my dancing all over the tarmac and peeking in there.

A Piper came in, and he walked out to meet it, carrying some home-made chocks for its wheels. I liked this little airport.

  I found this air ambulance so beautiful, and longed to go up in it, but not because I had to...

It wasn't long before another small plane came sailing in, and this one spooked the owl from its hidden resting place behind a rise! I saw its great white sails cleaving the air and got very excited. I swung my scope onto the bird, took it in, and shared the magnificent sight right away with David. It was sitting on a runway light, too far away to photograph, but thrillingly close through the scope.

Word spread through the complex and pilots, mechanics and line personnel appeared like magic to see the wondrous sight, brought close by the scope.

Jennifer showed up with her two sons, one 12, one newly in college. None of the three had ever seen a snowy owl, but they'd heard it might be here. I was delighted to put their spotting scope on the bird.

Everyone was smiling. I felt like there might be sparks flying off my hair and fingertips, I was so happy that everyone was getting to see it. Just to be in the presence of someone seeing a life bird is such an honor. But a snowy owl?! Words fail me. All I could do was smile.

The little planes came and went. I didn't know they wheel them out of the hangar and hand-roll them out on the tarmac. Oh, I want to fly, too. 

 The ceiling lowered and snowflakes began drifting down. It would be dark all too soon. The owl had flown off. It was time for me to leave, though I didn't want to. David pointed to a big white pole barn, suggesting that the owl might be perching there. I drove over and soon discerned a giant white blob just a settin' on a floodlight. Ohhhh! I pulled into the parking lot at a respectful distance, for this owl is skittish and I could tell that David didn't like to see it flushed by people trying to get closer. I wasn't going to be that boob. So I lay across the seat, rolled down the window, and waited for it to look my way.


O marvelous white ghost of the Arctic, thank you for coming down here to visit us. May you find many voles and rabbits, may you return to your birthplace healthy and fat, to find a mate and make more giant ice owls. 

As I ogled and shot, waiting for increasingly long periods for the owl to deign to look my way, I heard the whisper of tires behind me. Looked out to see two young women with excited smiles on their faces. Rolled down the window. 
"What are you looking at?"

I couldn't believe they didn't see the owl up there, but they didn't have binoculars. So I pulled alongside their car and handed them mine.

Their suppressed squeals of delight made a fabulous day perfect.

Kara and Amanda work for Stark County Parks District.
They were the best. So excited. Wanted to bring their whole office here to see this wonder from the North. I said DO IT. 

Thing is, I wanted to be there, handing out loaner binoculars like candy, setting up the scope...An owl this magnificent must be seen well. 

I got their business cards and gave them mine. We decided to make a date soon.

I drove home down old Highway 250, looking at the corn shocks in the gloaming, thinking about this cool, parallel other world I'd been in all day. A place where horses still whicker softly to their people when they finally come out of the grocery store

which is stacked with row upon row of beautiful fresh spices and herbs and more popcorn and yes I bought some...

A place where the world's most awe-inspiring owls have come to spend the winter, making birdwatchers of everyone who falls under their spell. 

And for someone who's been birding since she was eight, magically making it all fresh and new again.


This was a beautiful and magical day trip, and thank you so much for bringing me along!

Posted by Anonymous January 21, 2014 at 4:18 AM

Beautiful! Lovely! Between the owl and the rows of spices I may have started to tear up a bit!

I'm having a thrill just reading about your day of Snowy Owl watching! Thank you, thank you for sharing the story for the rest of us who can't be there in person! (I'm keeping watch around here... who knows, if I'm ever going to see one, it might be this year!)

What a shot of that roughie! GORGEOUS. And sharing birds -- all the birds -- is such a treat. You do it exceptionally well.

Great post. Thanks.

You have the gift, girl. You can take a subject and transport the reader right into that moment, all the while infusing in her that same breathless joy you felt.

Magic follows you!

Awesome day, I would say. I am just getting into birding. Sitings are so much fun. Never knew how many species of birds out there. Thanks for sharing your day.

Posted by Anonymous January 21, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Thank you, reading this I feel the love pouring from the page--what a wonderful thing it is, bonding with strangers over shared love of this planet filled with such marvels beauty and wildness.

My husband and I saw our very first snowy owls last November. Early one morning (we're retired, hooray!) we drove a couple of house to Muskegon, where we had heard there were seven the day before, in a park along the lake. Sure enough, we saw three!! What a great day that was for us. We didn't have a genuine Amish lunch, but we used a gift card at an Olive Garden for an American/Italian lunch and it was good. We have only been birding for 10 years, but I had wanted to see a snowy owl since I had read something about them while in my teens. Thanks for your post! Shelley from Michigan

Posted by Anonymous January 21, 2014 at 3:53 PM

We have an awful lot of Snowy Owls around Nova Scotia, more than ever before! Last week, Thursday I think, I took a walk after lunch. (I live in Glace Bay, NS) At the end of my street, is the ocean...and it is beautiful! I never, ever figured I would find an owl up there, but that's exactly what I did! A Snowy Owl, sitting behind the Museum - I even had my binoculars with me, not that I needed them!! There's nothing to compare to a Snowy Owl!

Posted by Bev Crowell January 21, 2014 at 5:03 PM

Oh the magnificent Snowy Owl!!What a thrilling day! Great pictures, great friendships. I love how you share with each person you meet. What a treasure!

Marvelous virtual day. Thanks for sharing. I got to visit the owl that is/was on little Talbot Island State Park, Jacksonville, Florida. Hope to get some pictures of it flying before it leaves.

This post made me weep. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Now I'm ready to take a tent and pitch it by the waterworks building at Fresh Pond, just on the off chance that the snowy owl who came for a visit during the last cold snap might venture back sometime soon...


Posted by KH Macomber January 22, 2014 at 12:09 PM

" ... many pounds of popcorn richer ..."

Ahh! when I read that, I knew this blog post would be special!

thank you!


I'm a little behind on the posts--just read this one. My son (a blondie with glasses like Liam) has done many Stark Parks program with Kara. She's great! ...Wish we could have seen the owl! Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for stirring up memories of seeing a snowy owl back in January 1982. We were living in Fairborn, Ohio at the time and I happened to overhear a conversation at the Commissary at Wright-Patterson AFB. Drove over to the runway area and found the ole sitting on a post, too far to photograph,but near enough to get a good look through binoculars. Told several other birders and took them to see it also on five other days,ending Feb. 2'1982. It was snowing on one of those days, Nd it was wonderful!!! Linda

Posted by Anonymous January 31, 2014 at 1:33 PM
[Back to Top]