It may surprise some people, given where I live, that I have never seen a Snowy Owl up here. Oh I've seen them in the south, on one of their irruptions, but never up where they are a common breeding bird. But I've never travelled to where they commonly breed, and have relied on chance to find them in their travels, foraging or moving from their breeding grounds. And chance has not been kind.
You see, for me, Snowy Owls are what are known as a nemesis bird, a bird that the fates seem to conspire against ones seeing it. Its not like they haven't been around, just that everyone would see one, but me. This year, due to the extremely good breeding year (thanks to an extremely plentiful year on the lemming cycle) Snowy Owls have been seen extensively in the south, as far south as Dallas Texas. A lot of juvenile birds, coupled with the crash of the lemming population meant that the birds were pretty far flung, looking for sufficient rodents to hunt.
Up here, we've also seen this bounty. Well, others have also seen this bounty. At least three Snowy Owls wintered around here and succumbed. Two were killed by Ravens and a third was found dead of unknown causes. And from late winter through to now I've heard reports of at least one that has been around town. Everyone, well almost everyone, has seen it, with more frequent sightings as we've turned the corner to Spring. I've even seen video footage of the damned thing perched on a pole, taken by one of my son's friends on his iPod. Victor Bay, the dump, the road to the airport are all different spots where it has been seen. And I'd hear about it after the fact, "Did you see the Snowy Owl by the Hamlet Garage?" Why no I didn't, thanks for asking.
And its not like I'm not out looking. We're out for a drive almost every evening. I make special trips when I hear of recent sightings. It just wasn't meant to be. Such is a nemesis bird.
Yesterday was another glorious spring day here. Temperatures are beginning to approach (but not quite reach) zero, but the constant warm sun makes everything feel warmer. Couple that with little or no wind and that makes it all but impossible to be indoors. Yesterday we took full advantage of it.
In the morning we went dog sledding out to the St George's Society Cliffs, the dogs having their best run of the year so far. The two of them live to be in the traces, their excitement when they see the harnesses come out of the porch is intense. Yesterday they ran hard and fast from the moment they took off and you had the sense they would have ran all day if we'd let them.
After lunch we took our tea/coffee/hot apple cider/hot chocolate/instant something almost, but not quite, completely unlike lattes out further down the cliffs. We sat below the Gyrfalcon aeries, hoping to enjoy the bird's company. But they remained hidden from us and we were content to watch Ravens soar along the cliff face, almost brushing it with their wings.
Late afternoon we decided to take another run with the machines and leave the qamutiq behind. We headed over down Victor Bay where Leah's parents are building a cabin. There was some debate about which route to take but my choice to go past the dump along the gentle valley in King George's shadow won out. As we got closer to Victor Bay I watched a Raven along the hills, and then saw another glide across my path further down. Only this one was pale.
My first thoughts were that it was gull as they have recently arrived back, but the flight wasn't right. It landed on a low ridge by the frozen river and I stopped and retrieved my binoculars from behind the seat. It was an owl. Obviously one that didn't get the memo that I was to be avoided at all costs. It was a juvenile or a fairly dark female, but unmistakeably an owl. Leah had stopped and I handed her the binoculars and began describing where it was. About that time I realized my camera was hanging around my neck, and simultaneously the owl took off, disappearing behind the ridge.
We headed over that way, hoping to get a better look and at least a record shot, but when we saw it again it was disappearing over another small ridge, and we decided not to pursue it further and cause it undue stress. As we turned and started off again for the cabin I'm sure a smile broke over my face. The jinx had been broken, Snowy Owls were no longer a nemesis bird.