A female Snowy Owl has been up at Riverlands for several weeks now and we finally had a day when we could 'go birding' and look for it. We packed up the spotting scope and camera and drove up to the sanctuary yesterday. Conditions always feel colder up there near the Mississippi River and marshlands, so if you decide to go, be sure to dress in extra layers. The owl does move around to different areas and others have posted images that are much closer to the owl than I was able to get yesterday, but we were happy to go and see this owl together. The spotting scope helped greatly to view it. Mission accomplished.
Snowy Owls are sporadically and rarely seen in Missouri in the winter. Their occurrence depends on their food supply of lemmings and voles further north. When the lemming population crashes, the owls must move south to find food. In other words, many of these birds may be starving. That is one of the reasons I have hesitated to run up to see one when there has been a sighting, not wanting to put any additional pressure on them. We decided we would take one day and limit ourselves to a few hours and see if we could find the owl and just get a few photos. The bird was a life bird for Dan. I had seen one years ago as we were traveling through Illinois and it crossed the road in front of our car, then landed in a field.
We arrived and checked a few areas then drove further down Riverlands Way. There were several cars and we asked folks if they had seen the bird. "Yes, that way," two women pointed behind them to the south. This Snowy Owl was kind of hunkered down in the vegetation staying low and out of the wind to conserve energy. It was out on a spit of land in Heron Pond Slough.
The wind was brisk and from the south, causing our scope and camera to shake, so I took some photos hoping to catch those moments with less vibration. Enough, we decided to go have our traditional lunch at My Just Desserts in Alton and come back later.
When we returned, the bird had moved a bit, but was still in the same area. Snow Geese and a myriad of duck species were there, but I concentrated on a few more images of the Snowy Owl and we called it a day.
They are beautiful, amazing and alluring owls. Check out this short video about them from the Cornell Lab website:
Here is the link to the Audubon Center at Riverlands which is a wonderful place to visit. They have scopes set up inside to view Bald Eagles or ducks in the water. One can also check the board inside for recent sightings:
Here is a printable map of the area which is up near the Clark Bridge to Alton, IL. off US Highway 67.
The red "X" marks the approximate area where we saw the Snowy Owl yesterday, but remember, birds fly!