Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
The Snowy Owls being seen in Minnesota are not evenly distributed through the state, or so it seems from reports. There are clusters in Dakota County, and west of us in the Litchfield area and beyond. The question has been asked, why there?
It could be what in the birding world is known as the Patagonia rest-stop effect. The name comes from a rest stop on the way to Patagonia, Arizona, a town in the southeast part of that state known for good birding.
A birder at the rest stop once found a rare bird. Word spread. Other birders visited the rest stop. The original find eventually was gone, but birders kept finding other interesting species, word went out, other birders stopped, and so on. The phenomenon got a name that now covers similar situations.
Perhaps owls are being found in clusters because those are the areas where birders are looking. The first-found owl draws birders who then see other owls. Word goes out, and so on.
Snowy Owls continue to be found in new locations throughout the state. An estimated 10 owls are in Dakota County as of Monday morning. These are owls seen and mapped for location. Owls also are concentrating in the Litchfield/Grove City area. There is no way to know just how many owls are here because they have to be seen to be counted. Known owls now number near 100. It's likely hundreds more are here but unseen or unreported. Reports, by the way, are tallied from email messages sent via the state's birding email networks. A map created by Duluth birding guide Michael Hendrickson can be found at
The Snowy Owl shown here is most likely a juvenile bird. The heavy dark marking is typical of young birds. Female adults are barred to a lesser degree. Adult males can be pure white. They are the grail of owl searches. This bird is atop a power-line pole. Many of the current Minnesota birds are being seen on poles.
Gone for Christmas week, I filled all of our feeders the day of depature, hoping that the birds would not eat them empty well before we returned home, which was Sunday. Nine days we were gone. The feeders on the deck, which I've filled on an every-other-day basis at times, are not empty. The six-feeder assembly in the yard is down maybe a third. So, what happened to the birds? House Finches and American Goldfinches are our stalwarts. I saw two House Finches today, one goldfinch. Yet, I received an email a few days ago from a man who counted over 120 goldfinches at his feeders, plus birds of other species also present in impressive numbers. Is it the cold weather? I'd think the birds would eat more as the temperature drops. We do have the usual assemblage of cardinals at dusk, at least five today.
Snowy Owls continue to be seen in counties west of Hennepin, from Wright outward, with some seen south of Bloomington as well. And at least one has made a suburban appearance, in Maple Grove. I suspect there are more to come. I'm waiting for warmer weather before making my search. I want photos. Taking a camera (think glass) from a warm car into single-digit temps does not work.
This blog has been untended during our travels. It should see new posts on a regular basis now.
The movement of Snowy Owls south from Canada into New England and states south to Virginia is being called the largest in two decades. Many owls are being seen. More information can be found at http://nyti.ms/1fqeek7
That blog site also has two fascinating videos of Snowy Owls being harassed by Peregrine Falcons defending territory. Pretty cool.
Minnesota is seeing more Snowies that usual, also, although our numbers do not approach those to the east of us. For some reason, reported sightings are clustered in and around Benton County. Either there are more owls there or more people seeing and reporting them.
When out with a camera, looking for birds, I watch for mammals among other things. Fall 2012 I took the first photo below in a woods about a mile from our Orono home. Our neighborhood has a pack of coyotes, seen and heard regularly. This animal didn't look like the coyotes I've seen in the same woods, in our yard, or walking down our street. Friends and I have debated whether the canine might be a wolf. Concensus: probably not. The second photo is a coyote seen in New Mexico several years ago.
Coywolf -- that's the subject of an upcoming Nature tv program, coywolf being a recognized coyote/wolf hybrid. The program airs Jan. 22. You can see a preview at
Here are my photos, the local canine first, New Mexico second.
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