Snowy owls sighted in Kandiyohi County, many other areas in U.S. this year
WILLMAR — Local birdwatchers have sighted snowy owls in Kandiyohi County, which is thousands of miles from the birds’ traditional home range above the Arctic Circle.
Shalese Sands, of Willmar, went looking for a snowy owl Saturday afternoon, acting on a tip from Josh Wallestad, an avid birder, that the owl had been seen in the same area for about a week. At her last stop of the day, she found the bird near the intersection of County Roads 10 and 2 north of Atwater.
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The wildlife artist spent between 20 and 30 minutes taking photos of the snowy owl, trying to keep her distance from the bird so as to not spook him away while moving to multiple locations to get photos from different angles.
It was her first time seeing a snowy owl, she says, and she was motivated to find the bird, because encounters with the birds are rare.
Sands expected the bird to fly away, but it didn’t even though she was 40 yards or less away from his perch on a telephone pole.
“I was surprised about how calm he was,” she said. “I decided to stay as long as he did.”
As a wildlife artist, she now has lots of reference material, snapping more than 600 images of the snowy owl, for when she incorporates the image of the majestic bird in a future painting.
Craig Radel, owner of the Wild Bird Warehouse in Willmar, was about 8 miles northeast of New London on Jan. 5, putting out food for the pheasants, when he spotted a snowy owl.
Radel had seen one in that same area before, in 2000, and always keeps his eyes open. He’s been birdwatching for 30 years.
“We’ve (birdwatchers) have got our eyes open all the time to see something unusual,” he said.
While the birds, being mostly or all white, can be hard to spot against the snow, Radel saw the snowy owl twice in within an hour last Sunday. It’s the fifth or sixth snowy owl he’s ever seen and the second one he’s spotted here in Kandiyohi County.
Scientists aren’t sure why the snowy owls, who spend their lives around the Arctic Circle, are flying south and have been sighted in large numbers across the country, according to an accuweather.com post quoting Kevin McGowan of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y.
“It’s a great opportunity to see a magnificent animal,” McGowan said. There are two theories about why the snowy owls fly south periodically, including that the birds were very successful in breeding, causing there to be many more owls or that the normal food sources for the birds have been disrupted.
Either way, the birds have to fly farther south to find food, which is usually seabirds or lemmings, giving those in the lower 48 states the opportunities to see the snowy owl.