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Cutline Contest — 7.18.13

Two young Snowy Owls sit next to each other at Hannover Zoo in Hannover, Germany, recently. You write the cutline. (AP Photo/dpa,Jochen Luebke)


Wednesday winner — JohnA with 14 votes (to Powder Farmer's 13 votes): "The Jets immediately sign the security guard, noting he's the first guy in several years to make a clean tackle in New York." You can see the Wednesday Cutline Contest photo and read all 14 entries here.

Snowy owl still a regular at Mt. Spokane High School

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The snowy owl that's been hanging out on or near Mt. Spokane High School for the past month is showing no signs of giving up what must be a great hunting area — and a certain celebrity status.

Here's today's report from local birder Craig Goodwin, who's been having fun visiting the area with his camera.

The Snowy owl at Mt. Spokane High School was on a light post in front of Mt. Spokane Church yesterday afternoon before moving to the light poles across from the high school and then heading to the top of the small grain tower. A friend who is a teacher at the high school told me the students and teachers have been very interested in the owl and they plan to include it in their upcoming school newsletter. The school secretary has named the owl Henrietta. 

Mt. Spokane HS snowy owl puts on digestion clinic

WILDLIFE WATCHING — An arctic migrant snowy owl  continues to treat birdwatchers near Mount Spokane High School, not only by perching and modeling for photos, but also by letting people watch as it hunts nearby for rodents.

Of course, most of what goes in must come out.

You don't need a degree in anatomy to guess that bones are expelled easier from the front end, rather than the rear. 

Owls have a cool way of internally wrapping the sharp bones they ingest in the fur and feathers of their prey. This neat little package, called an owl pellet or casting, is regurgitated — a prize for the curious, picked apart by many biology classes.

Local birder/photographer Ron Dexter caught the snowy owl in an act with his camera.  The photo above might leave you a little breathless to see the size of that pellet.  To the owl, it's just another moment of relief.

Here's Dexter's Monday report:

This is the Snowy Owl that is still hunting early morning and late afternoon at the Mt. Spokane High School on HWY 206.

I captured these images of it a few days ago as it regurgitated the large pellet from it's stomach after acids had eaten all of the meat and blood leaving just the fur and bones to be expelled.

I collected the pellet and disected it at home and found 5 rodent skulls and skeletons. Two of the skulls were twice the size of the other 3.

School students sometimes using charts can identify the exact type of rodent. I suspect the large ones are voles and the smaller ones mice. Lots of fun.

Afterthought:  A reader wonders about the timing of reading these Outdoors Blog posts.

Another snowy owl models for birdwatchers

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Here's the latest snowy owl sighting from Lincoln County:

At 3:09 p.m. Wednesday for about 30 minutes we had very close-up eye level views of a Snowy Owl sitting on a wooden fence post approximately 1.1 miles west of Hwy. 231 on the south side of Detour Rd. in Lincoln County. 

Marlene & Bob Cashen

Snowy owls showing up high and low

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Reports of snowy owl sightings have been coming in from all over.  Snowshoers reported two of the arctic migrants making a brief pit stop on the towers on top of Mount Spokane.

Another observer found one hanging out at Reardan Ponds at the town of Reardan.

The Mount Spokane High School bird is hanging around the school long enough to letter in some sport.

They've been seen locally from Lincoln County to the Rathdrum Prairie.  

Snowy owl hanging out near Mt. Spokane High School

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Local birders have been watching a snowy owl for the past few days in the Spokane Valley. After a long winter migration from the arctic, it's taken a shine to the Mt. Spokane High School area.

"The Snowy Owl on Mt. Spokane Rd continues to feed successfully in the field across from Mt. Spokane High School," Terry Little said after his Friday outing, noting that the owl perched once on the school. "It is also beginning to perch atop a small silver barn behind the house across from the school."

On Saturday, Ron Dexter said the snowy owl was still hunting from the Highway 206 light and power poles right in front of the High School. "It appears to be a juvenile female—heavily barred on wings and front," he said. "It is not disturbed by auto traffic. It is hunting a CRP parcel on the south side of the road."


Even experts hesitate to guess age, sex of snowy owls

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Getting personal with wild birds is tricky.

Verifying whether a swan is male or female requires a hands-on fairly invasive peel-it-back and look.

Western Washington raptor biologist Bud Anderson offers these observations to people he's heard declaring the age and sex of snowy owls that are migrating into Washington and catching attention:

Here is some recent information on ageing and sexing snowy owls from www.frontierscientists.com, an Alaskan website. Note the article by Mat Seidensticker.
"Birders usually want to know: Is it Male or Female? Denver Holt, an owl researcher who has spent the last 20 years studying the Snowy Owl up in Barrow, is cautious about identifying the sex.
“The more experience you get the more questions you have,” Holt says. Yet the Journal of Raptor Research Dec 2011, Vol. 45, No. 4: 290-303 has just published an article “Sexing Young Snowy Owls” by lead author Mathew T. Seidensticker, co-authored by Jennifer Detienne, Sandra Talbot, and Kathy Gray, and Holt.
Seidensticker and fellow researchers based their paper on a study of 140 owls from 34 nests (at Barrow). Specifically they looked at a secondary flight feather #4 on the left wing. Then they compared their predictions with blood tests. The model that correlated their data said they were 98% correct, actually they were 100% right. In short what the secondary feather #4 told them was: the female owl had a marking that they called a bar because it touched the feather shaft, while the male had a marking they called a spot or blotch that did not touch the feather shaft."
So I think that it is really important to understand how challenging it can be to age and sex these birds in the field. If Denver Holt is cautious, I would be too.

Snowy owls could once again be common sights

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Birders have been reporting more and more observations of snowy owls showing up in Washington. Although they routinely venture this far during their winter migration from the arctic, Last year's big number of snowy owls across the northern tier of states was recognized as an irruption.

It could be happening again this year, experts say.

Read on for insight posted on Inland Northwest Birders by raptor biologist Bud Anderson in Western Washington:

Snowy owls brightening the Washington landscape

BIRDWATCHING — The first snowy owls of the season are being reported in Washington as their annual winter migration from the arctic is underway.  The mostly-white owls have been spotted from Seattle to Asotin County this week, bringing back memories of last year's "irruption" of birds that saw snowy owl sightings soar across the northern tier of the United States.

Birder David Woodall found a snowy owl in Asotin County Thursday morning off Halsey Road near a stubble field perched on a "Hunting by Permission" sigh.  When he posted the sighting, Keith Carlson pointed out that's a hot spot for the birds each year.

"There is something magic about this location," he said. "The first Snowy of last year's Asotin County irruption was in this same location. On 31 March of 2007, we found a Snowy at this location."

The Davenport area of Lincoln County also is a perennial host for snowy owls.

QUIZ: What’s the term for a group of snowy owls?

BIRDWATCHING — You've heard of a murder of crows, a pride of lions and a exhaltation of larks, right?

What is the term for a group of snowy owls?

A. Blizzard.

B. Parliament

C. Congress

D. Hoot

E. Forum

Click "continue reading" for the answer.

Count ‘em yourself: 11 snowy owls in one photo frame

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Wildlife photographer Sandy Milliken of Post Falls isn't missing the opportunity to capture images from this season's snowy owl irruption.

With her radar out for the best opportunities, she recently traveled to Boundary Bay just south of Vancouver, British Columbia, to capture "thousands of snowy owl photos" as she put it.

Get the details in my Outdoors section feature story about Milliken.

The two photo's with this post are highlights of Milliken's expedition, especially the one above featuring 11 snowy owls in one frame, including the heavily barred owl that looks grayish in the background.

Here are more links to check out related to snowy owls:

See Sandy Milliken's flickr photo site.

WSU tends migrant snowy owl with broken wing.

VIDEO: WSU tending "Tundra," the snowy owl with broken wing.

Snowy owls give Oregon surprise visit.

MAP: Snowy owls making a scene across the country.

Snowy owl dazzles birders along Lake CdA.


UPDATE: See video of snowy owl being treated at WSU

BIRDS — A video released by WSU Veterinary School today offers insight into a migration spectacle as well as the treatment being offered for a migrant snowy owl injured in November by a collision with a car near Davenport.

Snowy owls are making news as they've showed up in ones and twos all over the northern United States this winter as they migrate in larger than normal numbers from arctic homes to winter hunting grounds.

The beautiful, white birds are a common winter attraction in this region, especially in Lincoln and Stevens counties. But their easiness around civilization can be detrimental when they leave the tundra.

Snowy owls spend most of their lives in treeless habitats, where they’ve evolved to launch their rodent hunts from the ground or low perches such as fence posts.

Many snowy owls migrate thousands of miles over wilderness only to meet doom in a vehicle collision as they cross a road.

Washington Fish and Wildlife police officer Curt Wood picked up an injured snowy owl from the roadside just northeast of Davenport on Nov. 25. (This is the owl in the photo and video with this blog.)

The bird was taken to the Washington State University Veterinary School, where it’s being treated for a fractured wing and dislocated elbow.

“It’s probably not going to be releasable,” said school spokesman Charlie Powell. “It’s a little too warm during summer to keep him comfortable, but snowy owls are very easy to place in zoos, so it will be in good hands.”

A few days later, officer Wood picked up another ailing snowy owl, also near Davenport on the Sunset Highway. He had to make a stop in Wilbur first, so he let the local third-graders get a close look at the migrant before bringing it in to the Ponti Veterinary Hospital.

Wood said the kids were intrigued by the white owl.

Unfortunately, the Ponti clinic staff said they were unable to save the bird.

Is it too early to call it a snowy owl invasion?

BIRDING — Snowy owls migrating from the arctic  to northern states stand out in a crowd, or even on a rural fencepost.  Numerous sightings are causing a stir about whether this is a boom year for the white-feathered visitors.

Read on for some perspective and interesting details via Inland Northwest Birders from long-time bird observer Bud Anderson of Bow, Wash., a spokesman for the Falcon Research Group:

Snowy owls making a scene across the country

View Snowy Owls in the Upper US, 2011-12 in a larger map

BIRDWATCHING — Inland Northwest birders have been buzzing this month about the early arrival of snowy owls as they migrate from the arctic to northern Washington and new places in North Idaho.

This reporting caught the eye of a Jesse Ellis, a researcher in the Zoology Dept. at University of Wisconsin - Madison, who got interesting results by tabulating all of the snowy owl reports across the country as of Thanksgiving weekend.

"I know there have been many Snowy Owl reports there in the past few weeks, and people are speculating there's an invasion there," Ellis said. "Well, it's everywhere. A few days ago I started mapping reports in WI and MN, and that quickly expanded to ND, SD and MI. Given the good coverage in the Pacific NW, I decided to add those states as well."

The sightings on the map (above) are plotted the point to the nearest population center mentioned in posting by affiliated birders.

Snowy owls make annual visit to region

BIRDING — They come just a few at a time from their home in the arctic, but they stand out like NBA players on a grade-school tour bus when they arrive in Lincoln County each winter.

Snowy owls are always welcome sights to Inland Northwest birdwatchers. The birds have a calm demeanor as they perch on fence posts and power poles over the wheat fields and scablands west of Spokane.

Greg Falco of Sprague said he drove 50 miles on Thursday without spotting a snowy owl.

But Buck Domitrovich was able to spot one southeast of Davenport near Morrison and Jannett roads.

He managed to get the nice photo above as the weather finally cleared from its doldrums and made a brilliant day for birding.