Last Friday morning, February 17, I saw, for the first time in more than 25 years, a snowy owl and it was here on Charlie Brown Road. I had heard it a couple of times earlier in the week in the woods across the way, snapping its beak and more or less barking late in the day, like a curious little dog in the top of one of the trees. Letting the squirrels know who was boss for the time being, I suppose.
When we lived on Harmon’s Lick, here in Garrard County, back in the early ‘80s, a snowy owl more or less spent the winter with us in ‘85-‘86 and dined, far more often than we wanted, on some of our kids’ bantam chickens that had the run of the place. At first an exciting novelty, the big bird became a nuisance but it went away about this time of year. I figure this one is simply passing through and taking a break on its journey to northern Canada and maybe taking a gander at next door neighbor, Katie Rollins’s, laying hens. Not a wise thing to do if you are predator and want to keep on living.
I’d been looking for it for a couple of days. Unlike Kentucky native owls, the snowy is not nocturnal. You may chance upon them anytime of day but they are somewhat skittish when it comes to people. But the back 40 behind my place probably extends more than a mile deep and almost as wide without human habitation. Pastureland with cattle year round that make plops from their bowels all over the farm and when they dry and harden, said plops become ready-made, rain-repellant homes, stocked with a generous food supply and warmth for field mice who come out, from time to time, to get a salad from the green fescue that sprouts year round and stays fresh all winter. Points East
Hawks, red tails and coopers and my favorite, most beautiful, killer bird of all time, American Kestrels, light on fence posts and tree limbs for a mile or so around our place and I am happy for them and feel no pity for the mice. I just love a glimpse at what is going on out back, and marvel before I feed the jays and cardinals and all their little buddies in the front yard.
But sighting a snowy owl is way beyond extra. I make a habit of looking at the back 40 through our kitchen window almost every morning and staring for a few minutes while the coffee brews. We also have four birdhouses less than 10 feet behind the house and I am always interested in seeing who is going to nest first. Anyway, just as I glanced out the window, I saw it gliding across the pasture, no more than 10 feet off the ground and I instantly recognized it as a snowy. My heartbeat probably doubled.
The owl made a wide, graceful swoop across the pasture then sailed past our house and I stumbled to the front door just in time to see it disappear into the woods across the way. I placed binoculars on the front porch and beside the kitchen window and watched all weekend, but I never saw the giant bird again. I figure it was on its way to northern Canada and that the pastures along our road looked like promising places to fuel up.
I must now content myself with watching for eastern bluebirds to take some interest in the nesting boxes I have scattered about. And I’m anxious to see if the barn swallows will, much to Loretta’s chagrin, deface the siding with mud nests on our home again this year.