Birders watch snowy owls

A snowy owl takes flight on the Waterville Plateau. (Provided photo/Christy C. Nielsen)

 

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

A snowy owl near Mansfield. (Provided photo/Christy C. Nielsen)

The Mansfield area has had some guests from Arctic regions this winter. About four snowy owls have staked out wintering territory alongside a portion of Road H N.E. about three miles east of Mansfield.

The owls have been an attraction for birders throughout the area, and many have driven up to the Waterville Plateau to try to catch a glimpse of the birds.

One of these birders is Christy Nielsen, director of pharmacy at Lake Chelan Community Hospital. Nielsen said she had heard that the birds were on the plateau and had been searching for them since December. She heard that a friend had seen one in the middle of February near Road H, and so she drove up that evening after work and spotted several.

Since then, she has driven up a number of times and seen the owls. She spotted three on Feb. 24. She drove up again on Feb. 25 and 26, but could not spot the birds. Instead on Feb. 26, she found somewhat of a club of bird watchers. There were five cars parked at the location. She talked with the other birders and found that they had come up from Yakima, Post Falls, Winthrop and Spokane.

Nielsen joked that the group could form a “Society for the Appreciation of Snowy Owls.”

Nielsen spotted three owls again the evening of March 2. She believes they will migrate back to the Arctic soon because their nesting season is on its way.

Nielsen believes that all of the snowy owls in the Mansfield area are females and juveniles. The males may go up to the Arctic ahead of the females to begin picking out nesting territory.

The owls seem to like the openness of the area along Road H, and they like to sit on the erratics that are alongside the road. The best time to view the owls is either just before sunrise or just before sunset, according to Nielsen. They are a large bird and are fascinating in the way that they are constantly turning their heads around almost 360 degrees to watch and listen for what is around them. The owls eat primarily rodents.

“They really are beautiful,” Nielsen said.

The sightings have been listed in the most recent edition of The Wild Phlox, a newsletter of the North Central Washington Audubon Society. Birdwatchers have also been posting photos of the owls on Facebook.

For more information on the NCW Audubon Society, recent bird sightings or to read the March issue of The Wild Phlox, visit ncwaudubon.org.