Monday, December 26, 2011

Watching the Bird Watchers

Bird watchers outside the Portage Lake District Library on Dec. 23.
A young snowy owl paid Houghton a visit last Friday. I never would have known except for my impromptu visit to Portage Lake District Library where a small group of dedicated bird watchers had gathered to witness a natural drama playing out. People inside the Portage Library had seen the animal fly in and the call went out: An immature snowy owl had migrated south and landed on the frozen canal where it was being relentlessly pestered by crows.

An overpopulation of snowy owls this year has caused more young birds than normal to migrate down from the tundra in search of food. Whether this owl was exhausted, starving, or simply unflappable I can't say but it held its ground (actually, ice) no matter what the hopping, swooping and noisy crows did to scare it off.

It was a gorgeous animal and it was a thrill to watch it through the powerful viewing scope one of the bird watchers had set up along the Portage Lake Canal. With the unaided eye the bird would have been overlooked as a small mound of dirty snow. Viewed through the high-powered lens its white and speckled feathers looked soft and ruffled slightly in the wind. One librarian told me earlier that same day she had watched otters crossing the canal from the Hancock to the Houghton side, sometimes frolicking over the ice, sometimes diving in the water. Apparently, the library is a great place for animal watching of all sorts.

I know owls are predators, but seeing one lone creature surrounded by four, and sometimes more, excited crows was unnerving. The wind was cold and the snow was getting heavier when I left, turning my attention back to Christmas errands and letting nature take its course.


  1. So cool! I thought I saw a Snowy Owl perched on a tree as we were driving home from downstate last week. Not sure though.

  2. Wow! The things you don't know that happen right under your nose. Very cool.