Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Spotting snowy owls east of Janesville

Comments Comments Print Print
Greg Peck
Thursday, February 20, 2014

I had breakfast with friends Wednesday, and one asked me if I'd heard that snowy owls have been spotted repeatedly just east of Janesville. She explained that the website ebird.org has a range finder and that people spotting one or more snowy owls in the area of County MM have been reporting the sightings to that website.

Well, I replied, I hadn't heard that, but this magnificent bird keeps popping up in my email correspondence.

Tim Benson, one of my classmates at Marshall High School, lives near Mauston and recently sent me an email with a bunch of photos he shot of bald eagles. Later, Tim sent me a remarkable photo he shot Feb. 11 of a snowy owl atop a telephone pole. He spotted the bird after exiting Interstate 39 south of Stevens Point and heading west on County W. Tim had gotten a tip about several sightings in that area. He saw another one sitting on an I-39 exit sign south of Point last night.

When I got to the office Wednesday, I checked out ebird.org, and sure enough, it lists days, locations and names of those who recently spotted snowy owls east of Janesville. I then emailed my friend Nancy Nabak of Green Bay. As I've mentioned previously, she's the historian and a board member with the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology. She's a great nature photographer and captured an impressive image of a snowy Feb. 3 in Lafayette County.

“It's crazy this year,” Nancy told me, suggesting that 277 snowy owls have been individually identified statewide.

The friend I had breakfast with was leaving town, and she and her husband left Janesville heading east, hoping to spot a snowy. She later emailed me to say they didn't see any.

Nancy offers these hints for spotting a snowy:

Take binoculars along and look in flat, open fields because these reflect the snowy's home area in the Arctic. The flat, open areas near runways lead to many spottings near airports. Search low in farm fields and look for round-shaped humps on top of the snow. Many times a snowy will be set back from the road, so don't expect to spot one right in front of you. Drive slowly, and scan the horizon. Also check out telephone poles because the snowy likes to perch on high spots to scan for prey (as my classmate Tim can attest).

“Also, if you do see a snowy, be respectful of its space,” Nancy wrote. “View from a safe distance for the both of you. If it flies, do not chase it.

“It's a wonderful thing for people to see this beautiful bird. I think it helps them appreciate the joy of nature with an awe that they had from their childhood. Hopefully, those who look for them and have the good fortune of seeing them will find it in their hearts to work to protect them, as well.”

If you take a drive hoping to spot a snowy, good luck!

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Comments Comments Print Print