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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Snowy Owl Scramble

Today I decided that I was going to take another crack at the airport and hope to get a Snowy Owl and possibly some Snow Buntings. I worked in Eagan today, so I got going early to give myself a bit of extra time to bike by the airport and have a bit of time to search things out. I starting biking before dawn so that I could be at the airport just before dawn. This would give me time to get to work, but I also figured that the Snowy Owl was more likely to be up and about at that early time.

When I got to the airport, I didn't see any sign of birds. Nothing on the way in to Cargo Road, and when I got to the "Aircraft viewing area" (Birds are aircraft, right? ;) I didn't see any owls. I got out my binoculars and made a few sweeps of the area, particularly looking towards the Humphrey Terminal, which is the area that this owl has mostly been seen in. There were a few clumps of snow that made me look twice, but I still didn't see the owl. So, I decided that I better get out the scope and tripod and look really closely. I scanned back and forth across the area a couple times (all the while listening for any sign of the Snow Buntings) and finally I spotted a white blob that looked out of place. Yup - there it was - the Snowy Owl was hanging out on top of a little white building that was way off to the west. After a little fist pump to celebrate, I tried to get a photo of the owl. I knew it was really far away and so I was unlikely to get a great photo, but I ended up getting something worthy of the "Bad Bird Photos" group on Facebook.

very poor photo of a Snowy Owl
You can see the white blob there on top of the building, but I'm not sure you can say from this photo that it was actually a Snowy Owl.

After that success (of finding the owl, not of taking a terrible picture), I was ready to head off to work. But as I was leaving, the airport police pulled me over! I was worried that they might take issue with my biking on Cargo Road because of the FedEx and UPS trucks that use that area (though I've been there many times before with no problem). But that was not his concern. The officer got out and started talking to me, saying that someone had reported to the police that I was videoing the buildings from the aircraft viewing area. I told him that I wasn't videoing, I was just scoping out the Snowy Owl. He said that even videoing was not against the rules, but that they were a bit suspicious because I wasn't looking at the planes, and that when something is reported the police liked to get out there and talk to people so they know what is going on. He was very friendly, and made it clear that I hadn't done anything wrong. Then he asked if I saw the owl, and I said that I did, but that it was really distant. He said that he had seen it very close a few days ago, and that he thought the owls were there every winter. So, it turned out to be a pleasant interaction, and I was glad that the police didn't try to cut off my access to the airport! Although I now have the Snowy Owl for my list, there are still a number of birds that are easier to see there than anywhere else close by (such as those still elusive Snow Buntings, as well as Lapland Longspurs and Horned Larks).

Then I finished my ride out to work.

map of the ride from home to work via the airport

After work, there wasn't much light left! While I wanted to go birding, it would have to be nocturnal birding since it was after sunset before I left work! I decided to go to Fort Snelling State Park, which is conveniently right along the shortest route home, and is good bottomland forest habitat for owls.

Once I got there, I just rode around the park trying to listen for owls hooting, and also keeping an eye up to see if I could see one silhouetted against the dark sky. I know that this state park is a good one for Barred Owls, so that was my most likely species. But it turns out that the owls that were calling tonight were Great Horned Owls. So, two new owls for the year list - not a bad day!

ride home via Fort Snelling State Park

Miles Biked on this trip: 40.5

Miles biked year to date: 116.8

Species count: 33

My bike birding eBird profile:

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