Last week at Birds and Beers, we talked about snowy owls that are usually seen at the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport in winter. None had been reported at the airport yet (they've been showing up all over elsewhere in Minnesota and in Wisconsin). I've been checking the airport a few times a week (I live nearby) and we had a couple of people who actually work at the airport show up to Birds and Beers and they had not seen or heard any reports. Then, last night someone reported on the local birding listservs that they saw one on Cargo Rd.
When I finished my volunteer shift at The Raptor Center at about noon, I headed over to try my luck. Normally, I would search of the owls after 3pm, since they are more likely to be seen later in the day but the temps were below zero degrees Fahrenheit and a snow storm hit, so I figured my chances were good.
And they were! I drove right underneath a snowy owl! The challenge at the airport is that there are few places airport security would like you to stop and take photos. I think MSP Airport Security must have my license plate on file by now. So many people have made such a big show of writing down my plate number when they see my digiscoping equipment and I never get pulled over by security. They must think, "Ah, it's one of those birders again." I make sure to follow the rules--do what the signs say, like stay six feet away from fences. Also, the glycol plant manager used to collect owl pellets for me, so if I pull over for a photo, I do it in their driveway and only very briefly. I avoid stopping in the road, because it's not safe. Today someone stopped in the road on a downhill curve and I almost hit them since the roads were slick with the freshly falling snow--not cool and the kind of antics that make airport security less forgiving of birders. I'm not sure if the stopped person was a birder or just some regular person shocked to see a huge owl on a light post in the middle of the day.
Not only did I manage to digiscope a few snowy owl photos quickly, but I heard the owl vocalize (some weird bark and nothing remotely hoot-ish) and then watched it dive for prey. Alas, it came up empty taloned, but was cool nonetheless.
The owl returned to the light post and I managed one more photo before airport security pulled up behind me and gave me the hairy eyeball. I paused to make sure he didn't want to come out and wag his finger, but with the temps so cold, he stayed in his truck and glared. I hightailed it out of there to do some more digiscoping at the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge Headquarters and ended up with a general awesome afternoon. More on that later.