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BLM California News.bytes graphic  News.bytes Wildlife Trivia Extra, issue 275

Snowy visitor

On the morning of March 26, 2007, Carol Wilson of Mad River biologists was on Humboldt Bay's South Spit -- managed by BLM's Arcata Field Office. While conducting snowy plover surveys there, she found another snowy creature – a snowy owl. (story continues below)

A snowy owl at Humbold Bay's South Spit - courtesy Ron LeValley, Mad River Biologists
A snowy owl spotted through the vegetation (photo by Ron LeValley, Mad River Biologists, Arcata)

The snowy owl is unmistakable and a rare treat on the north coast of California. With a breeding range above the Arctic Circle, it is known for its relatively predictable wintertime movements into the northern tier of Midwestern states, occasional intrusion into the Great Plains and coastally into Oregon...and rarely into southern states or well down the coast of California. Stan Harris (1996) describes its occurrence in Humboldt County as "casual" and "occurring along the ocean beaches, near large water areas (Humboldt Bay and Eel and Mad River bottoms) and in open fields." Harris notes seven "invasion" years since 1895.

This owl of open tundra feeds primarily on lemmings, nests on the ground, and hunts by day as well as night. It appears heavy-bodied, has a thick neck and rounded head, and features the yellow eyes typical of diurnally (daytime) active owls.

A constant stream of birdwatchers from near and far are keeping close tabs on this unusual spectacle.

Mad River Biologists survey the South Spit under contract with BLM.

A snowy owl at Humbold Bay's South Spit - courtesy John Pelafigue, McKinleyville, CA
A clearer view of the visitor. (photo by Ron LeValley, Mad River Biologists, Arcata)

The South Spit, where the visitor was spotted (photo by Clarence Killingsworth of BLM's Arcata Field Office)
The South Spit, photo by Clarence Killingsworth, BLM California Arcata Field Office

- P. Roush, 3/29/07

BLM California News.bytes, issue 275