Great Wildlife in Our Own Backyards

Friday, February 3, 2012 - 10:25am

Interested in meeting JGI's Bill Wallauer and learning more about rare birds?  Travel with the Jane Goodall Institute, Bill Wallauer and acclaimed natural history writer Scott Weidensaull to witness the largest concentration of sandhilll cranes!  This extraordinary adventure in Kearney, Nebraska, takes place March 28, 2012 - March 31, 2012, and features a dinner with Dr. Goodall.  Purchase tickets now as spots are going fast!


Though I’ve had the opportunity to see and study some of the most exciting wildlife Africa has to offer (chimps, elephants, lions, leopards and more), it is also very exciting for me to spend time exploring nature and wildlife in my own backyard and community.  I always keep my ear to the ground for rare sightings and interesting news from local conservation groups


In January, while perusing an upstate New York website about birding in the area, I saw that someone had seen a snowy owl on the grounds of a local airport.  Though snowy owls are common in the Arctic tundra, they are rarely seen in this part of the United States.  I have seen only one in my life (in Oregon decades ago), so the prospect of getting to see this magnificent species for a second time was very exciting.


Despite the first near whiteout conditions of the year, my wife Kristin and I set out early the next morning to search the airport grounds.  It seemed a bit ridiculous to search for a snow-white bird in the middle of a snowstorm and we laughed at ourselves for the seeming futility of our quest.  After driving around airport roads for 30 minutes or so, we decided to take a hike on the outskirts of the airfield at the edge of a wooded area.  It seemed logical to search more sheltered areas during a storm.  We saw four turkeys hunkered down at the edge of a thicket.  Each had an inch of snow across its back and one shook like a dog to rid herself of her heavy load.  There was no sign of the owl though.  For me, getting to see the turkeys up close made the trip well worth our time.


When we returned to the car, we still felt we should keep looking.  At the moment Kristin suggested we drive through the airport one more time, I saw a very blurry white object on a distant fence post:  It was the owl!


We watched the owl for more than two hours and managed to get some great views through our spotting 

scope. The driving snow, however, made photography extremely difficult.  With frozen hands and lenses full of snow, we clicked away as the owl scanned the open landscape for movement.  Much to our surprise, the owl flew straight toward us, landed, and then pounced about four feet closer burying its face into the snow.  With remarkable speed, the owl picked a large vole out of the snow and swallowed the entire thing in three to four gulps.


This was a life bird for my wife and an incredible treat for me.  I can’t think of a better way to spend the morning – all within a few miles of home.




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