By Judy Lane
Guest author and photographer
As an artist and photographer, I’ve found owls some of the most fascinating birds to watch and photograph. So it was with interest that I first heard about the Snowy Owls in the Ballard area in early December. My husband and I were able to visit just before Christmas and since then have made multiple trips to the Sunset Hill Park area of Seattle.
Observing Snowy Owls in our own urban environment has been an amazing experience. Last winter (2011-2012) was considered an “irruptive” year for arctic birds such as the Snowy Owl. Lack of food, over-breeding, or harsh conditions can lead to an unusual migration of birds to areas far from their normal ranges. It is generally the young owls that head south for food, so it is likely juveniles that we see in irruptive years.
During last winter’s irruption, I made the trek to Damon Point at Ocean Shores and up to Boundary Bay in Canada to see them. I just find Snowies irresistible!
This winter (2012-2013) has been described as an “echo flight year”—not considered a full irruption, but still remarkable.
Our first trip to Ballard in December followed a long spell of rain. In the photos above, one of the owls appeared to have found a relatively dry spot in a conifer and during the late afternoon as we watched, it started to groom and stretch, by all indications getting ready to leave for the evening hunt.
What a great holiday gift to see this bird!
I have to mention here that the neighbors have been wonderfully patient and supportive of the observers on the sidewalks taking photographs, waiting, and sharing owl stories.
We learned an interesting lesson on December 21st. One of the owls was on a favorite tree top just south of the park and displaying the “raptor head movement” which allows it to isolate potential prey on the ground not far from us. Looking back, if I ever see that telltale movement again I’ll be ready, as the owl didn’t just fly away, it flew around and hovered over us for a few seconds, intently staring just to the right of where we were standing. I got a few shots with the big lens and then a couple more shots with a smaller and faster lens, as it was already quite dark:
On a later visit in January, my husband and I had both owls in view from the same corner. I had to choose one owl on which to train my scope so I “waited out” the Snowy closest to 32nd Avenue NW for the launching sequence. I like the last shot especially because you can see his/her tail:
Thanks again to the kind folks in the neighborhood who have been so tolerant of all the visitors — both the two from the far north and those of us from greater Seattle!
Judy will be holding an event titled “Love is for the Birds” this Saturday, February 2nd at Des Moines Florist (12-5 pm) where her many bird images and mixed media paintings will be featured. Her work will be on display through March.
“Tranquility”, a piece incorporating her image of a Great Blue Heron from Ballard Locks and other collage material is just one of the pieces that will be on display.
You may view more of Judy’s images here: