Last year I made over 15 trips to the airport but I always just seemed to miss the bird but I was determined to try again this year. So on Thursday the weather was finally cooperating so I headed over after work. My first drive through was a bust but I decided to check out some retail shops in the area to kill some time and then try a second pass. This time I found the bird perched on a light pole right after I came out of a tunnel that travels below one of the runways. Unfortunately there was not any where to park close by so I stopped in the road, there was no traffic at the time, and took several pics. I made a couple of passes this way until I decided it was best to leave before the bird got spooked or the airport police showed up.
This appears to be a young male snowy but it is hard to be sure, it could also possibly be a female. Male snowies are barred in their youth but get whiter as they mature. Female snowies are typically more heavily barred and they keep much of their barring through out their entire life. This is actually the second snowy at the airport this winter. according to Linda Whyte, an avid local birder and a long time volunteer in the clinic at The Raptor Center, a different snowy, a very white male, was captured a couple of weeks ago by a group working for the airport. This bird was taken to The Raptor Center where it was examined and found to be in good health. The bird was then tagged by the group and released at an undisclosed location. Unfortunately I was not able to get the talons or legs of the bird in any of my pics so it is impossible to see if it is banded or not but from the description this does not sound like the same bird. The airport does not like having the snowies around because it is potentially dangerous for both the bird and airplane passengers. Besides when the snowies are present they find a lot of birders driving around and since 911 airport security has become very tight.
This winter their seems to be a lot of snowies that have migrated down from the Arctic. According to Mike Hendrickson, who blogs at Colder by the Lake as well as organizing the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Bird Festival, there have been 45 reports of snowies in Minnesota so far this winter. If you are interested Mike has mapped all the reports, as well as all the reports of great gray owls and northern hawk owls in Minnesota on his blog. I have also seen probably even more reports of snowies coming from the Wisconsin list server. at first people suspected that it was a crash in the lemming population, lemmings are what snowies typically eat up in the Arctic. But I have heard it theorized that instead of crashing the lemming had a good year last year which made for a large number of new snowies being born and making it through the first crucial summer. With such a high population of snowies up on the summer range many have headed south as winter makes food more difficult to find. Either way more snowies in the area make for great birding but unfortunately it also leads to more owl and car collisions and starvation.