Thursday, December 5, 2019
FIRST SNOWY OF THE SEASON
I’d had several Audubon alerts of Snowy Owl sightings, but I’d had no luck seeing them myself, even after three tries in the field.
Then my brother Mark arrived for a visit over Thanksgiving Weekend. We headed out to shoot and it didn’t take long to spot my first Snowy Owl of the season.
There she was atop one of the buildings near the entrance to Pit Spitters Ballpark. Her back was to us so we went unnoticed but it was obvious that she was a female due to her heavily-barred downy coat and large size.
She swiveled her head and I think she saw us. The eyes of owls are directed forward and do not move in their sockets so to look to the side or track an object, an owl swivels its head as much as 270 degrees.
The Snowy swiveled her head again and looked down on us. Her eyes were squinting and nearly shut. You’d have thought it was bright sunshine.
The owl finally opened her eyes but she had her third eyelid in place. Owls have three eyelids. The first two operate much like ours, moving up and down to close their eyes. The third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane, is a thin, semi-transparent eyelid that cleans and moisturizes the eye. Owls use the eyelid like a pair of goggles to protect their eyes from wind and dust or when attacking prey.
We moved past the ballpark entrance to get a closer vantage point. The owl tracked us but kept her third eyelid in place.
I was hoping to catch a close-up of those piercing yellow eyes, but this was as good as it got that day. Still, it’s always exciting to see this magnificent bird and there will hopefully be more opportunities this winter.