|Wrangel Island Snowy Owls
Second place goes to the snowy owls.
Snowy owls nest in the Arctic tundra of the northernmost stretches of Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia. They winter south through
Alaska, Canada and northern Eurasia, with irruptions occurring further south in some years.
Keep in mind that the only trees and shrubs that grow on Wrangel Island grow horizontally along the land. Hence, the snowy
owls are seen sitting on the ground, usually at a higher location with a view.
The snowy owl is one of the largest species of owl and, in North America, is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult
male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark scalloping; the young are heavily barred, and dark
spotting may even predominate. Its thick plumage, heavily feathered taloned feet, and colouration render the snowy owl
well-adapted for life north of the Arctic Circle.
When we arrived on Wrangel Island in early August, the young snowy owls had left their nests and were wandering around the
tundra. They were shedding their brown chick feathers and some were making awkward attempts at flying.
Note the powerful claws on this chick still too young to fly.
When we came into view, the parents would call out to warn the chicks of danger. Some of the chicks would run or try to fly
away. Others crouched down and did not move trying to camouflage themselves in the tundra.
By the time we arrived, the owl chicks were wandering the tundra and were more spread out. I did manage to get this picture of
three maturing chicks together.
This snowy owl relies primarily on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season. Lemmings are small
rodents, usually found in or near the Arctic. They do not hibernate but build snow tunnels in winter.
Our good friend Gunther brought along his wide angle lens. On a couple occasions, he was able to quietly and slowly approach
very close to crouching chicks.