Monday, February 05, 2001

Arctic owl delights Ohio birders

By Terry Kinney
The Associated Press

        WILMINGTON, Ohio — Bird watchers are agog over the rare appearance in Southwest Ohio of a Snowy owl, a 2-foot, mostly white Arctic native that has taken up residence on a utility pole.

        The species is native to the tundra from Alaska east to Greenland. Experts say Snowy owls sometimes spend winter as far south as the Lake Erie shore in northern Ohio but seldom come this far and never stay this long.

        “The Snowy owl will show up down here every four or five years, but it's usually a one-day thing, which is why most people around here have never seen one,” said Ned Keller of Cleves, who runs a Web site where birders list their sightings and comments. “The last time one stayed this long was 1983.”

        Experts have not determined the owl's sex.

        “From it's markings, it's either an immature male or a mature female,” Mr. Keller said.

        But people are driving from miles around to see it. Art Schellinger drove from Milford.

        “There was a Snowy owl that spent three winters in our back yard when we lived in Milwaukee,” Mr. Schellinger said. “But we've lived here 27 years, and this is the first one we've seen here.”

        So many birders are coming for the rare sighting that police are ticketing cars that pull over and park on the two-lane Clinton County road. The owl also has created a cottage industry for photographers.

        David Flores, a free-lance photographer from Taylor Mill, has spent 30 days staking out the pole and the farm field where the owl hunts. He has an arrangement with a Wilmington bookstore to display his photos.

        “This is the biggest break I've had as a nature photographer,” Mr. Flores said.

        Rodents are Snowy owls' natural prey, particularly lemmings. But the lemming population is cyclical, so the owls fly south about every five years when lemmings are scarce.

        “My understanding is they wander around until they find a good food supply, then just sit there,” Mr. Keller said. “Any bird that is this far out of range is seriously lost. Usually what happens with a bird like this is that he can't find food and he dies.”


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