Looking at Connor Stefanison’s photograph titled Snowy Owl on Driftwood I am engulfed in a calm and silent amber world, pierced only by the yellow eyes of this fierce and majestic bird. The light indicates a setting sun, the grasses that surround the bird have dried in the cool November air. The Snowy Owl waits on its perch for small animals to offer themselves up for supper.
Snowy Owls are not typically considered wetland species as they breed on the arctic tundra. However, it is during their wintering months that they are often found along lakeshores, marine coastlines and marshes across North America. It is in these places that they can snatch ducks right off the surface of the water or pull fish out of a lake in their large talons. When their normal rodent prey are scarce, Snowy Owls have been known to hunt opportunistically on anything from city rats to hares, marmots, squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs and moles to ducks, geese, shorebirds, Ring-necked Pheasants, grouse, American coots, grebes, gulls, songbirds, and Short-eared Owls!
Anyone who lives in the more southern regions of British Columbia might be surprised to see a Snowy Owl in our more temperate climate. Every so often the birds will come as far south as Boundary Bay in winter, searching for Lemmings to feed on when Arctic populations are lower. Radio tracking of these owls has shown that their irruptive cycle has an average of 3.9 years (Vancouver Sun), meaning that they have been a fairly nomadic species.
Since this past fall (and still now) there have been many Snowy Owls visible in swamps and marshes, on beaches and in riparian areas near Vancouver and further south. Does this mean our Voles and Lemmings are abundant this year and those in the Arctic tundra are not? Not exactly. It turns out that this year the conditions are unusual. The Arctic Lemming population has been in a boom, causing the Owls to lay more eggs- as many as 14 in some broods! With so much competition for food, the parent Owls are feeding themselves and forcing the young to roam. In fact, resident bird watchers as far south as Kansas & Hawaii have been delighted by the presence of Snowy Owls this year.
To capture this view of such a large and intelligent bird, Connor would have laid in the grasses, low to the ground. It appears that only he and the bird exist in this space. The 20-year-old wildlife photographer has won numerous awards for his intimate portraits of wild animals and spaces. He attributes the effect of his photographs in part to his experience fishing and hunting throughout his life: he is clearly silent and practiced. We thank him for sharing this special moment with our Flickr photo group. To view more of Connor’s work, visit his personal website: www.connorstefanison.com