The numbers are down from last year but this young female snowy owl made the journey from the Arctic, south to Montana’s Mission Valley this winter, probably in search of a plentiful food supply.
After two hours of trying to run it off, officials shot it.
Snowy owls have gotten a warmer welcome in the cooler climes of Lake County, although some of the human residents of the neighborhood where they congregated last winter no doubt eventually tired of the birdwatchers who flooded in, often by the busload, to look for them, photograph them and – unfortunately – the ones who tried to flush the owls into the sky.
“I think a lot of people bought shades,” Holt says. “They’d climb out of the shower and see people running through their backyards.”
Last year, many of the at least 14, and perhaps as many as 20, snowy owls that showed up here took a hankering to hanging out on rooftops and deck railings.
This winter, the new batch appears most comfortable on fence posts, irrigation pipe and rock outcroppings in nearby fields.
There are fewer of them, and they are tougher to find.
But they’re back – there were absolutely no guarantees they would be – and they’re beautiful.
Written by VINCE DEVLIN Photographed by MICHAEL GALLACHER of the Missoulian.