My family drove to nearby Anderson for breakfast at the Toast, an area diner. We arrived and ordered our breakfast. While sipping coffee and planning our day I checked my Facebook notifications. A birding friend’s status shared that she was going to Mt. Comfort, Indiana n to confirm a sighting of a snowy owl.
Snowy owl sightings in central Indiana are not unheard of — one visited Diamond Chain in downtown Indianapolis in the last ten years — but they are very rare. (The Diamond Chain sighting has always been a little bittersweet to me. I wasn’t networked with other birders and read about it in the paper the next day. I was teaching at a school directly across White River from the chain factory.)
I went on with breakfast speculating how great it would be to add a snowy owl to my life list. I pondered driving from Anderson with my family, but we all had Christmas preparations and cleaning to do. They would like to see it, but I didn’t want to take them away from their work if it wasn’t a sure thing.
I took the family home and ran out to look for natural materials for carved bird mounts. Though warm it was raining and I became less than excited about tramping through the woods looking for the right oak branch. I also didn’t want this to be Diamond Chain all over again. I didn’t want to spend the next few years thinking, “What if…?”
I made a quick run out to Mt. Comfort (about 25 miles) to see if I could spot the snowy. My friend, from facebook, gave a very specific location. “West of the blue building behind the fire house [At Mt. comfort Airport]”.
I found the spot and scanned it with my binoculars. There were several white draincaps posing as owls, but no Snowies in sight.
I drove around several adjacent fields, I was pretty sure a huge white bird would stand out against the muddy fields. A few other cars were winding around slowly. It was clear that many had gotten the word.
After driving around I decided to make one more pass by the fire station. A car crept up behind me and I pulled over to
let it pass. It did, almost reluctantly (perhaps they thought I would lead them to the bird) and pulled into the fire station parking lot. In a back corner I spotted a lone car with a spotting scope set up behind it.
The gentleman with the scope pointed to the bird. It was a bit anti-climatic. It was only about 50 feet inside the airport fence, sitting on the ground with its back to us. It was raining fairly hard and miserable for all — the bird and the birders. We all fixed our scopes on it and watched for 10-15 minutes. It did occasionally turn its head and look at us with its not-very-owlike almond shaped eyes.
I took some photos, but did not notice until I returned home that the camera was set wrong. I did shoot one with my phone in which a small white dot is (maybe) visible.
According to ebird snowy owls are being reported south of their range across the continent signalling a periodic irruption year. Look for more snowies this winter. This may be just the beginning!