It is always a banner day when a Great Gray Owl visits your home. Late yesterday afternoon, my neighbor bicycled down our long and slush-filled driveway to tell us a "big owl" was in an old birch snag on the edge of our property. I assumed it was a Great Horned but "No" our neighbor said, "It's a Great Gray!"
I frantically found my camera, a tripod, and my rubber boots, and quickly and as quietly hurried down the driveway (as quietly as one can move through ice-skimmed slush!). The Phantom of the North was still there, silently scanning the old hayfield from our snag. He/she paid us no attention, only gave us a brief and casual glance over the shoulder. I waited, wanting to get video of a plunge. Then, as usual, the Great Gray jumped off his perch when I wasn't ready (How dare him!) and floated down, plunging into the two-foot deep soggy snow. No vole this time. But then he suddenly he flew right at me, my neighbor and his son. We froze in awe as this giant among birds glided silently and barely ten feet over our heads.
This was too good not to share. I ran back to the house and got my wife and two boys (3 and 5). The boys already had their pajamas on so we carried them to the car, plopping them in our laps. We drove out to the end of the driveway and now the owl was on the telephone pole right above our mailbox. Perfect viewing for the four of us in our "car blind." We got to watch him make two more forays over the field. The boys thought it was very cool, but got fidgety fast. I hope they see many more in their lifetime.
We live on five wooded acres in Carlton County near Jay Cooke State Park, and this was NOT a new yard bird. The last time I had a Great Gray in my "yard" was during the Great Irruption of 2005. That time, I had walked the hundred yards to my cabin deep in the big White Pines, and there on my deck, perched on the handle of my splitting maul was a Great Gray. My feeders were nearby and she was likely hunting voles that fed on the spilled sunflower seeds.
The odd thing about this sighting is the time of year, and location. It is April, a time when Great Grays should be breeding. And there is not a bog around here for miles and miles. Is this a bird heading to breeding grounds from wintering farther north? (The ginormous Black Lake Bog that straddles Wisconsin and Minnesota's Pine County is about 20 miles south...or the Fond du Lac State Forest bog which is about 20 miles west). I am a bird guide, traveling to the Sax-Zim Bog many times each winter, and this year we assumed all the Great Grays seen this winter were residents who had bred in the bogs they stuck very close to. No owls were seen hunting very far from the protection of the dense spruces and tamaracks.
An interesting side note...I saw a lone Great Gray less than 2 miles from here last April too.
2515 Garthus Road
Wrenshall, MN 55797
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