Hunting the High Ground, Part 1

When on their summer range in the treeless arctic tundra, Snowy Owls prefer to nest on high ground. An elevated site will be dryer and free of snow sooner than a lowland site, conditions that favor hunting and nesting success.  A reconnaissance of the local wintering habitat illustrated the importance of high ground on winter range as well.  A warm spell in late February reduced the snow pack considerably, exposing small patches of bare ground  on wind-swept knolls and hilltops. I discovered an immature male hunting one of these bare spots in bright, mid-morning sun, and made the most of the opportunity.

Mr. Snowy was “mousing”, i.e. searching for any of several species of small mammals, including mice, voles and shrews.

Like a “sleeping” cat, this restful pose can be deceptive. The flight of a bird overhead or the faint squeak of a vole under the snow could alter the scene dramatically.

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Abruptly, a tall profile and intense stare were triggered by movement and/or sound – I can’t be certain. Guided by his reaction, I got a glimpse of something small and dark, scurrying briefly across the surface of the ground before disappearing in a maze of debris, mud and snow. I guessed it to be a Meadow Vole.

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The chase was on! Impressively, the short distance was covered in a few powerful wing beats. Patient hunting on the high ground during a winter thaw fed the young owl.

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Hunting in partially thawed mud can be messy, requiring an occasional pit stop to groom feet and talons!.

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To be continued ……….!

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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8 thoughts on “Hunting the High Ground, Part 1

  1. What a day you had of it with this snowy, both of your posts and photos are excellent, Nick. I especially like the fourth and fifth photos from the top in this one. I have had my second snowy owl sighting, once again without my camera, just the phone, and so I’m vicariously thrilled once again by your photos

    It occurred to me that next winter at this time, we’ll all probably be reminiscing about the fantastic experience of this year’s snowy owl incursion.

    • Appreciate the visits and comments Babsje. I obviously dedicated this winter to the owls, partly because they intrigued me so, but also because I don’t expect to have a repeat performance. From your wildlife experiences, you know what went into the many searches and shoots, the missed opportunities as well as the thrilling captures – left it all on the playing field!!! It was a indeed a fantastic experience, and I’m really pleased to have photos to help with the reminiscing that you spoke of. 🙂

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