By Bruce Stambaugh
The weather was dreary and cold, with occasional snow flurries. It was just another winter’s day in Holmes County, Ohio as far as I was concerned. But it turned out to be so much more than that.
I drove the nine miles east to check on my mother, who lives in a local nursing home. I kept my visit short as usual, making sure I had refilled Mom’s bowl of jellybeans before I said goodbye.
As I was driving home a flash of white caught my attention to the right just east of Berlin, center of the world’s largest Amish population. Besides the color, the bird’s large wings, small head and short tail were all instantly noticeable.
I checked traffic and slowed my vehicle. The bird’s rapid, steady flight cut directly across my path right to left, giving me a full, close view for nearly a minute.
By its distinctive wingbeats, its size and color, I reckoned it was a Snowy Owl. Given my situation, I had no other choice. I had to keep alert driving, yet I tried to keep my eyes on this rare bird.
I didn’t have either my binoculars or camera along. The only thing to do was to keep driving and hope that I could spot it again as I made my way west through town.
Snowy Owls recently had been reported all across the midwestern part of the country, including Ohio. This was far south of their normal winter range. Experts speculated that the owls came in search of food. Normally nocturnal, Snowy Owls will hunt in the daytime when stressed by hunger.
As I motored through two signal lights and the usual clog of traffic in the busy unincorporated village, I kept looking south. I spotted the bird off and on, and saw it gliding as if it was going to land southwest of town.
Once I reached the open area west of Berlin, I again found the white owl, this time flapping its large wings. As I headed down the hill colloquially dubbed Joe T. hill, I lost sight of this magnificent bird. I didn’t know if it had landed or flown out of sight.
My only option had been to observe every detail of the bird that I could while driving. In the birding world, that process is called reckoning, meaning noting the birds shape, size, flight pattern, and behavior.
To be sure of my sighting, I consulted several bird books when I got home. They confirmed what I had seen. I reported the sighting to the rare bird alert. That way others in the area might see the owl, too.
That’s the way birders are. Half the joy of watching birds is sharing what is seen with others.
Ohio’s Amish country is blessed with an abundance of excellent birders, many of them in their early teens. It is not uncommon for them to get a group together, and bike for miles to go birding for a day.
They keep track of what they see, species, numbers and locations. And if they happen to spot an unusual bird, the word gets spread quickly so others may enjoy the opportunity as well.
In this case, I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be at just the right place at just the right time to see a Snowy Owl. I considered myself extremely fortunate to have seen this rare bird.
When birding, like so many other situations in life, timing is everything.
10 thoughts on “Timing is everything, especially when birding”
First, Bruce, congratulations on seeing your firs Snowy Owl. I have heard that they were moving a bit south of their usual habitat, and I read yesterday one had been spotted in Oklahoma. I could only hope that one may be headed my way, but I won’t count on it. 🙂
Thanks for a great post and story. I really enjoyed it.
Thanks, Bob. It was a thrilling experience. I just wish I had had my camera along.
I thought I saw a bald eagle in South Carolina and although I did have my camera with me, I missed the shot.
When I consulted a bird “expert” in California, she said it was likely not an eagle but an osprey since I live near the ocean, and a bald eagle in even a small city was highly unlikely.
I still have a hard time believing it was an osprey.
Whatever bird it was, she was magnificent, soaring low then high over the road near my house.
If what you saw matches the drawings and descriptions of a Bald Eagle in reliable bird books, like Sibley, then you saw one. I was just in FL, and saw several Bald Eagles. We also saw one right along I-95 near the GA-SC border. It landed in a huge stick nest in a tree overlooking a marsh. People don’t realize how much the eagle has come back in the eastern U.S.
I’m glad you liked the post.
Bruce, thanks! I’ll look for Sibley and check out the pics, etc. I’ll let you know. Carley
Great. You can get the soft cover edition. That way you can take it birding with you. Kenn Kaufman’s book is good, too.
Thanks again! If I do that, I’ll be a newbie to “birding.” 😀
Thanks. I feel honored to be a part of the VBA gang.
We’re glad to have you!
BTW, I’ve seen some turkey vultures around here that look somewhat like the bird I saw — but the big differences: the wings were super black and the white along the edges was super super white.
Probably was a turkey vulture, but… whoa, it was just gorgeous and usually they aren’t very pretty.
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