Today I drove up to Roseau County Minnesota on the Canadian Border and I saw 13 Great Gray Owls, one of the rarest owls to be seen in the lower 48 states and then only in a few isolated areas. On the 16th, some couple reported seeing 59 of them. Yesterday someone saw 31. In my life, I have seen two of these beautiful creatures and today I have upped that total to 15. I saw the report, I couldn’t resist, I had to go.
They call these migrations Irruptions–sudden dramatic increases in population of a bird not normally wintering in an area. In the case of owls, it is caused by a dramatic drop in the vole population, the food source of these and other owls of the boreal forests. I suspected such this year as I saw a Boreal Owl in Wisconsin in December, something extra rare. The birds need to fly south to find food. It is all cyclical. Uusually every seven or eight years, but it depends on the weather and other factors.
I may be the most interesting man in the world but I also have an owl nemesis. A month ago, I was north of Duluth in a bog and I suspected one of these owls was perched between two spruce trees, but I couldnt see it because a guy in a Subaru was watching it. I waited my turn…and I waited and I waited, finally I had to go. The guy stayed on the bird for over an hour. I was furious. I wrote bad things about the guy and thought bad thoughts. Don’t think bad thoughts while birding, bad things may happen to you!
Today I rounded the corner north of Roseau and who do I see….but the same car, four weeks and 200 miles away. He is on an owl again and since there are so many, I decide to just pass him but he is in a narrow spot in the road, I try to sneak past but then the ditch catches my outside tire and in a second I am pulled into a deep ditch and am stuck….stuck in the middle of nowhere.
My nenesis strikes again. He tries to help push but it is a futile effort and he goes on to count more owls. The local tow truck is notified but he is out of the state today. Two hours later a guy that works nearby that I know comes and pulls me out. I think of my arch-owl nemesis and shake my head.
Every hero needs an anti-hero and I guess mine is the ‘owl man.’ I make a pact that if I see him birding, I am just going to turn around. Sometimes you cannot win in these battles…
Seeing the Great Gray Owl in numbers like this is a rare event and I would advise anyone within a days drive of Roseau, to come and see them. They may disperse at any time. They are fairly tame, near the road and it is one of those fascinating quirks of nature. Roseau also boasts a nice restaurant, decent motels and lots of frozen stuff for winter activities. Winnipeg Mannitoba is just two hours away…but beware of your nemesis.
THE OWLMAN LURKS!