Waiting for a Snowy Owl

It was like waiting for Godot, but no one came by to tell us that the Snowy Owl would not be coming, or that he would definitely be there tomorrow.

We were ready, we had made ourselves available, and still the bird did not appear. We chatted with the others waiting with us, about other trips, our successes, and our failures. There was talk of how long we should wait, some suggested 5:00 pm some later. It’s not the sort of thing you can predict with any certainty, but it helps to have something to look forward too, and so I said the owl would be there at 4:17. They asked how I knew, and smiled. “I’m not sure,” I said, “I may have dreamed it, or maybe it was in a prophecy I read somewhere.” A hunch I conceded, but I was confident the owl would do its part, and so the wait began anew.

I’m not sure what went wrong, the fact that owls don’t like crowds, or that some had cameras set up to capture the moment and this owl was shy, a contrarian. There were three Bald Eagles in an adjacent field feasting on something, not the owl, oh please, not the owl.

What to do now, move to Amalga Barrens, the town where the most recent sightings occurred. We could do that, but I fear we’d just get frustrated on a more regular basis. We could wait two weeks and try again. We could wait for a live report and try to get there before darkness fell, or the Owl left.

We didn’t mind waiting, I didn’t mind waiting, it was a beautiful day, and perhaps the Snowy Owl did send a message that he would definitely be there tomorrow and we all just missed it.

The story doesn’t end there of course, the following day while I stayed home and curled up with a good book, the owl was on the move. Reports arrived near five o’clock that the owl had been relocated 4 miles southwest. Sneaky that Owl found south of its previous location though every report by those who first saw him reported him flying northeast as the sunlight disappeared in the west. And now there were pictures of the owl perched atop a sprinkler in a field, and not the fence post he once called home.

There was a pattern emerging, and it didn’t bode well for us, those who live 90 miles to the south, but we’re dogged, and the following day we headed north. We left a little later in the day since the Owls cameos had all occurred after 4 pm. But what if he appeared earlier and then flew once again before we arrived.

We arrived before four, but now the sun was setting, there was a pinkish glow covering the barren fields, but no Owl and so we headed home having not seen the owl for a second time. February was quickly coming to a close, how much longer could we expect the Owl to stay, had he already gone, flown north to his arctic tundra breeding grounds.

The next day we started at home, it was three o’clock and no reports had been made, though other fanatic birders were certainly driving the roads, gazing out into white fields of snow looking for a white owl. But then sometime after four a report arrived, the owl had been relocated in a third location. Being 90 miles away we couldn’t get there before dark and so made plans to look for the bird the following day.

“Maybe we should go two days in a row,” I said, “teach that damn owl a lesson about its every other day taunting.”

It was Friday, we’d been searching not much more than a week, though it felt like months. We planned to leave later in the day after all the Owl had only been seen in the evening. But what if we were wrong? We left a little after noon, others were already there, but there was no owl. We decided to check the previous locations, but still no owl.

We circled around and arrived back at the location of the last known sighting and scanned the nearby fields for our elusive friend, but still no Owl. More and more people arrived, but still the Owl was missing. Some hopped back in their cars to investigate previous sites and nearby locations all with a promise to call or text if they saw the owl. We promised to do the same.

And then, there it was perched on a solar panel. We had waited endlessly, or so it seemed, we had worried that our wait would be in vain. We thought we would recognize him when he arrived, and we did, but one never really knows how a first meeting will go. The owl stayed for thirty minutes while we watched him, and even when he flew, close to the ground, we enjoyed his graceful flight. The wait had been worth it, and now we are home with our memories to enjoy. We hope to see a Snowy Owl again someday, maybe we’ll find him on a bench somewhere, waiting for us.

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