A snowy visitor in our midst, plus the Christmas bird count

One of my favorite columnists for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is Paul A. Smith. He writes in the "Outdoors" section of the newspaper and is the editor of that section. (Check out his blog HERE.) And even though I am not a hunter or a fisherman, I find his information about nature outstanding and his photos wonderful.

His piece on Sunday reminded me of how special this time of year can be for bird watchers. Part of his story focused on the snowy owl and its return to Wisconsin. A few of them manage to make it into the state every winter, but this year could give us an excellent opportunity to view these visitors from north of the U.S.- Canada border.

In what is being called an "invasion" or "irruption" of snowy owls, reports of their sightings have been coming in from far and wide, including Hawaii. Hey, at least this cool-looking bird of prey knows where to stay warm during the winter!

Snowy owls make their summer homes around Hudson Bay in Canada, raising their young. It has been reported to be a good year for the young ones with plenty of food to eat. According to Smith'a article, at least 80 snowy owls have been sighted around the state this late autumn-early winter. Normally the state will only see 10 all winter.

So keep your eyes open for this gorgeous owl. As you can see from the photo below, they are distinctive and hard to miss.

The Snowy Owl

Paul Smith's newspaper column also served as a good reminder about the Christmas bird count held every year in mid to late December. The National Audubon Society sets this up in order to quantify the bird population in any given area. And anyone can participate in the count. The first bird count was on Christmas day in 1900. Now volunteers in Canada and the United States take part, with over 2200 bird count events completed last year and 61 million birds reported.

It is interesting to note that over the past 40 years, the bird count has shown that over half of the bird species in North America have shifted their ranges north, with over 60 species shifting more than 100 miles north of where they used to be. The wild turkey has moved its December range 400 miles farther north. A warming climate is most likely the reason for the shifts.

To find out more about how you can participate in a local Christmas bird count, check out the Audubon Society's website HERE.