13 Feb 2012

Snowy Owl at Altikeeragh Nature Reserve

Snowy Owl at Altikeeragh Nature Reserve

I have wanted to see a Snowy Owl for a very long time and have never liked the idea of driving all the way to North Co.Mayo (a 430 mile round trip) on the off chance of catching up with the bird that seems to reside there. So when I heard last wednesday that a Snowy Owl had been seen near Castlerock in Co.Derry I hoped that it would stay around until my day off . Day after day reports came in that it was still being seen well and as a number of birders saw it yesterday I thought well I will get up early and try to get there for first light. It's 90 miles from home.

I left home at 6.30am with a fairly clear sky but after about 50 miles it was cloudy and beginning to rain so I was not very hopeful. I arrived at Altikeeragh Nature Reserve for 9.00am. I went through the first gate and it was absolutely bucketing down so I read the paper until the shower had ended before going to look for the owl. I walked a few hundred yards onto a small crest of a hill and there off to my right was my first ever sighting of a Snowy Owl sitting on a pile of pallets. I was elated. The one thing I can say is that twitching a bird that sticks out like a sore thumb is a hell of a lot easier than say a small brown bird in the same type of habitat. 
Snowy Owl on pallets

The bird then lifted and flew off to my left before landed on the blanket bog. It is only then you realise quite how big they are. They weigh five times as much as a Short -eared Owl and have the wingspan of a White-fronted Goose. I was then  joined by another birder and we headed off towards it. 

Snowy Owl in Flight

Snowy Owl on bog
 As it flew off it put up a flock of Golden Plover.
Golden Plover disturbed by Snowy Owl

As we were walking towards the Owl we flushed a couple of Snipe and also saw a few Red Grouse flying away. We were then joined by photographer Ronald Surgenor and shortly after the owl was away again and the rain came back with a vengeance and I headed home happy but damp.

The Snowy Owl's 52 inch Wing Span