Tuesday, November 25, 2014
   
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Swooping in for a visit

Rare snowy owl visits Monsanto Learning Center.

Gothenburg can now claim fame as a location for the spotting of a rare snowy owl.

A mostly white-feathered creature, described as two-feet high and round as a basketball, was observed by a farm technician on Jan. 4 at the Monsanto Learning Center south of town.

“He was perched on a pivot and I knew what it was and that it was kind of goofy to see it,” said Jacob Fritton, who is also a certified master naturalist and working on a biologist degree with an emphasis in wildlife management.

For much of the day, Fritton said the bird sat in the middle of a field near the learning center.

According to Nebraska Game and Parks Commission officials on Tuesday, 142 sightings of snowy owls—mostly young males—have been recorded so far this year.

“Normally, we might have one or two sightings every few years,” said Lauren Dinan, a temporary non-game bird biologist with the commission.

Biologist Mark Peyton, of the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, said several snowy owls have been seen throughout Nebraska and other states this year.

“It’s a rare bird and the chances of seeing one are rare,” Peyton said about the largest North American owl species. “I was surprised given how warm it is.”

Because the owls live on the Arctic tundra, game and parks commission officials said they’ve swooped south because their food supply—which is primarily mouse-like lemmings—is scarce.

However other bird experts said a strong breeding season has sent the young ones across the border to search for food such as voles, field mice, rats, rabbits and shore birds.

To catch a glimpse of one of the unusual birds, Peyton suggested traveling county roads or highways with a pair of binoculars.

The owls hunt in open areas but have been spotted in weedy, mouse-infested ditches.

Peyton said Internet sites about birds can provide information on where and when snowy owls, as well as other birds, have been spotted.

Because Fritton called the Nebraska Audubon Society and game and parks commission officials, his sighting of the snowy owl was listed on the Internet, drawing about 10 people to Monsanto that day and the next. However the next day, Thursday, the owl had disappeared.

Fritton said he feel’s fortunate to see two fairly unusual bird species in two years.

Last year, he said a pair of trumpeter swans lived in the vicinity of the Monsanto Learning Center for about three weeks.

Anyone who sees a snowy owl is asked to call the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission at 402-471-5480.

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