However, Saskatchewan isn't the only place snowy owls are turning up in record numbers.


"The numbers of young birds in the population that we’re seeing, you’re seeing, everyone’s seeing from coast-to-coast is an indication that they had a good breeding year," said Denver Holt, president and founder of the Owl Research Institute in Montana and one of the world's leading experts on the bird.

Holt said the lemming, which looks like a cross between a mouse and a prairie dog, must have been abundant in the Arctic for this population surge. Snowy owls breed in the Arctic and lemmings are the birds' main food source. Because there was more food around, Holt speculates nearly all the owl chicks survived.

"On a big lemming year, you could have five, six, seven young per nest," Holt said.

This means many of the snowy owls popping up from Vancouver to Nova Scotia are young ones.

Page said this winter most of his pictures are of these young birds.

"I’m seeing some adults, but the vast majority, five out of six are immatures. You know because they’re darker. They have more black markings on their wings and on their backs."

Competition for food and looking to literally leave their parents' nest, have snowy owls venturing far outside their regular stomping ground. One owl even turned up in Hawaii – likely catching a ride on a boat.

"It ended up at the airport (in Hawaii) and the people who manage keeping birds off runways shot the snowy owl," said Holt with disappointment.

For photographers in Saskatchewan, like Page, the snowy owl is generally a rare photo.

"You have to get lucky and you have to find one that will, for whatever reason, accept you," said Page.

 When he does get that perfect shot, it's not something he can put into words.

"It’s just a thrill only another photographer would understand. It’s really exciting. I’ve been doing it for so long that I’m able to control my inner charge, that little rush of adrenaline. Twenty years ago, my hands might shake, I’d get so excited," said Page who has more than 50 years of experience behind the lens.

Holt, who spends four months of every year in the Arctic studying snowy owls, has noticed the birds have a magic that attracts crowds.

"I don’t know what it is about the snowy owl, but there is something about the white owl from the north that excites people more than just other species of owls."

Holt hoped the extra attention the owls are getting, including interviews he's done with the New York Times and the Washington Post, won't fade once the birds leave in April.

"It’s good for us in wildlife conservation to have a species or a group of animals that much of the public likes. For us, the snowy owl is the avian icon of the Arctic. It is the bird that I think we can use in conservation to sit alongside the polar bear as the mammalian icon of the north."

Many people in Saskatchewan are savouring this year and the white birds who think our prairies are a perfect place to roost.

As Page put it: "I’m well aware that this may be the only time I see this happen.”

 

Trelle BurdeniukTrelle Burdeniuk ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Regina. She is a contributing reporter to the School of Journalism’s 2012 news service for weekly newspapers in Saskatchewan. Trelle grew up in Regina and is a prairie girl at heart.  Her journey as a reporter/anchor in Saskatchewan with News Talk radio’s CJME and CKOM has given her the chance to cover many stories including Jack Layton's death, the Kawacatoose/Raymore tornado, the Roche Percee flooding and high profile court cases. In April 2012, Trelle is heading to Saskatoon to work as a reporter and anchor with News Talk 650 CKOM. In her spare time, she proofreads (subconsciously), cheerleads, and writes leads.