I spent some time packing down the fresh snow on the trails behind the house yesterday. We’ve had close to 18 inches of snow over the last two days. Fairbanks doesn’t typically get a lot of snow at once, usually a few inches here and there. But it’s cold here, so it doesn’t melt. What falls in October stays until April. We had already built up about 3 feet before the last few days, so it’s getting really deep now. I would figure that out every time a foot stepped off the trail.
Something caught my eye above me, as I looked up these massive, light tan wings were held open in front of me. The owl saw me the same time I saw it, and it abruptly turned west through the spruce trees.
I followed the trail slowly back to the house with my head turned up, trying to scan every tree branch around. The wind was kicking up big chunks of snow off the trees all around, sending my eyes all over. About 100 meters from the house a dark blob appeared in a birch tree with a couple of black tufts sticking out the top.
I saw the head following me, it was a Great Horned owl, the tufted ears being the giveaway. The Great Horned is the only tufted ear owl in Alaska. It watched me with squinted eyes in the snow as I took photos, trying to stabilize myself against a tree while standing in knee-deep snow. It stayed long enough for me to go back to the house and bring Cat out to watch.
Later in the day, I heard some ravens making a fuss down in the woods so I went to see if they were chasing the owl off. Sure enough, I startled the owl out of a tree about 15 feet away, I didn’t see it at all until it lifted off the branch. Once in the air, those wings are silent! I wasn’t able to find it again, but with the number of squirrel nests we have in our trees, I’m thinking that it might be preparing to nest in the yard. There’s no shortage of snowshoe hares in the area.