|A traffic jam on Wildlife Drive; the white specks in the water are overwintering Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens)|
Forsythe is always a great place to visit but, this year there's a special "draw": two of the large number of Snowy Owls (Nyctea scandiaca) that have erupted from the Arctic and which are spending the winter in the eastern United States have decided that Forsythe is good overwintering habitat. We hoped we would be lucky, but we knew we'd enjoy the day regardless.
Upon reaching the refuge, we knew we were in for an unusual day. First, the parking lot where people stop to register and pay their entrance fee was filled to capacity (usually, there are one or two cars when we visit). Then, as we started on the 8-mile Wildlife Drive through the refuge, we could see cars everywhere.
Our first stop was a lone tree crowded by birdwatchers alongside the drive. Sitting calmly about 15 feet off the ground was a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
|Male Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)|
|Another handsome Northern Pintail (slightly pixelated from being digitally enlarged)|
We continued along the drive observing waterfowl until we came to a point at which all traffic stopped and everyone got out of their cars and crowded the verge. Of course, we followed the crowd - and were rewarded with one of the highlights of our birdwatching careers: one of the Snowy Owls. Jokingly, I said it looked like a soccer ball on the ground, and I immediately got some dirty looks from the other birders. Below are the best pictures I could capture with my camera. The first image was how the bird looked in the field; the second two images are digitally enlarged on the computer. What a great day all around!