Snowy owl 'irruption' thrills birders

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on December 8, 2011 at 7:13 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 8 at 10:20 PM

NISQUALLY, Wash. - It sounds like 'eruption' but it's an 'irruption' and it's a blast for bird watchers. It's happening right now at some of Washington State's most popular bird viewing sites and the spotting scopes and cameras are zooming in.

An irruption is defined as a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds to areas where they aren’t typically found, possibly at a great distance from their normal ranges.

Right now, snowy owls are irrupting. They rarely venture this far south from the arctic nesting grounds but have been seen in various numbers around the state. We received viewer photos from Ocean Shores, where watchers counted seven of the big birds. They are also being seen at the Nisqually Wildlife refuge, Dungeness, and several other nature areas.

The owls are apparently on the prowl to supplement a periodic dive in the population of their favorite arctic meal of lemmings. That's bad news for local mice, voles and other smaller creatures who are already favorite snacks of local raptors. 

"It's really exciting right now that there are so many in Washington State that have come down," said Bobby Pierce, who was able to spot one with her husband at Nisqually.

There are some other rare visitors at Nisqually, including an egret who could be seen within a few hundred feet of the viewing trail.

Nisqually managers also report and abundance of ducks, geese, and other raptors showing off at the delta as the weather turns colder.

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