Birding: A cold and ‘snowy’ day in Texas

Snowy owl in Odessa Texas. (Courtesy)

Snowy owl in Odessa Texas. (Courtesy)

I usually divide our customers into two categories — those whom I affectionately refer to as ‘casual backyard birders,’ and those whom I call ‘field birders.’ Field birders are individuals who like to get out in nature and track down rare, unusual and exotic bird species.

Anyone who knows me knows I am wild about wild birds. For me, my love of birds is more than just a passion or a hobby. It is a lifestyle. I put time, energy, and resources into my bird watching efforts. I am a field birder. 

A quick trip to Texas last week provided me with both planned and unanticipated bird watching opportunities. Our route took us through New Mexico, so we stopped at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park in Albuquerque. This is a super location, and I saw almost 50 species there. However, after arriving at our final destination — Lubbock, Texas — I found out there was a snowy owl in Odessa, Texas, two hours further south.

A snowy owl!

This is one of those bird species I have seen only in pictures and movies, but never in real life. The opportunity to see a snowy owl was practically in the palm of my hands.

Of course, any time you chase rare birds, there is no guarantee you will find them. Frequently, when a bird shows up way outside its normal range, it is only there for a day or two. I had to weigh my options. Was it worth the time to drive two hours one way in the hopes of finding this bird? It would be very disappointing if I were to drive all that way and it were nowhere to be found.

In the end, I chose to pursue the lead. I left Lubbock at 6 a.m. and arrived in Odessa as it was just getting daylight. Interestingly, the owl was hanging out in a very urban setting — on either side of a highway with commercial businesses fronting both sides of the highway. Previous reports indicated that during the day the owl was roosting on top of the roof of a Discount Tire store, a Conn’s HomePlus store, and on top of a local church.

After checking these locations and not finding it, we expanded our search area, gradually moving further away from where it had been seen over the previous days. First we checked one side of the highway, then the other, and then back again. Nothing.

Again, we expanded our search — moving further away from where it had been seen. There was a frontage road between the businesses and the highway, and there was a road that ran along the backside of the businesses as well. At one point, we came around the side of a large movie theater, and I saw a large object on top of a light fixture in the parking lot. There it was!

It was very cold and very windy, but here I was observing a snowy owl in Odessa, Texas! This is a species that normally lives north of the US/Canadian border. Using my spotting scope and my iPhone, I took several pictures of the owl, perched on the light fixture right out in the middle of a huge parking lot.

It was so acclimated to people — it was surprising to see how tolerant it was of human activity. Cars, trucks, people — nothing seemed to faze it. I always tell people that you never know what you will see when you go bird watching. Birds have wings, and therefore they have no boundaries. They can show up anywhere. And they do!

Until next week, happy birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.