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Archive for Thursday, January 24, 2002

Snowy owl sightings surprise Sunflower State birdwatchers

January 24, 2002

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More common in the land of the caribou and the lemming, snowy owls are a rare sight here in the Sunflower State.

But this year, Kansas birdwatchers are reporting unusually high numbers of the majestic bird whose wings span wide as a church door.

"There have been at least six sightings, possibly seven," said David Seibel, an avid birdwatcher and associate biology professor at Johnson County Community College.

Good years in the past produced one or two Kansas sightings; bad years, none. Saturday, a snowy owl was spotted at Clinton Lake.

First seen by Shawnee Mission birdwatcher Mark Land, it was last seen by Galen Pittman and Seibel.

"It had the markings of a immature female," said Seibel, who lives in Lawrence. "It was sitting right on the dam when we saw it. Unfortunately, it took off to the north after a crow dive-bombed it about a half-dozen times. It flew about a half- or three-quarters of a mile before we lost sight of it."

Though many have looked, the Clinton visitor has not been seen since the Seibel-Pittman sighting.

"I've been seriously birding in Kansas for, I'm guessing, about 25 years," said Pittman, station manager-biologist at Kansas University's Field Station and Ecological Reserves north of the Lawrence Municipal Airport. "This is only the second time I've seen a snowy owl. The first time was back in 1970s."

Seibel has been birdwatching almost 35 years. Before Saturday, he'd not seen a snowy owl in Kansas.

"It was a first for me," he said.

So far, the Kansas sightings have included two at the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area near Great Bend, one or two at Marion Reservoir, one in Kearney County, one near Overland Park, one near the railroad yards in Kansas City, Kan., and one on the dam at Clinton Lake.

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