Snowy Owls at Boundary Bay

One sunny afternoon a couple of week ago, I headed down to Boundary Bay with my camera. A colony of Snowy Owls has taken up residence on the shores of the bay this winter. They got a lot of media attention when they arrived last December, and I wanted to see them for myself.

Apparently the owls make a regular appearance on the bay every four or five years. Their migration from their home north of 60° to all points south is linked to the lemming population, which makes up 90 percent of their diet. When the lemming population declines, the snowies head south.

The last time they were seen at Boundary Bay was in 2007.

This year, however, the Snowy Owls migrated south in unprecedented numbers. Scientists think the large migration is the result of an abundance of lemmings during the last breeding season, encouraging a one-year “chick boom.” Breeding pairs raised as many as seven chicks, when normally they raise only two.

But then, come winter, there were simply too many owls and not enough lemmings. Thousands of snowies, mostly young and male, have left the north in search of food; they’ve been seen as far south as Oklahoma.

About 28 are at Boundary Bay, while many others have been spotted all over the Lower Mainland. I counted eight owls myself.

Snowy Owls are up to 70 cm tall and can have a wingspan of about 150 cm, making them one of the largest species of owls.

I haven’t been to Boundary Bay in, well, decades. I’d forgotten how beautiful it is.

The bay is enclosed by Point Roberts, Washington, and Tsawwassen, BC, on the west; Blaine, Washington, and White Rock, BC, on the east; and Delta, BC, to the north.

It’s an important stop on the Pacific Flyway. I had no idea how serious some birders can be. There were fellows out there in full camouflage, with camera lenses as long as my arm. I wouldn’t have minded a longer lens myself, but, even so, it was a great photo opportunity and I intend to go back.

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