CLEVELAND — While a snowstorm from the west heads towards Northeast Ohio this weekend, the Cleveland lakefront is in the midst of a snowy owl snowstorm—one that brought four striking individual owls in the view of a local photographer and naturalist with the Cleveland Metroparks.
Their seasonal arrival puts bird watchers on high alert, as a new year provides a fresh slate to record these arctic wonders.
Typically in any given winter, between one to two birds are spotted along the rich-food source area known as the Lake Erie waterfront. But 2021 has so far been promising for owl-watchers and curious visitors alike.
“These snowy owls just keep getting better and better,” said Jen Brumfield, a naturalist with the Cleveland Metroparks. “Last year we had a few frequenting the harbor, but this winter's four birds is definitely a highlight. This is a bit above average for the annual winter showing of snowy owls in Cleveland.
The largest irruption, a phenomenon that happens when snowy owls come flooding down from the north to a specific area, in the Northeast and the Great Lakes regions in a century was during the winter of 2013-14, according to data from Project SNOWStorm, a group dedicated to tracking snowy owls.
Smaller irruptions happen, on average, every four or five years, with mega-irruptions happening once or twice in a lifetime.
The seasonal distribution of snowy owls is dictated not only by the day-to-day weather but by what food is available.
While on the lakefront, the owls will hunt bountiful gulls and ducks through the winter, sitting out on breakwalls and marina docks during the day.
Brumfield says for optimal viewing, visitors will need to bring their binoculars, as they blend in with the snow and ice. Visitors should look on top of harbor channel markers, breakwalls, marina docks and marina signs.
"Edgewater Marina is one of the best spots. East 9th Street Pier and East 55th Street marina. They choose different places to sit during the day, so each day we have to go out and try to relocate them. It's a classic 'Where's Waldo' owl quest," Brumfield said.