Posted 13th March by Peter Byrne
Hundreds of bird watchers gathered in Norfolk on the RSPB reserves at Titchwell Marsh and Snettisham over the weekend as they sought a glimpse of a very rare visitor, the female snowy owl
The striking white birds are typically found in the high Arctic tundra instead of the coastal regions of Britain. It's during the winter months that they will migrate southwards as they look for food sources- in fact, it's possible the bird could have come from Scandinavia or even as far away as Canada with the recent snap of cold weather. Snowy owls had limited breeding success on Shetland in the 1960s and 70s, with occasional sightings in the UK being reported since. It's incredibly rare to see one as far south as Norfolk.
The snowy owl achieved notoriety as Hedwig the post-carrying messenger for Harry Potter in J K Rowling's series of novels. Hedwig was portrayed as a skilled hunter and an affectionate and loyal companion. Reclusive birds, unused to human contact despite historically being eaten by the Inuit.
Unlike other species of owl, snowy owls will be active during daylight hours, and could be seen gliding low over ground as they look for small mammals which can include voles or even rabbits. The birds are content to sit still for long periods of time either on a low perch or boulder which makes them an ideal 'twitch' for wildlife fans.
The snowy owl's arrival was broadcast through the birding community and within hours, people started to arrive from all over Norfolk and beyond. Graham Minister from Swindon, Wiltshire left home at 4am and drove the 170 miles to see the bird “I never imagined I would see a snowy owl in person. She is a beautiful bird and worth every minute it took me to get here" he said.
The RSPB thanked everyone who made the trip to Norfolk to see the visiting snowy owl for being responsible birdwatchers and following "The Birdwatchers' Code" - this calls on birders to:
1 Avoid disturbing birds and their habitats - the bird should always come first.
2 Be an ambassador for birdwatching.
3 Know and follow the law and the rules for visiting the countryside.
4 Send your sightings to the County Bird Recorder and the Birdtrack website
5 Think about the interests of wildlife and local people before passing on news of a rare bird, particularly during the breeding season.
Image courtesy of Matt Bruce / RSPB Images