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Trees clustered together in the sub alpine stand a much better chance of surviving the harsh conditions. Called krumholtz, these tree islands are miniature ecosystems unto themselves, providing mutual protection against the elements while acting as a catch basin for moisture. A krumholtz provides habitat for lesser plant species as well as insects, birds and mammals big and small. Usually trees in the krumholtz, German for "crooked wood," are old if not ancient, stunted by a short growing season, harsh weather and a paucity of nutrient-rich soil. Branches tend to flourish on the downwind side only.
Illustration by Manami Kimura
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Snowy Owls E-mail
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Written by Brian Grover   
Access: See Getting to Boundary Bay.

Bald Eagles, red-tailed hawks, harriers, long-eared owls, short-eared owls, barn owls and their prey are a common sight from the dikes of Boundary Bay in any season. In fact this is truly raptor heaven.

Particularly harsh arctic winters drive the massive Snowy Owl south and west in search of alternative food supplies. Many of these itinerant ookpiks end up in Boundary Bay feasting on fowl rather than their customary lemming diet. As you continue walking along the dikes 1½ km northward from the park entrance you'll notice a collection of greenhouses at the foot of 64th Street. On a good day careful scrutiny of the structures around the farm here may reveal as many as a couple dozen of the fluffy white raptors.

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Photographers Flock to Boundary Bay
Ookpiks in the limelight.

Continue exploring the dikes southwards for another kilometre or so. Snowys can also be found presiding over the salt marshes at the foot of 72nd Street. Their appearance attracts hordes of casual observers as well as legions of outdoor paparazzi who have been known frighten off the owls in the interest of getting "the shot."

Refrain from approaching or otherwise harassing these occasional visitors as every unnecessary flight reduces the critical energy reserves required for winter survival. Harassment is a criminal offense under the BC Wildlife Act. Photograph any acts of harassment and make a formal complaint to the BC Wildlife Management Branch via phone [1-877-952-7277] or web. Be sure to capture clear identifying photos of the perpetrators' faces as well as their license plate numbers when they return to their vehicles. A conviction for wildlife harassment could result in a sentence of up to six months and/or a fine of as much as one million dollars. As such laws are rarely enforced with any vigor in the province of British Columbia, an embarrassing slap on the wrist is a more likely consequence.

Female Snowy Owls are generally larger with more brown-dappled colouring to blend in with their arctic tundra nesting sites. Nesting females exclusively incubate the eggs and guard and tend the chicks while the males concentrate on providing meat for the mother and hatchlings.

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Camera Shy: A fuzzy wuzzy ookpik peers out from behind a log as the "press corps" presses closer.

Depending on the severity of northern and inland weather, the season for viewing Snowy Owls typically extends from November to February though very few ookpiks may reach the coast during particularly balmy winters. The onset of global warming may make this ritual a thing of the past.

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In Flight: An ookpik investigates rodent rustles among the tangle of driftwood.

The hawks, harriers and short-eared owls will usually be quite active, patrolling the marsh lands on the ocean side of the dike for ripe rodent. Along the ditches on the opposite side of the dike scan for long-eared owls roosting in the shadows of bushes and trees. If quiet, you can expect to get as close as 2 metres to these slumbering guys. Photographers will want to use a flash with telephoto attachment.



Copyright © 2007 Brian Grover. Content Distribution is Prohibited
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