By MIKE CORN
Hedwig -- the snowy owl of Harry Potter fame -- has made his way into Ellis County.
The bird joins the 80-or-so snowy owls in Kansas that have left the arctic tundra in search of food.
First spotted Thursday morning perched on a utility pole southwest of Hays, the owl soon dropped down to the ground alongside a county road ditch. He stayed there until lifting up as a truck approached, flying out into a nearby pasture.
Birding enthusiasts Sam and Terry Mannell dropped virtually everything and rushed to the last-reported sighting of the bird, and soon spotted it in the pasture.
The Mannells have already gone out in search of snowy owls, not only in Ellis County, but elsewhere. They've spotted them near Kirwin and at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Management Area near Great Bend. They also tried to find one that had been reported earlier in Trego County, but were not successful.
"We've been looking for one in Ellis County," Terry Mannell said. Mannell also serves as treasurer of the Kansas Ornithological Society, which has been closely monitoring the snowy owl invasion, even keeping track of the sightings on its website.
"They seem to congregate around wetlands areas and reservoirs," he said of where many of the birds have been found this year. "I don't know if that looks like the arctic or not."
The invasion, as its called, is considerably larger than a previous one in 1974-75, but Mannell said it's possible the numbers might be bigger simply because of improved methods of spreading the word about where the birds are being spotted.
The Ellis County bird, because it's heavily barred, suggests its a young bird, he said.
While most people have credited a collapse in the lemming population in the arctic as the reason for the snowy owl invasion, Mannell said his take is somewhat the opposite.
It appears, he said, the snowy owl population increase was so good that increased pressure caused the collapse of the lemmings population.
"It was a good year because the owls out-produced the lemmings," Mannell said. "Most of the owls that have been seen are young owls."
To survive the lack of lemmings, they've had to expand their territory, which is why they've been in Kansas.
That increases the risk for the owls, some of which have already succumbed to the lack of food or have been hit by cars as they take to the road to dine on road-kill.
"When conditions are bad, they will come down to the road and eat something that has been hit," he said.
As a member of KOS, Mannell is asking anyone who sees a snowy owl to give him a call and let him know the location. That way, the birding group can map the locations and keep records.
"We're trying to get an accurate count of the birds," he said.
Mannell said be reached at (785) 628-6848.