As far as I know, Snowy Owls do not occur in the Sitka area every winter, but they do seem to occur with some regularity either around town or an outlying area (Kruzof Island or upland muskegs behind town). Last year there had been one spotted on Japonski Island in various locations and, despite several tries, I never was able to find it. Yesterday there was a Snowy Owl seen on Alice Island and with some hope of seeing it, I went there this morning with the birding class for our weekly bird walk.
We wandered all around the island and over to the Airport Lagoon, with a final stop over by the Airport Fence (it’s actually on Charcoal Island, I think). After we had pretty much given up on the owl and were heading back to the car to go back to campus, we did finally spot the owl perched on top of a snow covered rock pile. The owl had started to attract the attention of some crows, though they seemed a little reluctant to get too close. After a few minutes, it flew off over into the restricted area by the runway. It was followed closely by a half-dozen or so crows.
As we were leaving, Andrew and his wife Maite were just pulling up to look for the owl. (Maite really wants to see a Snowy Owl and is interested in going to Barrow to do so, if necessary. I think Andrew is interested in seeing one, but not so much in a trip to Barrow.) We spoke with them briefly about walking around the island and only seeing it at the very end and how it flew off toward the runway (with crows in pursuit).
Later in the day I went back with Connor and Rowan so they might get to see it. We saw Andrew and his wife Maite again. They told me they were unsuccessful this morning, but they did see it this afternoon. Andrew said he had seen it on a flat rock over by the airport just before it took off and flew onto Alice Island, but he was not sure where it had landed. As we walked down the path, it was not too hard to figure out that the owl was probably at the end of the island, since there were many crows in that area cawing (with more flying in). We tried to approach carefully, but there are many small alder trees there and visibility was limited. I think the owl became uncomfortable with our approach before we even saw it (or knew exactly where it was) and we saw it shortly after it took off with several crows in pursuit. (Maite was able to see the owl as it flew, but I did not ask her whether that was good enough to avoid making a trip to Barrow; maybe she’ll get a better look before the bird moves on.) The crows seemed to be more aggressive than this morning. This morning they had just flown after it, but this time they were actively diving at it and appeared to be trying to grab its feathers. It ended up flying over the water and landed inside the trees on Turning Island. The crows chased it much of the way, but the last of them gave up pursuit before the owl reached the island.