April Fools … on me?

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A snowy owl flies off in search of food.

I have been plotting an April Fools post for some time – a devious plan to use my wit to snare people in some cleverly disguised trap. It wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I find myself explaining how I ended up the butt end of my own joke.

A few blog posts ago I proudly declared that I would make a lousy lemming. I nearly ordered tee shirts with that slogan. I really want to stand by that statement but it turns out that I may be a lemming after all! The worst part is I bet the snowy owls knew all along.

I don’t know why, but I had this niggling idea that I should double check the facts (for the first time) after publishing that bold declaration.

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Initially I couldn’t figure out why it was looking down …

Of course everyone knows that lemmings reproduce until their numbers are too great. Then one of them decides to jump over a cliff and mass numbers follow in a suicidal plunge of significant proportions. And that’s where we get the idea of acting like a lemming – following the crowd without critical thinking. I love the expression even if it does play on nature’s darker side.

Unfortunately my double checking revealed the rich irony of the lemming story – none of it is true. In real life, lemming populations do fluctuate and when numbers are high, some will head off to new territory. Occasionally they will drown if they can’t make it across a large lake. However, that’s not exactly cliff-jumping suicide and it sucks the wind right out of the lemming expression!

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Then I saw the savoury snack – a mouse. In the Arctic it would more likely be a lemming.

One of the key contributors to the lemming mythology was a 1958 Disney film, White Wilderness, which staged the critical scene by launching real lemmings off a cliff using a turntable. Just to complete the irony, they won an academy award for a documentary feature! An Alaskan government website provided a most interesting explanation of the myth.

Other creatures also have lemming tendencies like the snowy owl which, as chance would have it, likes to eat lemmings. You can’t make this stuff up! This winter there were a large number of snowy owls found much further south in the US than usual. Project Snowstorm tracked them all the way to Florida. It’s a great read!

A lot of people initially assumed that a shortage of food in the Artic sent the hungry snowy owls on a mission. It turns out the truth is exactly the opposite. There were so many lemmings in the Arctic that well-fed snowy owls had a fabulously successful breeding season and wandered much further afield. I’m just thankful a few wandered into the range of my lens which was still in their normal migratory region.

I still think I would be a lousy lemming though I’m not entirely sure what that means anymore. Who needs April Fools’ jokes when I have been duped for decades on some basic facts about nature.

It’s hard not to believe the lemmings were somehow at fault for all this.

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After quickly devouring the snack, the snowy owl returned to its perch to watch for the next mouse to wander on to the snow.

 

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Latest Comments

  1. Scott Marshall says:

    cracking post and some superb shots – I have only seen owls on a couple of occasions and way in the distance – so these hit the mark.

    Like

  2. Marco Pesaresi says:

    What an excellent read Lyle and a stunning set of shots, not quite sure what the Owl is eating but here in the the UK the most staple diet of our Owls tend to be Voles, It’s really good to hear that these Owls are doing well, we had a good year last year with both Barn and short eared Owls as numbers were really high but alas the same can not be said this year as numbers have dropped drastically.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I think the owl is eating a mouse in my photo. If the owls were plentiful last year, hopefully they come back strong again. There do seem to be cycles to these things. I’m always in favour of more owls.

      Like

  3. Hebrew of Yhwh: stranger, sojourner, son says:

    The lies in the media. There is no truth in the media. Truth has to be found in the Word of God.

    Like

  4. Deb W. Trotter says:

    I was going to comment yesterday to say that I think you April Fooled all of us. Where are the LEMMING PHOTOS!!??

    Like

  5. Phil Lanoue says:

    Fantastic shots of these amazing owls. Lucky you to have the opportunity to view and photograph them.

    Like

  6. whichwaynow101 says:

    Never mind. Your photos are fantastic!

    Like

  7. idiotphotographer says:

    I knew lemmings weren’t suicidal but didn’t know where the myth came from. Still, the term is here to stay. Lovely owl shots, I’m so envious you get to see all these lovely creatures.

    Like

  8. rickfurmanek says:

    I love the second image … eyes closed while munching on a snack. Seems quite content.

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  9. westerner54 says:

    Shame on Disney, indeed! If we can’t trust Walt, who can we trust? Thanks for the enlightenment.

    Like

  10. Garden Walk Garden Talk says:

    I always believed the Lemming story too. Shame on Disney. Did you know the Snowy Owl can see a mouse under a blanket of snow? I read it but did not see it for myself like you did here. Very nice photos Lyle, I finally photographed a Snowy myself too, but yours was under a blue sky and mine on a dreary, cold day – so not as nice.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I didn’t know that but it makes sense otherwise how would they ever find enough to survive? The snowy owl above was probably 150-200 yards away from the mouse when it took off the pole to chase it down – that is some amazing eyesight. Glad you found a snowy. Yes it turns out light makes a difference – I was fortunate.

      Like

  11. Mark Conway says:

    Beautiful shots Lyle!

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  12. Sue says:

    Thanks for clearing up the myth. I had once heard that it was the shortage of lemmings that pushed juvenile owls south in the winter, but clearly that was not true as there were many adults wintering in southern MN this year.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      The older I get, the more suspicious I am of assumptions – I had heard the same thing. I’m sure there are other creatures who do scatter to find found but it’s best to get the facts.

      Like

  13. Dan Traun says:

    Wonderful photos and great background on why the snowies were out of their traditional range.

    Like

  14. Mike Powell says:

    Wow. Your Snowy Owl shots are amazing (and I am part of that small minority of people that did not see a Snowy Owl this winter). It’s fascinating (and a bit disappointing) to learn that the myth of the lemmings is not at all true. It makes me wonder what other cultural myths are false. I was one of the folks who assumed that a shortage of lemmings prompted the owls to head south. In fact, I felt strangely compelled to start a drive to raise money to assist the lemmings. I’m sure that you have heard the expression, “If life gives you lemmings, make lemming-aid.”

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      The snowy owl continues to mesmerize me. Glad you liked the shots. When I learned the truth about lemmings, I too was wondering what other cultural myths I should be questioning. There seem to be a lot of people caught up in the lemming story. I’m sure the snowy owls would like your expression!

      Like

  15. judysbirds says:

    Fun story, great pictures!

    Like

  16. Mandy says:

    I saw a photo of a Canadian Lynx today that looked like the most cuddly of critters, so I have a request: Does Krahnpix do Lynx?

    Like

  17. Victor Rakmil says:

    Wonderful post and photographs.

    Like

  18. Gunta says:

    You’re part of that mythical lemming group to my mind, showing off your luck in getting to see and shoot these wonderful birds to those of us who weren’t favored by their presence. Seemed like at least half the blogs I follow had some shots of the snowy whites. But I’ll give you the April Fool Award anyway! 😛

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Thank you so much for the coveted award – I will cherish that forever!!

      Too bad we all ended up taunting you inadvertently. Hopefully someday you can see one too.

      Like

  19. Seenorway says:

    A rare sight and a fantastic moment, Lyle !

    Like

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