When I run into readers of this column, the number one question I get asked is, “How do you come up with so many different things to write about every week?” I’ll be honest. It’s hard, especially after having written this column for more than seven years now. It’s especially difficult in winter.

But, as I’ve said before, gardeners do more than just garden. Once you start digging in the dirt and begin tending to your plants, all of a sudden you’re hyper-aware of the entire ecosystem around you. Insects, earthworms, fungi, toads, birds, and so much more.

Last week, I ran into Larry Overmyer at the hospital, and during the course of our conversation, the topic of snowy owls came up. My neighbors all around me have been aware for several years now that I’ve wanted to photograph one and they’ve been alerted that they’re to contact me right away if they see one. And they see them. Everyone sees them, it seems, but me.

Larry told me that he sees them out by his place on occasion, but he thought it was a little early yet for them to be here. I told him they had been here for a month or so, as evidenced by sightings reported to eBird. He took my phone number and promised to call if he saw one.

The very next day, I got a call. There was one sitting in the field across from Larry’s house and it had been there for a couple of hours. I grabbed my camera and off I went. It’s a 20-minute drive between our houses and I worried that it would be gone by the time I got there.

As I turned the corner about half a mile south of his house, I could see it – a big spot of white in a brown, open field. I got excited. I was concerned that the sound of my car, and even me shutting the door as I got out would spook him, but he didn’t flinch. I took a couple of photos from Larry’s driveway, but even with my 65x optical zoom, the photo wasn’t very good.

We walked down the road and into the field, stealthily, trying to be as quiet as we could. We stopped every so often and I snapped another couple of photos. When we were about 100 yards away, the owl finally turned his head, and acknowledged our presence. He didn’t seem to be bothered much by us, but as I snapped a couple more photos, he took flight.

Now those of you who are serious birders are twitching about now, because as I learned later that day, you aren’t supposed to approach a snowy owl. Why, you may ask? There are a couple of reasons.

Snowy owls are native to the Arctic and they fly great distances to reach us here in Ohio. By the time they arrive, they may be a bit weary and on the thin side. They need to rest and they do this during the day. Around dusk, they take flight and hunt for prey, into the night.

Coming too close to them stresses them further, not only because they’re birds who mainly live away from civilization and now they’ve got a human coming their way, but because doggone it, they’re trying to sleep! How close is too close? If they’re looking at you, you’re too close. If they take flight as a result of your approach, you’re way too close.

I didn’t know, and I felt terrible. I consoled myself by telling myself I disturbed him about an hour and a half before sunset. Hopefully, he’d gotten a good day’s rest by then. And he looked pretty robust, so perhaps he’d arrived some weeks ago and was rested from the trip and had no trouble finding meals.

I learned a lesson that day. Sure, I wanted a good photo, but that should have come secondary to doing what was best in regard to the owl. Hopefully, the owl didn’t suffer any consequences as a result of my ignorance, and the birding community will forgive me.

Snowy owls have been frequenting our area in winter for many years now. Our flat, open terrain looks familiar to them, since they spend their summer breeding days in the Arctic. In some areas, they are known to favor airports for the same reason, but this is not the best place for them to hang out, as you can imagine.

If you see one, it’s okay to take photos, but try to do it from a distance without disturbing it. For sure, they’re very special, and we’re fortunate to live in an area where we have the opportunity to see them. Be attentive and you may spot one before they begin their return north around March or April.

Read more at Kylee's blog, Our Little Acre, at www.ourlittleacre.com. Contact her on Facebook or by email at pauldingprogressgardener@gmail.com.