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Capturing the moment

3/14/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

WEBSTER RESERVOIR -- Delwin LaRue never leaves home without it.

But he's not talking about his credit card, because where he's going, American Express isn't accepted there.

No, he never leaves home without his Canon camera and a pair of trusty lenses.

That's because LaRue never knows when he might spot a trumpeter swan or an eagle.

His latest thrill has been a pair of snowy owls that have been inhabiting the area around Webster Reservoir in recent weeks.

There's been a growing number of snowy owl sightings in Kansas this winter, including the Webster sightings and as many as three at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.

Two years ago, more than 130 snowy owls were reported to the Kansas Ornithological Society.

Typically, snowy owls are birds of the arctic tundra. But they are known to migrate south when the population of lemmings -- the food supply upon which they depend -- collapses.

That is what's believed to have happened in 2011-12, and likely is happening again this year. Called an irruption, much greater numbers of the owls have been seen in the Northeast.

But there's been a growing number spotted in Kansas.

LaRue is one of the doubly lucky, having seen what he thinks are two different birds. And he's been able to photograph them.

"I always have the camera with me," he said. "Never leave home without it."

His first snowy owl this year was spotted south of Webster on more than one occasion.

His father-in-law first told him of the bird, and LaRue was quick to turn about and head to where the bird was sitting on a fence post.

He spotted it on a utility pole and in a field.

The second bird was spotted north of Webster.

He's not seen either one lately, but there have been other birds.

It's no surprise he found the birds. LaRue is a frequent visitor to the Webster area, considering he farms in the area and makes once- or twice-daily trips out from Stockton to feed cattle.

Sometimes, he just heads out in the afternoon and looks for birds.

That's how he came upon the trumpeter swans, both in a wheat field and in the water.

"I haven't seen them since the goose hunters started moving in," he said.

While traditional goose seasons closed Feb. 9, a special light goose season will open the next day, and snow and Ross' geese can be hunted through April 30.

"I don't know how many thousands there are," LaRue said of snow geese on the water.

But there's also been more than 30 eagles in the Webster area, and he said most were on the south side of the lake.

While he photographs with a single camera and two lenses, he'd like to change that.

"I'd like to get another couple lenses," he said. "But I'm going to have to wait a little while."

He's been able to make do for now.

But that also means using a pop-up blind to hide in along the river, in his quest to photograph a bobcat.

LaRue keeps his eyes open for the snowy owls.

"I haven't seen either one for at least a week," he said. "The goose hunters are everywhere up there. I'm sure they've scared everything away."

Except the geese, he noted.