Posted: Jan 19, 2013 12:25 PM by Bernie Riggs - MTN News
POLSON - There are some repeat visitors to the Mission Valley this year that have a lot of the townsfolk in Polson pretty excited.
Snowy owls are rarely found south of the 49th parallel, but for the past two years Polson residents have had the pleasure of the feathery friends just south of town.
"We look forward to them coming back every year. It's been several years they've been coming and it's a nice addition," said Bob Ricketts with Three Dog Down.
"As the word gets out that they are back we'll see more people. Last year just on a weekend folks from Kalispell or Missoula would stop in for lunch or just to stop in and ask directions," commented Ken Avison with Cove Deli and Pizza.
It's not just curious visitors from around Montana who are headed to the shores of Flathead Lake.
Locals tell us the tourists have come from Washington state, Idaho, and even as far away as Arizona, to get a glimpse of the rare birds, and that excitement is helpful when summer tourism tails off.
"There has been a noticeable increase obviously because of the owls, and we've had repeat business because of that, hasn't been significant, but it's there and this time of year any kind of business is a plus," Wes Foster with Port Polson Inn explained.
The Polson Chamber of Commerce reports they saw a 74% increase in phone calls and visitations last February over the same month in 2011.
MTN reporter Bernie Riggs visited spots along Skyline Drive and Skyview Lane, where the Snowy Owls frequent on Friday, but unfortunately wasn't able to capture any on camera.
Birdwatchers in the area say there are fewer owls this year, and they seem a bit more skittish, but for the locals it's only a matter of time.
"Just happened to get lucky and had the pleasure of getting a couple good pictures in," Foster said.
The Owl Research Institute's website says Snowy Owls were first documented in Northwest Montana during the winter of 2005-2006.
- photo courtesy Rich Huffman