Only one other birder was present when Hildreth arrived, but he knew dozens had been there the day before and dozens would show up afterward. "I'm not surprised [by the number of people]," he said "Snowy owls always attract lots of birders whenever they're found. They're quite majestic birds."
Mark Eanes of LaVale, Md., heard about the bird from some co-workers.
"We took our children over to see it," Eanes said. "The two oldest ones knew about snowy owls from the Harry Potter movies."
It wasn't a quick or convenient trip.
"It was a 45-minute drive each way. When we got there, the owl was feeding on something it had killed. It spent a good while sitting there and just munching."
Several observers reported seeing the owl make kills. Several others observed it feeding. Ornithologist Bailey said the bird would probably stay in the area as long as it could find easy prey.
"Then when winter ends, it will probably head back to the Arctic," he added.
Though most owls are nighttime hunters, Bailey said snowy owls are most active during daylight hours. That trait, combined with their size, their snow-white feathers and their tendency to perch atop fence posts and telephone poles near open fields, makes them relatively easy to spot.
Nan McDaniel of Charleston was pleased to find the owl so visible.
"Once we got there, the bird was easy to spot," she said. "It was a gray day, so it really stood out. It was sitting about 125 yards away, on top of a fence post."
McDaniel and her husband, Perry, were headed for Washington, D.C., and decided to make a quick side trip off Interstate 68 to see the owl.
"We were thrilled. We're not experienced birders, and the owl was a great 'life-list' addition for both of us. It was really exciting," she said.
According to the WV-BIRD listserv, the owl was last seen Dec. 12, about 11/2 miles from the farm it had been frequenting. Graffious estimated that during the peak of the owl-watching fervor, eight to 15 people a day visited the area to see it for the first time, or to keep tabs on its activity.
"I was also getting two to three e-mails a day from local folks trying to figure out what all the fuss was about," he said. "It's been fun."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.