Earlier today, my mom and I decided to head over to Merrill Creek Reservoir in New Jersey to see the Snowy Owl that has been there for the past few weeks. We weren't exactly sure how to get to the owl location, but we ran into a few other birders who had just gotten directions at the visitor center. Near the owl spot, we hiked up a trail along the side of the dam. About halfway to the top of the hill, one of the other birders spotted the owl across the rock pile on the "downstream" side of the dam. We had great views of this white owl as it sat still on a rock, moving only to preen itself or turn its head when it heard a noise.
This is only the second Snowy Owl I have ever seen. The first was near Route 209 in Brodheadsville, PA back in January 2003. This winter has been outstanding for Snowy Owls in the United States. Many birds have been reported across the country, including birds as far south as Oklahoma. It is thought that this sudden southward movement of this species is due to the population boom that occurred during the last breeding season. Young, inexperienced birds are often the individuals that wander out of the species's usual range, so with an increase of young birds, many more owls have moved south.
Using eBird, it is easy to see the southern invasion of this species compared to other years:
Winter 2011-2012 versus Winter 2010-2011
This is an incredible and beautiful northern bird that rarely shows up in this region. If you can, get out to see a Snowy Owl, as it may be a long time before another one shows up in your area!