Sunday, January 26, 2014

Finally a Snowy...

This winter has been a tremendous year for finding Snowy Owls in the United States. While a few of these Arctic visitors can be found in the States most years, hundreds or maybe thousands of Snowy Owls have been observed irrupting from their typical northern wintering grounds to places as far south as Arkansas, Florida, and Bermuda!

These northern owls have captured the attention of everyone from nonbirders to bird researchers. For someone who is hardly interested in birding, the sight of a majestic, white owl could easily turn them on to the pleasure and excitement of the hobby. Scientists, too, are excited, as they see this winter's irruption as an opportunity to learn more about these visiting birds. A group of researchers rapidly got together funds and materials and began placing transmitters on Snowy Owls. Project Snowstorm has already placed transmitters on five owls in the Mid-Atlantic region. Maps tracking the movements of these owls can be found on the project website along with more information about Snowy Owl movements and biology.

These owls started showing up in this region just as I was getting into final exam period, so I did not have time to go looking. When I got home for the holidays, some of the owls that had been around had moved on, and my search for any others was fruitless. So, when I arrived back here in Cambridge, Massachusetts to begin my second semester, I figured that I was going to have to live without seeing a Snowy this year. However, I saw on eBird that one had been seen in the Boston area that morning--and even better, it was just a short walk from a subway stop! I got on the subway from the Harvard Square station and within thirty minutes I was near Revere Beach where the owl had been spotted.

The beach was covered with gulls, mostly Herrings with a few Ring-billed and Great Black-backs thrown into the mix. I walked out towards the breakwater, where I soon spotted the owl sitting about halfway out on the jetty. It was distant, but the coloration and posture was enough for the identification. I sat at the end of the beach for a while, hopping to get a better view of the owl, but it remained still. A small group of Ruddy Turnstones ran past me along the icy rocks and small rafts of Common Eiders floated a little ways offshore. While scanning some rocks out in the water, I noticed a single Harbor Seal "perched" atop a rock, presumably enjoying the brief bit of sunshine.

As I walked back along the beach, I looked back to get another peak at the Snowy Owl. He must have flown, because he was now perched at the very end of the jetty, providing only a slightly improved view. While scanning for the owl, I noticed that some ducks that had been pretty far out when I arrived were now much closeralmost at the shoreline. They were White-winged Scoters52 of them! This is not a species I regularly see. In fact, I just saw my first for Monroe County, PA over winter break.

White-winged Scoter with Mallards at Witmers Lake, Monroe County, PA
I watched the scoters bounce up and down on the rough surf for a while, but soon decided that the driving wind was too much to handle, and I headed back towards the subway station. I picked out a single "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull along the way, but didn't manage to watch it for long, as it flew towards a person who was throwing bread for the gulls way down the beach. Nevertheless, it was another good sighting on a (finally) successful search for the Snowy Owl!

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