Monday, January 6, 2014

Snowy Owls invade Northeast US

The winter of 2013-2014 is proving to be a banner year for spotting Snowy Owls across the US, especially in the Northeast along the seacoast. I have had the chance to view these majestic birds on a couple of visits to the Salisbury Beach State Reservation in MA since late December. Although they are indigenous to the Arctic every few years many young owls make their way south to winter along the dunes and salt marshes. Many have been spotted from Rye, NH to Plum Island, MA by fellow photographers. These images were taken of one individual I spent almost 4 hours with on 12.29.13.

After this one sat in the marsh grass for nearly 2 hours it flew across the marsh and ended up in the top of a pine tree by the road. It remained there for another couple of hours as several photographers watched to snapped away. This particular bird appears to be a juvenile female where it has more color along it's wings and crown.

 On my next visit 1.5.14 my sons Nick, Logan and I spotted 2 individuals over the course of 2 hours along the entrance road to the State Reservation and one that was deceased along the dunes near the beach by the pyramid. They generally tend to rest on the top of the dunes or on rocks and driftwood above the grass. We were fortunate to get one decent shot of the young male pictured below when we flew alongside the road and perched at the top of a tree for only a couple of minutes before flying deep into the marsh just as the sun was setting on an overcast day. The owls that are seen in the US are regarded as immature, the adult males appear nearly all white while the females retain most of their brown or black colors on the tips of their feathers and atop their heads. I believe this one is a juvenile male where it has very little brown on it's feathers and the head is almost completely white.

Many bird experts speculate that this may be the best year for many to to come to viewing these owls. Scientists are not completely sure why they tend to show up every few years and in many only a handful arrive and are seen. Some thoughts are that they come south due to food supply in the Arctic or after a successful breeding season the previous year and may be driven away by mature adults when there is an population explosion up north.

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