The Magic of the Snowy Owl
I resisted it for as long as I could. All winter I have enjoyed watching the flood of dramatic pictures on Facebook of the Snowy Owls that have invaded our New England coast in record numbers. These beautiful birds are usually a rarity this far south, but every 4-5 years there is an “irruption” as the supply of Lemmings, their staple food, rises in its normal cyclic pattern. This year the Snowies have launched a full scale invasion. It is estimated that this is the biggest irruption in the last 50 years. Facebook in general and the New England Photography Guild FB site in particular have been overflowing with fantastic images of Snowy Owls. It seemed that every other picture on the site was of an adorable white raptor fluffed up against the cold. I haven’t seen any Snowies in the Monadnock region, but it became apparent to me that I can’t call myself a New England photographer unless I have a Snowy in my portfolio. So I finally surrendered and headed to the coast last Monday to try to catch a Snowy before they made their springtime retreat to the northern tundra.
Two years ago I had made a similar attempt, but came up empty. I had taken the two hour trek to the New Hampshire coast on a cold February morning and searched the coast for several hours before I
|Hampton Beach Sunrise|
This year I decided to improve my odds. Several of my fellow New England Photography Guild members are world class bird photographers and I sent out a general email looking for recommendations about where I would have the best chance to bag a Snowy. John Vose got back to me with two suggestions which turned out to be perfect. It helped that the birds seemed to have settled into favorite locations and were not wandering a great deal. Also Snowy Owls are easier to find since, unlike most other owls, they tend to be active during daylight hours.
Roof Top Snowy
My first location was at the State Park on the northern side of Rye Harbor. I pulled in at about 9am and a quick tour revealed no owls
|Up On the Roof|
I headed south to Salisbury Beach and the entry road turned out to be a bonanza of Snowies. I saw at least 3 different owls, including one in a tree, another in the grass of an adjacent marsh and one that seemed attached to a telephone pole just outside the park entrance. On weekends this road tends to be packed with cars, but on his cool Monday morning I shared the owls with only a few birders. I have read that the males tend to be mostly white while he females have more dark spots. The owls were easy to find. All I needed to do was notice where the other photographers were pointing their cameras. It was all too easy and, given how hard I worked last time, I felt a bit guilty. The one thing that I missed was good pictures of the birds in flight. They mostly seemed comfortable on their perches. I kept my camera trained on the birds, leaving room to the side toward which I expected them to take flight. Invariably I was glancing away at the moment they took wing and only caught one just as it was flying out of the frame.
How can I complain? The 4 hours of driving to and from the coast was well worth the effort. I not only bagged my Snowy, but I got to see these magnificent birds in a variety of locales and activities. I now feel that I can hold my head up among my fellow New England photographers and settle back into my usual role of shooting trees, rocks and streams.