Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November 15: Owls out there

It's a bit early in the season, but already observers are reporting snowy owls. A friend saw two on Seal Island in Penobscot Bay recently. Birders on the Maine birding list-serv have seen them in Wells, Biddeford Pool, and other southern Maine coastal spots. There are currently two hanging out near Duxbury, MA. These multiple sightings are not typical, even in winter. So what's bringing the owls to the beach? Is Maine the Riviera for this Arctic breeder?

The cause of this owl influx is lemmings, the rodents that are a snowy owl's favorite prey on its breeding grounds. When there's an abundance of lemmings, nest success rate is higher. More owls. Come winter, when resources are more limited, owls disperse widely, with younger birds typically having to fly farther afield. They head for habitats similar to the open tundra, like dunes and bare-rock islands. Most of the birds we see here in Maine are these younger birds, recognizable by the more extensive dark patterning on the white feathers. The whiter the owl, the older it is.

I'm excited that this is looking to be a snowy owl boom year here in Maine, because odds are good that one could show up on Beech Hill. They've been seen on the blueberry barrens in the past, and I've always wanted to see one there. One of my co-workers won't be happy till he sees one perched on the sod roof of the stone hut atop the hill. But I'll take just seeing one in the fields. White owls are not just rare around here, they're really cool--almost mystically beautiful--one of those birds I always want to see. Check out these photographs and you'll understand.

Rare owl visitor--
white wings over open fields.
I long to see one.

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