Friday, February 17, 2012

February 17: Not the owl I was looking for

Yesterday a friend shared beautiful photos that he got of the snowy owl flying a few days ago near the Rockland Breakwater, and I have to confess they were taunting me. Having some free time this morning, I decided to try yet again to see this elusive and charismatic bird. There was no one walking on the breakwater when I arrived, so I was hopeful. But a quick scan showed it free of birds, as well. A walk on the Samoset grounds also proved fruitless. No agitated crows, no white lumps in the distance.

But I decided to make the most of my outing and see what else was around. In the waters around the breakwater I observed several loons fishing for crabs, a horned grebe, and some buffleheads. A string of eiders drifted past, and a merganser flew overhead. On the beach a ring-billed gull interacted with two herring gulls. And then, a big bird flying over the water caught my eye. It was bulky like an owl, but not white, so not the snowy. I got a better look with my binoculars and was astonished to realize that it was an owl--a short-eared owl! Not at all what I expected!

I've only seen short-eared owls flying over fields, flapping and gliding, dipping low over the grass, turning acrobatically in mid-air. This owl showed the same flight behavior, only it was over the ocean. I watched its every move, fascinated. It swooped low over the water. What was it going to do, catch a fish? Where was it going? Was it going to fly across the outer harbor over to appropriately named Owls Head?

Eventually the bird landed on leeward rocks near the end of the breakwater, out of sight. I didn't want to walk out to try for a closer look, because I'm sure that would have flushed it, causing it needless stress. So after waiting a bit to see if it would move to the top of the breakwater, I left. No snowy owl, yet again, but I was not at all disappointed at what turned up in its place.

Ocean a wide field
for a stray owl to explore.
Cold rocks offer rest.

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