December 12, 2011

Each winter Snowy owls appear out of the arctic drift like Santa Claus part illusion part myth. Snowy owls are “irruptive” migrations following the booms and shortages of prey. Summer tundra nesters, these diurnal hunters find tiny breaks in our hardwood forests, little postcards of home in the form of airstrips, beach dunes, and frozen saltwater marshes. These pockets of “tundra” are enough and from December to February Snowy owls can be found as far south as long island and coastal New Jersey. In New England locations like Duxbury and Salisbury Beaches, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, and even Logan Airport are good locations to find “Snowies”. Locating these amazing birds can be tricky. Patience and good spotting scope help. Owls like flat, open country but often hunt from a top a rise like a fence post, hummock, large boulder, or even small duck hunting blind. When the snow comes and ice chunks push up from the river the task gets harder but in the cold, drier, pre-snow months of November and December the only confusion will be gulls and the stray bleach bottles (commonly used as a bailer with local boaters). Seeing one of these massive birds is like seeing a fierce and foreign invader; even while standing on the top floor of the short term airport parking lot Snowies serve as a reminder that wilderness and wildness are not synonymous. 
Fallen Willow Snowy Owl by Robert Bateman

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact:

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