Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) on Duxbury Beach, Massachusetts, 23 December 2013.
In total we observed five Snowy Owls on Duxbury Beach today — quite a birthday present! I was reminded how much I miss seeing these occasional visitors from the far north.
There is an historic irruption of Snowy Owls occurring in the Northeast this winter. I haven't yet heard the details of where it stands in comparison to other years with high numbers of Snowy Owls (perhaps someone can help me out?), but I'm glad to have seen a very small glimpse of it.
Wayne Peterson (with the Massachusetts Audubon Society) sent around a link to Bruce Mactavish's blog with some information about the incredible numbers of Snowy Owls in Newfoundland and hinting that these birds may be originating from northern Quebec after a very successful breeding season there this past summer.
Here are two more photos of different individuals from Duxbury Beach today. The next one shows very dark barring, indicating that this may be a young female (females tend to be darker than males).
This individual is much paler (see below). Note that all of these photos were taken from far away with a long lens and then heavily cropped. If you look closely, you'll find some wet feathers on these owls as all of us (the owls and my mother and I) were out in the rain today.
I have very fond memories of watching Snowy Owls on Cape Cod. One of my favorite experiences involved a Snowy Owl that had caught a Common Eider and a Northern Harrier that wanted some of the eider, too. The owl was perched on the ground holding onto the duck. The harrier would walk slowly towards the owl and then try to grab hold of the eider by reaching backward with one of its long legs. Eventually the owl would respond by raising its wings and screeching at the harrier, and the harrier would retreat. But the harrier kept trying over and over again! It never succeeded as far as I know, but it was an unforgettable wildlife observation.