Friday, December 27, 2013

Eyewitness! Snowy Owl Irruption 2013

Through November and December I had been forced to watch this year's incredible snowy owl irruption from behind my computer screen.  While seemingly everyone else on the east coast had owls coming out of their ears, I was stuck in DC with no car and no time to chase anything.  Like a child, I resorted to passive-agressive jealousy, sending out sassy tweets like these:

I knew I'd have a chance to join the lucky hordes of birders when I came to Maine for Christmas.  Was I successful, you ask?  Thanks for asking.  Yes, yes I was.  Let me tell you about it.

I got home late on Sunday and had some emergency gift-shopping to do on Monday morning.  I told my mom that I was going to look for a snowy owl before I looked for gifts, and this intrigued her enough to tag along.  Of course, finding a Snowy Owl is never a sure thing, even in a year such as this, so I tempered her hopes and we headed to the airport.  Also, it was sleeting, so that sucked.

SUSPENSE?  No, I found an owl almost as soon as I got out of the car.  Whammy!  A heavily-barred bird in a grassy median between runways.  Awesome.  I showed my mom, her first snowy owl ever.  (Aside: I reported the bird to the listserv and was sent a stern response that one shouldn't report airport owls because they'd be shot.  This is something I knew well, but didn't think was an issue in Portland.  Turns out it had been, but the same pressure that forced a change at JFK also forced a change at Portland, which now traps and releases owls.)  Anyway, here's my mom (owl not visible):

So, that was a pretty good start.  On Wednesday I set out for some more birding, trying to clean up some species to hit ABA 400 on the year.  I got my year Greater Scaup (I know, right?) and Barrow's Goldeneye before heading to Biddeford Pool to try to scope out some alcids or King Eider.

The first bird I saw when I turned onto Mile Stretch Road at the Pool was a Snowy atop a chimney (I wonder how Santa dealt with it).  Great start.  While scoping from the tip of the Sanctuary, I saw a second bird near the lighthouse on Wood Island (why didn't I digiscope?  I don't know).  Leaving the sanctuary (no alcids 'cept Razorbills) I ran into a couple who told me they were visiting from Colombia and did I know of any good birds around?  Well, have you seen any of the Snowy Owls?  They hadn't heard of the irruption and probably had never dreamed of seeing a Snowy Owl, and they begged me to take them to a bird.  They followed me back to the Hattie's Deli parking lot, where I spotted an owl out on the marsh (third of the day).  Other folks saw us scoping, and soon a group of 10 or so folks was there viewing the owl - and another bird joined, my 4th of the day.  On my way out, I snapped a digi-binned shot of the first owl (the whitest one) that had moved to a nearby rooftop.

left to meet my friend Doug at Pine Point in Scarborough to return the scope I borrowed from him.  On the way in I glanced across the marsh and saw an owl (#5) sitting on a hunting blind.  You can barely see the bird breaking the white background in this picture:

Doug called and said he had another bird on another blind behind the Pelreco building (#6, no pics), and when we pulled up to the Pine Point Co-Op area, this bad boy was overhead.

Unreal.  Doug let me use his scope and the awesome iPhone digiscope adaptor (I think it was this Kowa one), which allowed me to get great pics.  Here's how it turned out with me just holding my phone up to my dumb binoculars:

Dumb.  Anyway, that was my 7th Snowy Owl of the day!  OF THE DAY!  I had seen two in my life before then.  Merry Christmas, indeed.

I haven't birded much since then, but I have seen one more Snowy Owl.  It's on the snowboard I had custom made in 2008 from a (sadly defunct) local company.  What did I design for a graphic?  You got it.  The irruption continues.


Anonymous said...

Congrats on all the snowy owls! I'm headed out tomorrow and hopefully I'll have a smidgen of your luck!

sis said...

what the heck is divi binning?

NickL said...

Sis - thank you for catching that typo. I meant "digi-binning" which is of course taking photos (crappy photos in my case) through your binoculars.

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