There are Snowy Owls all over the United States! Vermont, Indiana, Washington, South Dakota, even Hawaii (though that one was sadly shot ’cause it was at the airport…I know, I don’t get it either). Word came through NJBirds on November 9th that a Snowy Owl had been found by Merrill Creek Reservoir, and I finally decided I absolutely needed to see it in early December. (And, the Owl is still there as I write this up in mid-January.)
I have been a fortunate birder when it comes to Snowy Owls. I saw my Life Snowy Owl in May 2006 in Genoa, NY; it just happened to show up while I was at nearby Cornell on a work trip. That’s the sweetie’s photo above. No one knew what it was doing in upstate New York in May.
And, then there was the winter of 2008 when all you had to do for a Snowy Owl fix was take a walk along Jones Beach. Owls here, owls there, Snowy Owls everywhere! This one was at West End 2. You wouldn’t know it, but it was surrounded by birders and photographers. There have been others, but I don’t want to spend this post gloating.
I made the trek out to Warren County on December 3rd. A birder had kindly given very specific instructions on how to locate the Snowy, which had found a new spot by the south dam, away from the water. I had never been to Merrill Creek Reservoir before, and rejoiced in my personal discovery of a new birding spot on a beautiful sunny (and cold) afternoon.
The directions took me from an unmarked parking lot on Fox Farm Road through the woods, where a murder of crows were noisily congregating (murdering?), to an unused gravel road, around a locked gate that barely allowed my camera passage, and along the top of the south dam, pictured above.
The Snowy Owl was way, way down from the dam path! I put my scope on him, got my look, and gave the many non-birders who had heard about the owl views. I love doing that, especially with kids. A walk down to where I could view the Snowy closer was next. The photo above gives you some idea how far down I had to go to be somewhat on the same level as the Owl, though it was still pretty far away. The smart bird had found a spot in the sun in an area separated from gawky sightseers by a ditch, rocks, and a sign saying “Do Not Enter This Area.”
There has been a lot written about this year’s influx of Snowy Owls. Birders are saying that it is not just a lack of lemmings and other goodies in their native northern tundra. The story is that there were so many lemmings this summer that there was an explosion of young owls, and that what we are seeing are young males who have been crowded out. That doesn’t explain the all-white Snowy that has been seen regularly at Jones Beach, or this owl, which birders say is a juvenile female. It will be interesting to see how many more Snowys appear this winter. And the ornithological conclusion as to why. Personally, I find the reasoning why engaging, but the seeing is pure wonder and joy.