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More Snowy Owl Sightings on Sandy Hook

Blogger Joe Reynolds gives a glimpse of the rarity and offers information on the owl.


The following is a blog entry from Joe Reynolds, area naturalist:

It's the most wonderful time of the year! All of sudden there are a handful of snowy owls on Sandy Hook.

Over last weekend, a group of birdwatchers, including myself, spotted a lone snowy owl near the tip of the hook.

A few hours later we caught sight of another snowy owl within a mile walking distance from the other down the beach. Later on in the day, we ran into a few other local birders who reported observing a third snowy owl across from Spermaceti Cove at the same time as we was seeing the two owls near the entrance of New York Harbor.  

It goes without saying, for bundled-up birdwatchers the snowy owl invasion is among this winter’s great natural events. One snowy owl is an amazing experience, but when two or three or more drop in its mind-blowing and a little hard to believe.

After last winter when no snowy owls were being seen, and a winter of a few sightings the year before, rare visitors from the Arctic have invaded the Jersey Shore in a big way.

Snowy owls are not usually spotted here, at least with any regular occurrence, but two or more owls in one place have visitors flocking to Sandy Hook from all over the region to take a peek.  You can't believe you're looking at one, let alone two or more.

It's just not Sandy Hook either. The Arctic birds have descended on the Jersey Shore in unusually high numbers.

For the past two weeks there have been reports of solitary Snowy Owls being seen at Barnegat Light, Island Beach State Park, and the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge Forsythe near Atlantic City. Everyone is on the lookout for Arctic owls.

The hotspot seems to be Sandy Hook for now. It's a seven-mile stretch of a large sand spit or barrier peninsula that juts out into the water to separate the Atlantic Ocean from the southern entrance of New York Harbor or Lower New York Bay.

Sandy Hook is the perfect location for worn out Snowy Owls to rest and recoup after crossing Lower New York Bay, and traveling over 2,000 miles from up north. The winter beach here even looks like the tundra. A largely treeless landscape with porous  soils and low-lying brush.

It's not unusual to find snowy owls near water. Many of the North American discoveries are along or near coastlines.

In most years, there are no snowy owls in the New York metropolitan region. Occasionally and sporadically one or more may appear during the winter months, as young owls move south in search of food.

Most likely their southward migration is due to a population crash of Arctic lemmings, a small furry rodent that forms the staple diet for snowy owls.

When lemmings become scarce up north, young snowy owls are forced to move south in search of food, such as rabbits, mice and other small land mammals or small birds as prey. If they can't find food, the owls will starve.

Seeing a snowy owl is an event that happens few and far between. Maybe every five or six years one will show up somewhere in New York or New Jersey.

An owl might favor a particular place for weeks, other times it's a one-day event. It's a frustrating bird to find.

Snowy owls are tough to spot, since their white feathers can blend in with the sandy light-colored coastal environment. Sightings are highly variable and the owl's wanderings are unpredictable. There are no  exclusive Snowy Owl vantage points. The owls just appear anywhere, like magic.

With hands and feet freezing, birders and non-birders alike have been standing out in the cold at Sandy Hook with north winds blowing to peer through icy binoculars and spotting scopes.

People are doing what they can to take, in some cases, a once-in-a-lifetime view of a two-foot tall, black and white feathery creature with deep lemon-yellow eyes that has flown here from the tundra, a place more frozen and colder than the Jersey Shore.

Seeing a snowy owl is like a quick connection to the tundra and all the wonderful wildlife of the Arctic, such as seals and polar bears. There is not a person alive who is not  impressed at the sight of one of these magical winter-weather birds.

If you want to see a snowy owl in person, time is running out. Who knows when they will fly away. You don't want to be person who arrives a day too late.

If you do spot a Snowy Owl, please keep your distance. Since Snowy Owls are often seen in the daytime, the birds are easy to view by the public. Unfortunately, some people have been trying to get too close to get a better look or a memorable photo and scarring the poor owls away.

Please keep a respectful distance and minimize your disturbance by keeping quiet. The birds are frequently fatigued from their long journey and need rest. With high-powered optics, and magnification on even small cameras approaching 50 times, great views and pictures can be had from safe distances.

For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay, and Lower New York Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://natureontheedgenyc.blogspot.com/

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