Sunday, March 22, 2015

Happy Spring?

Spring officially arrived in New England at 6:45 p.m. on Friday, March 20, 2015.  Weather wise however, it was raw and cold, with snow beginning to fall.  The roads would stay wet, they said.  We would get possibly 1-3 inches, they said.  It would be sunny on Saturday, they said.  The snow would all melt, they said.

There was definitely a few inches on the ground when I ventured out on Saturday morning, the first full day of spring.  But wait, it didn't look like spring.  It was still snowing and very cold.  The roads were slippery and there was no sign of the sun.  The new snow we got eventually did melt by late afternoon, but it is still very cold.

There is at least a foot or two of snow covering the backyard so that even if my Christmas decorations weren't frozen into the ground, I can't get to the shed to put them away!  They say it's spring, but I am seriously wondering if winter is ever going to leave...


Friday, March 13, 2015

Snowy Owls in Rhode Island

Snowy Owls are one of the largest (and heaviest) members of the owl family.  They nest in the Arctic tundra, but during winter they fly south and have been seen in many U.S. states including Florida. Snowys frequent coastal areas where they hunt for ducks, mice and other small rodents.

Local photography hobbyists and photographers had been seeing them in a couple of their favorite coastal locations here in Rhode Island, so given the mild January we had been having, I wanted to see one for myself and hopefully get some photos.  I had treated myself to a Tamron 150-600mm lens for Christmas and wanted to try it out so my family took a ride to one of the beach areas to see if we could find the owl.  While Snowys had been spotted at this beach, none were around during our visit.  I drove down a couple of more times with no luck.  But one Sunday morning while everyone was asleep, I left from my house at 5:30am and headed to the beach.  As the sun was rising, I saw my first Snowy Owl  just casually walking on the beach.  It was a good distance away and even with the zoom, when I cropped, the photo was blurry, but I was so excited to see her.

I met a few other photographers that morning and we chatted while hoping to see more of this Snowy who actually flew off quickly, presumably to hunt down her breakfast.  Several of us hung around but after a couple of hours and then rain moving into the area, we began to pack up our gear and get ready to leave.  One of the men I was speaking with had driven off a few minutes earlier and as I was getting into my car, I saw him coming back.  He pulled up and asked, "Do you want to see the other one?  Follow me."  I followed his car back down the beach road and he pulled over in front of one of the beach houses, set back a little with a woodsy area in the back.  Casually perched on a deck wall was a gorgeous Snowy Owl.  He was all white with just some specks of color.   We walked around a second house so as not to approach too closely and we were able to take many photos.  The snowy glanced at us, then scanned the woods.  He did not appear to be bothered by our presence and we were careful to keep our distance and not spook him.  When we left, he was still sitting on the deck.

Once I got home I did a little research on the Snowys.  The males are all white.  Young males are white with a little color.  Based on that description, I deduced that the Snowy on the deck was a young male.  The female Snowy has dark scalloping all over and the females are larger than the males.  The owl we had seen on the beach was colorful with the scalloping, indicating it was a female and she did indeed look bigger than the white one.

I drove down to the beach a few times later in the month but no Snowys.  Then there was the blizzard and 5 weeks of more snow storms every weekend.  A couple of weeks ago on a dry Sunday morning, I left my house at 6am and drove down to the beach.  The owl was sitting on the dune and I snapped some photos.  After a short time, I noticed her lifting her tail and within a couple of minutes she flew!

Last Saturday I took a ride to the beach in the afternoon with my sons as they had been begging to come with me, but there was no owl to be found.  It was freezing at the beach.  I woke up Sunday morning and thinking about how cold it was on Saturday, I went back to bed.  But I couldn't fall asleep and I headed out to the beach again.  To my delight, she was there along with several other people also photographing her.  I set up the tripod and took some photos.  She was very far away.  The lens was zoomed to it's full 600mm and still needed to be cropped once downloaded on the computer.

Upon chatting with a man who lived in the area, I learned that the white owl I saw on the deck was no longer in the area.  Evidently a reporter from New London, Connecticut came down, took a few photos and put them on the front page of the local paper with the location of the owl.  People began coming and they disturbed the Snowy who has not been seen back on that deck since the end of January.

As spring approaches, the Snowys will be heading back up north for the summer.  They breed in May/June in the Arctic tundra.  Snowy Owls are protected and it is a criminal offense to harass them. They are beautiful birds and I am thrilled to have been able to see them this winter.