Saturday, March 24, 2012

Snowy Owl's

So after a long sleepless night due to stomach pains, I prepped myself to go to BCP class. The way the curriculum is set up, I would have to wait an entire year to make up the session. Soooo... not an option & even with the pain I wanted to go. Such a good program, but anyways...I left the house around 6 to head into the Reserve... can't sleep I'm sure there are owls about. Rightly so, I found 3 Snowy's by the Wardens area. One in a tree, one on the bank of the pool, and one high up in a pine tree. A few other early risers had noticed all the birds and were enjoying them as well.

From there I went to class, it was a struggle between the horrible pains & the lack of sleep. Dave Larson the B.C.P programs founder / teacher for today presented on bird behaviors related to feeding, diet, & its various implications on avian species, a very interesting class. I just wish I was a bit more coherent. Anyways,  after the lecture portion we headed out into the Reserve. On this amazing day we had the opportunity to Release a Snowy Owl that Norm Smith had caught at Logan Airport earlier in the day. Prior to seeing the owl, Norm showed us some wings and talons collected from some of the owls that did not make it due to starvation or that had been shot. ( By crazy Mass folks... bastards)

Talons from one of the  dead logan birds

male & female wing contrast
David W. with wing, David runs Cranes Beach's Migratory shore bird program

First off Norm Smith is a hilarious guy, he gave a great presentation on Snowys & he provided a wealth of knowledge about Owls, of which he has been studying / trapping  & re-releasing since 1981, which was the year the snowy Owl project began at Logan. His experience far pre-dates that.  Norm discussed the numbers of birds over the years MA has had,  as well as info about tracking them via transmitters post release on their various journeys.

We really don't know a hell of alot about these birds, is essentially what he said. Using my guide information I have always thought I could identify male & female birds...not so much. Apparently it really requires very close inspection, and not just size & coloration. He did show us a male birds wing & a females birds wing, the female being noticeable larger. Also looking first hand at the talons was pretty impressive. So I have always thought Snowy's were a diurnal hunters, in fact they hunt whenever, night especially. During the day Norm stated that they rest, but never really sleep soundly, as they are always watching for predators being a ground species. He also said like other raptors, it is very likely Snowy's basically have zoom "options" with their eye sight, and can focus in beyond their normal view. Much like adjusting a scope ?   Norm told a story about a bird seeing a bait decoy from a  mile away or so.  Snowy's are also quite the apex predator. He told another story about a snowy following a Peregrine falcon that was hunting at logan, which the Snowy caught & killed. I guess Snowy's are not really ambush hunters as they appear, sitting around all day. But will  mainly out-fly and over power avian prey, or even employ "hover" methods like kestrels while hunting. Years like this, we assume that the owls come down due to large numbers of owls from a good breeding year in the Artic and a lack of food, but really we don't know for sure. A very possible contributing factor. But  Some of the birds he has tagged end up in Siberia, others head even further north to hunt ducks in the pack ice,  during the time we  "think" they come south. Very interesting species.  He has caught a number of the birds a few times, one bird has been tracked for 16 years. Like most Raptors the first year birds have a very high mortality rate, but after that first year, they really have no predators. Other than us....( and crap luck )

Norm & the owl making the same face

Seeing this bird so close was amazing for me. I keep my distance from the birds on the island as to not stress them, so this was hands down one of the coolest things ever. Thank you Norm & Dave !!

p.s Another point of special note for me was some of Norms thoughts, & his daughter's research on long-eared owls. Which it seems may be more prevalent than thought....


  1. GREAT POST Sean!! Wish I'd been there!

  2. I'm not just saying this, these pictures are incredible! I don't consider it "cheating" when you are lucky enough to get so close to a Snowy that you get the shots you did and are able to share the experience with everyone else! I'm extremely jealous...but show it as lack of interest. It's truly pure jealousy.

  3. Indeed jealous. But much appreciative of the information and such a beautiful visual. Great shots Sean.