To be honest, I'm not that fond of winter. It's cold and messy and I don't like shoveling. But the changing seasons do bring changing birds and among them are snowy owls.
Last week a friend had the good fortune to see a snowy along the south shore. So when the weekend came, I was game for taking a look. The last time I'd had a really good look at a snowy owl I was in grade school. There had been an overnight snow storm on the weekend. You know - one of those magical storms that transforms the landscape into an overnight winter wonderland. It was a Saturday morning, and my brother and I had gotten up early to watch cartoons on the tube.
When we looked out the window into the backyard at the fresh snow draping the trees, there it was. The owl had come in with the snow. Sitting on a low branch at eye level, no more than twenty feet from our faces, was this white ghost in the snow. We'd never seen anything like it. It was majestic just sitting there. We rushed upstairs to tell our parents with a great excuse to get them up at 5:30 AM. But when we came back downstairs, it was gone like an apparition disappearing in the morning light. Since that day I've always wanted another chance to see a snowy.
The owl on the beach was more accommodating. These owls come into our area around this time of year and set up on their winter hunting grounds. The grassy dunes on barrier beaches are ideal for foraging owls.
So off we went. We got our cameras and started off for a two or three mile hike down the beach in search of the bird. The wind was howling on the bay side of the beach, so we crossed over to the ocean side, thinking that the bird might be sheltering itself out of the wind in the lee of the dunes. While snowy owls are large white birds, they do blend into their environment. There's no guarantee of spotting one roosting in the grass.
We walked down near the waterline where the footing is firmer, looking back up at the dune line as we went. In the distance there was a white spot too far to tell if it was our bird or just some piece of trash blown by the wind.
As we got closer we could see that luck was with us. It was the owl, and it was on the edge of the dunes where we could get a good look. But it had seen us long before we saw it. It hadn't spooked but it was watching our approach.
We maneuvered well away from the bird to get what little sun there was behind us. This didn't make our approach any easier but did give us a chance to get pictures. We needed to approach carefully. We were not going to sneak up on the bird, it knew what we were doing, but we didn't want it to be threatened by us. We moved slowly and crouched low to present a smaller profile. As we got closer, we watched the owl watching us. At the slightest sign of of agitation, we ceased our approach.
Our reward was a cooperative raptor. It perched calmly, letting us take our pictures. Eventually it tired of us and took off into the wind. But I'm exhilerated, having once again spent a few moments admiring this wonderful bird after so many years.