An Irruption of Owls

In recent weeks unprecedented numbers of owls have been spotted along the northeast coast

Immature Snowy Owl in Charlestown. Photo Tom Tetzner
Immature Snowy Owl in Charlestown. Photo Tom Tetzner

We are blessed to be in a coastal setting with a surplus of exciting birds.  Just today I stood at a lobby window, and, through our spotting scope, watched a flotilla of Hooded Mergansers feed on small fish they had herded against the shore.  There were two males, in dramatic breeding plumage, eight or nine females, and one mixed up Barrow’s Goldeneye trying to fit in.

Hooded Mergansers outside Inn. Photo Mark Bullinger
Hooded Mergansers outside Inn. Photo Mark Bullinger

But sightings such as this seem downright routine compared to the bevy of snowy owls showing up along our coast.   Perhaps you’ve read about the owl irruption of 2013, or seen footage on TV.  In recent weeks unprecedented numbers of owls have been spotted along the northeast coast, with a few birds as far south as Maryland and even Bermuda.  It seems that a very strong year of recruitment is being followed by a shortage of lemmings, and that many of these tundra-dwelling owls are heading south in search of food.

As denizens of tundra and frozen northlands, snowies like low open expanses where they can perch on the crest of a dune, or a rock, or perhaps a piling.  Big open places suit them, but at times that can lead to conflict.  Airports, for example, look a lot like home hunting grounds to a hungry snowy and in New York there has been an outcry since news broke that Kennedy & LaGuardia officials were shooting owls for fear of potential bird/plane collisions.

Snowy Owl on dune in Misquamicut. Photo Ted See.
Snowy Owl on dune in Misquamicut. Photo Ted See.

Here in southern Rhode Island we are shooting pictures of our owls.  It’s not easy getting a good shot, nor is it easy spotting an owl in the first place.  After five or six trips to the location of reported sightings, I just succeeded in spotting a beautiful specimen near the Charlestown breachway.  I had a good close look through binoculars and admired its fine markings and vivid yellow eyes.  I was not able to get a good picture, but fortunately our friends Ted See & Tom Tetzner snapped the beautiful images accompanying this post.  So far I have heard about three or four birds at Sachuest Point, a couple at Trustom Pond refuge, several at Charlestown beach, one in Weekapaug and one in Misquamicut.

Year-round the Weekapaug Inn is a wonderful place to spot birds.  Our guests enjoy knowledgeable guides, bird books and binoculars in each room, and most of all, location, location, location!  Why not book a getaway weekend here at the Inn and come owling with us?

Snowy owl on the lookout for sea ducks. Photo Ted See.
Snowy owl on the lookout for sea ducks. Photo Ted See.