No I didn’t find the owl, but the searching is half the fun, see? Today was my volunteer day at Sandy Hook Bird Observatory and one benefit of sitting there by myself most days is that I get to take calls about good birds people are seeing in the area.
A park ranger showed up today to report a Snowy Owl! Now… I’ve seen Snowy Owls a couple times, and it was pretty cold and the wind was at gale-level on the bay almost, but I couldn’t resist having a look for it. The directions I got were responsibly vague and there’s a lot of dune edge to search through at Gunnison Beach.
I decided to walk north following what I assumed were the ranger’s tire tracks in the sand. She hadn’t found the owl on foot in the ridiculous cold today, but in her warm four-wheel drive truck. Pfft. Of course, this also meant walking into the biting wind that was blowing sand in my eyes and mouth.
Good birders have something like a search image in their minds when recognizing birds, right? With snowy owls it’s pretty simple – big and whitish. The problem comes in when you’re all excited and feverish with the hunt and your lips and fingers are numb with the cold and your eyes are full of sand from the wind… well, you start to see things.
Every bit of white in the dunes calls your attention and you imagine everything to be that Snowy Owl you’re searching for. Of course you also want to be responsible and not get too close, but that only adds to the tricks that your eyes and mind play on you.
This particular white blob looked very promising and had me imagining my victorious phone call to a friend; I could even hear myself mumbling through numb lips, “I found it! I found it!”
Crawling closer on hands and knees, peeking over the top of the dune from a different angle revealed the truth… the rare and elusive white plastic jug owl. That as opposed to the usual white plastic bag owl that is most frequently mistaken for a snowy.
I did, however, find a little flock of Snow Buntings. I wonder what they find to eat in the sand? Someone reported a flock of 200-300 the day before yesterday. I know you’re thinking they look like plain old sparrows, but trust me! I didn’t imagine them, I don’t think.
The return walk to my car had the wind at my back, finally, and this nice view of Sandy Hook Light. The shoreline has changed enough over the years that the lighthouse is at least a mile inland now.
Back on the bayside, the setting sun was putting on a nice show for my drive home, as was this line of gulls kiting in the wind over the breaking waves. Not sure what that was about. I hardly made it off Sandy Hook before I was sidetracked back onto the beach and into the cold again. I’ll save those pics for another day when I’ve thawed out some.