Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Snow(y) in March

So lets cut to the undoubted highlight of my three weeks offline. Last year when we were making arrangements to move to this little rock in the Atlantic, I monitored the bird news from the island for a few weeks immediately before we came over in July to get the lay of the land to see if there was anything of note about. It turned out there was. Not one, not two but apparently three snowy owls had turned up. Now by way of background we're about a thousand miles from sensible snowy territory and realistically two small or one rather big sea crossing away. Snowies are beyond rare here and in any event would be a lifer for yours truly. As the date of our trip drew near first one, then two went awol. One hung around all summer but it did so on a tiny outcrop of rock offshore. This outcrop was accessible on foot only at the lowest of tides and due to timing issues and other priorities I had to give it up........and then 2 weeks ago the owl showed up again, a year after its first appearance on the same outcrop. With my parents visiting I persuaded my Dad (didn't take much persuading) that a twitch was in order.

We drove to the causeway and waited for the tide to complete its drop whereupon a causeway was revealed (I'm not sure it would be overselling the awesomeness of this to describe it as a moses-style parting of the waves). We (and a number of other birders) wandered across and promptly began wandering the islet periodically staring at white blobs which revealed themselves to be herring gulls. Hope was beginning to fade (again) when I spotted someone crouching behind a rock pointing some optics at something.....and by something I mean this:

snowy3

In the immortal words of Alan Partridge: "back of the net!" We watched her for about 25 minutes (before the tide turned). Periodically the gulls would work out where she was and give her a bit of a beating up whereupon she'd spread those great wings and fly to somewhere a little more scenic. Like this:

snowy4

This could not have been a more perfect birding experience. It would take a cold heart not to be won over by those huge yellow eyes.

snowy2

They seemed to spend most of their time focused on the gulls issuing a glare that said "it will be dark soon and I will eat one of you irritating little so and so's". I think most birders will have probably come across a captive snowy (or eagle or great horned) owl before they get their first look at a wild one so I was surprised that I was surprised by the scale of the thing. But I was - this is a big bird and it needs to be seen in the landscape as opposed to in a zoo or falconry centre to truly appreciate just how big.

snowy1

Also check out the feet. I mean the feet are just awesome.

7 comments:

Sally said...

Beautiful! Wow... it does indeed sound like a perfect birding experience. Terrific photos, Tai.

John said...

Wow, great pics! I love snowy owls.

Floridacracker said...

Spectacular shots! The smooth owl on the rugged lichen covered rocks just really completes it!

tai haku said...

Thanks all

outwalkingthedog said...

Spectacular. What an amazing sighting. How truly bizarre to find a Snowy owl in the Caribbean. How long do they stay?

tai haku said...

Oops - sorry outwalkingthedog; my blog format has caused a bit of confusion, I just moved from the caribbean to more temperate climes so the snowy wasn't in the caribbean but just north of France. That said snowy owls do make it down to the west atlantic's tropical regions. One famously made it down to Bermuda where it proceeded to feast on the only tiny recovering population of Bermudan Petrels (cahows) on a small island off Bermuda before local conservationists were forced to remove it to save the Petrel species.

outwalkingthedog said...

Thanks for clearing that up! I was pretty stunned, thinking of a Snowy in the Caribbean. Regardless, your photos are gorgeous.