Snowy Owl Irruption of 2013: A Great Year for These Arctic Visitors, and Milford Point is a Great Place to View One
Photo by Anthony Zemba/Copyright Connecticut Audubon Society
Snowy Owls have irrupted in the northeast this winter, invading in good numbers and providing a rare spectacle that is delighting birders and underscoring the region’s connectedness to events above the Arctic Circle.
In Connecticut, one of the best places to see Snowy Owls locally is Connecticut Audubon Society’s Milford Point Coastal Center, where one and sometimes two birds have been feeding and roosting for about a week. Snowy Owls have also been seen in Old Lyme, West Haven, Hammonassett State Park, Falkners Island, Stratford, Bridgeport and Westport. In nearby New York they have been seen around Jamaica Bay, on Jones Beach, Robert Moses State Park and on Fire Island.
One has even been seen as far south as Bermuda.
Snowy Owls live most of their lives on the tundra but when their food – lemmings and other rodents – becomes scarce in winter, they fly south in search of more productive hunting grounds, although a recent theory posits that they move down after a successful breeding season. These so-called irruptions happen every few years, the most recent being in the winter of 2011-2012.
“Snowy Owls are as beautiful as snow flakes, but as fierce as leopards. Most notable though, their presence throughout the northeast this winter reminds us that the Arctic is not as remote as we often think, and we are all more connected than we think,” said Connecticut Audubon President Alex Brash. “Once again birds remind us of the fragility and interconnectedness of our planet.”
Because they are tundra birds, Snowy Owls invariably chose flat, open areas, especially beaches, for their winter roosting and hunting grounds. They arrive here exhausted and hungry, and need to save their energy for hunting.
This Snowy Owl was resting recently on the rocks at Stratford Point. Photo by Anthony Zemba/Copyright Connecticut Audubon Society
“We hope as many people as possible get to see these spectacular birds but we urge everyone to keep their distance,” said Milan Bull, Connecticut Audubon’s senior director of science and conservation. “It’s never a good idea to disturb birds just for the sake of taking a photo or seeing them fly, but with Snowy Owls we know they are particularly tired and hungry from their journey. They need every bit of energy to survive the winter and make it back to the Arctic in time for breeding season.”
One great and easily accessible place to see Snowy Owls is at Connecticut Audubon’s Milford Point Coastal Center, at 1 Milford Point Road, Connecticut. From there, owls have most often been seen out on the point itself, which is visible from the observation tower at the Coastal Center building, or on the jetty near the mouth of the Housatonic River.
The grounds are open from dawn to dusk seven days a week, and the center building is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. til 4 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Much of the land surrounding the Coastal Center is private or, like parts of the McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, off limits, so the best places from which to observe the Snowy Owls are the observation tower at the center building or the observation platform on the Long Island Sound beach.
Please do not approach the owls too closely.
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Nature in Our Backyards
Q: It’s autumn and I have not seen a squirrel for at least a couple of weeks. A friend across town mentioned that he was discussing the same thing with a neighbor. My lawn and surrounding woods are ripe with acorns and beech nuts but strangely no squirrels. In the 26 years I’ve lived here we’ve had them all over the place until now. Is there a reason for this?
A: We asked Jamie Fischer, a mammologist at White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield. Here’s the response: “I’ve heard this recently, as well. I’ve also heard this observation at this time of year in the past, several times in fact. Nevertheless, the squirrels always seem to come back … and by December I get calls about how to remove them from homes, bird feeders, etc. It is tough to say what is happening now because there are so many factors that can be attributed to these observations throughout the state. The acorns and other mast are ripening and the squirrels are hoarding this important food resource for the winter months. This process requires a great deal of their time and energy. Another factor that may be affecting their behavior is that the state is inundated with raptors during their migration. Although only a few animals might be removed from local populations each year, the persistent aerial predator threat might keep them under cover or in other safe places. Diseases or poisons are always a possibility but without examining carcasses it would be difficult to prove.”
Click here for answers to more nature questions.