Sunday, December 1, 2013

Snowy Owl at Cape Hatteras

Daytime owling at a North Carolina beach is not an activity one can normally do. But once every blue moon (the last time was 12 years ago) it becomes just so phenomenal that not just birders, but nature enthusiasts and photographers of all stripes come flocking from hundreds of miles away to give it a shot.

Snowy Owl at Cape Point, NC (town of Frisco in the background)
No, that's not a giant Muppet that washed ashore, but a living breathing Snowy Owl some 1500 miles south of its breeding grounds.
Snowy Owl trying to blend in like a Potoo
When these birds "irrupt" southward as they periodically do in winter, it is always a spectacle for birders and photographers.  Here's a great read on this phenomenon:

Snowy Owl scope line
It's hard to predict what will happen with this bird.  It has been reliably seen in the same general area of dunes west of Cape Point since word of its presence got out on November 26, and there isn't much of anywhere for it to go.  Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Pamlico Sound on the west, Cape Hatteras is a well-isolated patch of sand.

Snowy Owl - awake

Perhaps the bird doesn't want to go anywhere.  When I came upon it on Nov. 29, it had blood stains on its feet, so it has been eating something at least.  The Snowy Owl that appeared at Tybee Island, Georgia last winter survived for weeks by preying on gulls.

Snowy Owl - yawning
It may look a bit sanguine in these photos, but after we left, it was chased about a mile down the beach by over-exuberant observers. This daily stress of getting followed around by dozens of tripod-wielding apes probably isn't helping its chances of survival. A fact this owl cannot comprehend, which it is currently enduring, is that fame has its costs.
Snowy Owl asleep - note blood on the feet


  1. Considering that a Snowy turned up on Bermuda this week, maybe the water on both sides isn't really that much of a barrier! And wasn't there a satellite study a few years ago showing that some Snowies wintered far out on pack ice, following Polar Bears? I can't find a reference, though.

  2. Oh man...If this thing is somehow around in late December when I visit NC...
    Nice photos too, walking that fine line of keeping your distance and getting some solid shots of one of North America's best birds.

    Awesome stuff Scott.