Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snowy (Owl!!) Beach

This has been a great few weeks for snow. I even got to take my snow shoes out for a walk in the woods a couple of weeks ago. (Yay, snowy woods!) This week I felt like exploring a different habitat in the snow, so on Friday afternoon I went to Silver Sands State Park to check out the shore. The weather was bright and sunny, and not even all that cold (except when the wind picked up). The marsh especially was all stark and beautiful:

I was curious to see the marsh and beach under knee-deep snow, of course, but what I was really hoping to find on my visit was a Snowy Owl. Ever since I saw that tiny-dot owl through a scope at Milford Point in December, I've been hoping to see another one of these rare arctic visitors (and closer than a half-mile distant) before they all head back north and it's years before they come south again in such numbers as they have this winter. Someone had reported a Snowy Owl at Silver Sands State Park on eBird a few days earlier, and that just reinforced my urge to visit this park. I had vague plans to check out Silver Sands and then hop down the coast to Milford Point to continue my owl search if necessary.

But I didn't need to do any park-hopping after all. Because what's that suspicious white lump on the side of a snow-covered dune right next to the path? It couldn't actually be a...

Snowy Owl! :D

I didn't want to disturb the resting owl, so I veered away from the path and onto the beach as soon as I thought I knew what I was looking at. Here's a wider photo from where I settled down in the snow (very comfortably, in my snow pants!) to hang out with this awesome creature (the owl is the white bump just left of center):

I wasn't too close, but I certainly wasn't very far away! Thank goodness for my zoom lens. The owl knew I was there, but it didn't seem too uncomfortable with my presence. It preened itself, looked around at other birds and the few people on the beach, and occasionally peered at me through slitted eyes:

I've said before that Snowy Owls seem like mystical creatures to me, and this strikes me as especially true in this next picture.... There's something so unusual and beautiful about this creature in profile, like something out of a Miyazaki film:

After a long rest, the owl stood up to get in some more serious preening. A loud (happy) child arrived on the beach a little ways away, and the owl peered around to check him/her out:

Gulls flying overhead attracted its attention, too:

After admiring this bird for just a little longer -- such gorgeous barred wings and tail -- I finally got up and moved away down the beach. Charles Island was looking very pretty in its winter garb:

But who am I kidding, islands and shells and gulls just aren't very exciting when there's a Snowy Owl around. While I was on the beach, two people came walking down the owl's path, and the bird flew off into the marsh. When I saw it again, it seemed much more awake. Wow, those eyes:

The owl flew to another part of the marsh while I was watching, so I got to see those big wings in action:

I'm pretty sure the owl is just landing in this picture, not catching anything, but either way it's a dramatic pose:

I love those super fuzzy feet, and that rusty red vest! Good landing, owl.

Some other creatures did manage to distract me while I was watching the owl from the boardwalk. A Northern Harrier came cruising up over the marsh, showing off its own owl-like face:

The harrier flashed its distinctive white rump patch as it passed:

A trio of Mallards added some spots of brilliant color to the marsh:

My camera didn't quite capture the blinding quality of the male Mallards' green heads. So just trust me, they were very bright in that late afternoon light:

I finally did have to leave the park, since it was getting late and I was getting cold. When I left, the Snowy Owl was still settled in the snow-covered marsh, looking at home in probably the closest thing to arctic tundra we have around here. I still can't believe this creature was/is here, and I feel very lucky to have gotten to spend so much time with it, and so relatively close up. Silver Sands is an awesome place. I wish you good hunting, wonderful owl, and a safe journey back north when the time comes.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Yellow-rumped Warblers and Snow

A couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers are spending the winter around our yard for the first time this year. This isn't really so unusual for southern Connecticut, but it's an awesome novelty for me to get to see these fancy birds outside our windows every couple of days while the scenery is so cold and gray. So warblers in winter is already super strange for me. Add in the storm we got yesterday and things get really mind-bending: Warblers in snow??

Those yellow patches are especially brilliant (and beautiful) in the middle of a snow storm:

These birds were picking off some of the very last Red Cedar cones, which were apparently easier to find from below, with all that snow gathering on top of the branches:

Oh you gorgeous bird.

American Goldfinches were also adding their own bright yellow to the snowy scene. This is actually the first winter that these birds have hung around our yard as well. (They've discovered our feeders.)

Lovely birds and lovely snow.... Winter definitely brings some cool things!