Friday, January 4, 2013

Sand, surf and snowy owls

Sand, surf, sun, and blue January. I'm sure the January water temp is below 50 degrees F. There were hundreds of people walking on the beach, clamming, and even surfing in Ocean Shores, Washington. On the Jersey Shore, we'd call this place a "barrier" island or peninsula with Grays Harbor on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Like the Jersey Shore, Ocean Shores and other low-lying beach towns can easily be swamped by a storm surge.

The whole place is teeming with not-so-wild wildlife. Herds of mule (black-tailed) deer, raccoons, bald eagles, osprey (seahawks) can be found in every neighborhood. And, lately, snowy owls.

Snowies, also known as Arctic owls and great white owls, live near the Arctic Circle most of the year. In the dark winters, these birds head south to Canada and the northern U.S. In winter of 2012, Washington and British Columbia experienced what is called an "irruption" of snowy owls, when a large number of the owls are seen in areas they're not normally seen. Here's a map of sightings from the past two years. Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes irruptions happening every four years or so when owls winter even as far south as central California, Texas, and Florida.

Damon Point's terrain looks a lot like the Arctic tundra with grasses and few trees.
Damon Point in Ocean Shores is again attracting snowy owls, although not in the numbers we saw last winter. I spent part of the weekend before New Year's visiting with two owls. Snowies are the largest owl (about 4-5 lb.) and are diurnal which means they hunt day and night. That makes sense when you think about what Arctic summers where the sun doesn't set for 60 days.

I'll be heading over to the coast to spend more time with the owls later this month. In the meantime, here are a couple of favorites. A few of my snowy owl photographs from last year are online in my Talons Gallery.

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