Sunday, December 1, 2013

Snowy Owl Movement in Perspective

[Snowy Owl at Stone Harbor Point, NJ, November 30, 2013, one of two that were there. Digiscoped from a very respectful distance with an iPhone. Please, please don't harass these birds. I really struggled with whether or not to report these birds, but one had been reported there before and I knew people were looking, and had met some that had missed it already that morning, so for better or worse I banked on the good sense of fellow birders. And fellow photographers.]

If my calculations are correct, there are at least 13 different Snowy Owls in New Jersey right now, based on what's been reported to eBird (this link will take you to the fall 2013 Snowy Owl report), jerseybirds, or to me by word of mouth. The word of mouth bird is one apparently on Holgate, which so far I have not seen show up in electronic reports. From north to south:

Liberty State Park - 1
Sandy Hook and environs - 3
Island Beach - 1
Barnegat Light - 1
Holgate - 1
Edwin B. Forsythe NWR - 2
National Park - 1
Corson's Inlet - 1
Stone Harbor - 2

Thirteen is a lot of Snowy Owls, and I thought this was the most in my lifetime of living in NJ, but the "big black book," Birds of New Jersey (Walsh, Elia, Kane and Halliwell 1999) states there were 13 in 1991-1992.  More interestingly, it further notes:

"Probably the largest influx of Snowy Owls was in 1926-27 when at least 150 birds were shot and many others seen from Long Island to Northern New Jersey (Bull, 1964). Only 15 birds were documented in New Jersey during that flight, but far fewer observers were afield 70 years ago than are today." (p. 331)

Many other Snowy Owls are being found in other northeastern states, and I will be very surprised if more snowies are not found in NJ - e.g. Cumberland County in the southwest and the northwestern counties of the state have been silent so far with this flight, and there certainly is plenty of habitat in both places.

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