Last year I took two trips out there and managed to see the owl twice. The first time took me close to two hours of walking the entire west end of Jones Beach (by the way, it was REALLY cold) till I found him. After that, I felt like a seasoned pro and found him right after getting onto the beach. So, when discussing going out east on Long Island for a birthday celebration, I asked my husband if he'd like to go find the owl, and he said, "Sure!"
We started our trip to the beach at the coast guard station to see if we could spot some seals. We walked out and saw a few harbor seals, resting very far out on the water. Binoculars made them visible, but we don't have a giant professional lens to capture them.
|We saw harbor seals like these guys, but they were super far. These are some playful harbor seals from my trip to the beach last year.|
We also saw some cool winter waterfowl including: Northern shovelers (a duck with what looks like an oversized bill), scaups (a diving duck), buffleheads (a small diving sea duck), long-tailed ducks (a diving sea duck), red-breasted mergansers (you guessed it, a diving duck - but with a thin serrated bill), a red-throated loon (a diving bird with a pointy bill), many brants (a type of goose), and - even though it was dead, I have never seen one before, a dovekie (a small sea bird, part of the auk and puffin family - they are black and white in the same way that a penguin is).
After that we headed to the west end beach, where people usually report seeing the snowy owl, and where I saw him twice last year.
-- Now, you're probably wondering what the heck a snowy owl, a native of the Arctic Circle, is doing in New York. Well, many species of bird migrate, birds migrate for all sorts of reasons, breeding, weather, food, etc. Well, snowy owls migrate south in the winter mainly because of food. Their food in the Arctic is either tucked away under the layers of ice and snow or has migrated down to our neck of the woods. The dunes at Jones beach provide a wonderful habitat for them. In the winter it is quiet, food is plentiful (remember all those birds I just named?), and the landscape is kind of like the Arctic, it's pretty barren, the only plant life is short grasses on the dunes, and some thicker areas of tall reeds.
Anyway, I was worried about the effects of super-storm "Sandy" on the beach. I was wondering what the dunes would look like, how the grasses fared, and how that would affect our search for the owl. The landscape seemed a little different from last year, but the dunes were still there, which was good, because that is where the owl tends to hang out. We walked and saw a guy with binoculars who said he was told he missed the owl by 40 minutes and had no luck of his own. It seemed discouraging, but we decided to keep walking and see what happens. We looked around and my husband was able to spot him soon after our encounter with the guy on the beach. So we walked over and he was hanging out on a short little dune. We sat with him for about what I thought was a half hour and the shots below are what we saw. Enjoy!
|Here he is! This is a male snowy owl - older males are white, like this- females and immature snowy owls have dark spots or bars. Females, like most raptors (birds of prey) are larger.|
|You can get a small glimpse of those yellow eyes!|