For the Birds: Joining the owl party

I’ve written about my barred owl sightings before, but here is the official column version …

Photo by Chris Bosak
A barred owl perches on a Welcome to New York sign on the border of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and Bennignton, Vermont, in February 2019.

Two weeks ago I wrote a column about the Winter of the Barred Owl. A photo sent in by a reader from Westmoreland showing a barred owl perched on a feeder pole in his backyard accompanied the column.

A day or two after the column was published, I received two more photos of barred owls perched on feeder poles in the Monadnock Region. Yes, these handsome, large owls have been quite prolific throughout New England this winter.

At the time of that writing, however, I hadn’t yet seen any barred owls myself this winter. That all changed with a visit to my brother, who lives in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., a small town just over the border from Bennington, Vt.

My son Andrew and I had a day of skiing planned at Mount Snow, and figured Continue reading

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Joining the barred owl party, Part II

Photo by Chris Bosak
A barred owl perches on a Welcome to New York sign on the border of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and Bennignton, Vermont, in February 2019.

As promised, here’s Part II of my “joining the barred owl party” story.

Last week I wrote a column about the Winter of the Barred Owl and followed up with a post showing a few photos sent in by readers of barred owls perched on feeder poles. But, at the time of those postings, I hadn’t yet seen a barred owl myself this winter.

Yesterday, I posted a story and photos of my first encounter with a barred owl this winter. That happened on Wednesday. Here’s what happened on Thursday.

I woke up my teenage son Andrew early (relatively) for a day of skiing at Mt. Snow. My brother lives in a New York town that borders Vermont. As we cruised along the “Bennington Bypass” on this gray, misty morning I pointed out the “Welcome to Vermont” sign to my son. I glanced back quickly at the “Welcome to New York” sign that was now in my rearview mirror. I noticed the huge sign had a lump on the top of it.

Could it be another owl, I thought. Probably just a hawk (not that hawks are uninteresting, but they are rather common along highways) I figured, but I wheeled the car around anyway. Sure enough, it became apparent as we closed the distance that the lump in question was another barred owl. Winter of the Barred Owl, indeed.

I parked in a pull-off spot conveniently located in front of the sign and grabbed a few photos before heading to the mountain.

The first owl on Wednesday was photographed in a New York town that borders New England. The second owl was even closer to the New England border and it may be argued it was half in Vermont. Either way, it was nice to join the barred owl party.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A barred owl perches on a Welcome to New York sign on the border of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and Bennignton, Vermont, in February 2019.

Joining the barred owl party

Photo by Chris Bosak A barred owl perches on a wire in Berlin, N.Y., February 2019.

Last week I wrote a column about the Winter of the Barred Owl and followed up with a post showing a few photos sent in by readers of barred owls perched on feeder poles. But, at the time of those postings, I hadn’t yet seen a barred owl myself this winter.

Then I took a trip on Wednesday to visit my brother in upstate New York near the Vermont border and joined the barred owl party. I was driving up Route 22 through Berlin, N.Y., when I noticed an owl perched on a wire going over the road.

I turned the car around to get another look, but the owl was no longer there, even though I had seen it about one minute before. I drove past the spot and turned onto the next side road to get turned around again. It looked as if the road would lead to a few farms. The largest flock of turkeys I’ve ever seen was gathered in a field alongside the road. The turkeys, about 40-50 of them, seemed fairly wary so I didn’t linger long.

I got back onto Route 22 and headed back toward my brother’s. The owl hadn’t returned to its spot on the wire over the road, but I did spot it on a wire that ran along the road. I pulled over onto the shoulder and grabbed a few shots. This wire was an even better spot as it was lower and made for a better photographic angle. The owl mostly focused on a field under the wire, but did take the occasional look over its shoulder. Again, I didn’t linger long but did get some good close-ups of this handsome bird.

I’ll post Part II of the story tomorrow. Berlin is border town with New England, near the point at which northwest Massachusetts meets southwest Vermont. Part II will bring us even closer to the New England border.

Photo by Chris Bosak A barred owl perches on a wire in Berlin, N.Y., February 2019.

Barred owls abound

After my latest bird column published in The Keene Sentinel this week, I received a few additional photos of barred owls from readers in SW New Hampshire. Funny how they are showing up on feeding poles so often.

Here is the column explaining the Year of the Barred Owl.

First (below) is the original photo I received and then two additional ones.

Photo by Bob Sullivan
This barred owl perched on a bird feeding pole and took several dives at a vole under the snow in Westmoreland, N.H.
Photo by Dale Woodward This barred owl was spotted on a feeder pole in February 2019 in Walpole Village, N.H.
Photo by Rick Allen This barred owl perched on a feeder pole in Swanzey, N.H., during February 2019.

For the Birds: The Winter of the Barred Owl

Photo by Bob Sullivan
This barred owl perched on a bird feeding pole and took several dives at a vole under the snow in Westmoreland, N.H.

In recent memory we’ve had the winter of the junco, the winter of the snowy owl, and the winter of the robin.

This seems to be the winter of the barred owl. Throughout New England, barred owls are being seen in greater-than-usual numbers.

I received an email and terrific photos from Bob of Westmoreland. On Super Bowl Sunday, he noticed a barred owl perched on the bird feeder pole in his yard. But the thrills didn’t stop there. Bob watched as the owl took a few attempts at snagging a vole in the snow beneath the feeder. Alas, the owl never got its prey.

“I kept pausing the Super Bowl every so often to check,” he wrote. “I have plenty of barred owls in the neighborhood, but this was the first time I ever saw one hunting at the feeder.”

Bob noted that smaller birds such as chickadees kept right on using the feeders and the owl paid them no mind.

People think of owls as nocturnal, but they can be active during the day. This is especially true of barred owls, which often call their eerie “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” hoots during the day.

The spike in sightings has been so pronounced that The Connecticut Audubon Society called on several bird experts to try to explain the phenomenon. Continue reading

Another banner Snowy Owl year

Norman Spicher of New Hampshire got this photo of a snowy own in the Keene, N.H., in January 2018.

Norman Spicher of New Hampshire got this photo of a snowy own in the Keene, N.H., in January 2018.

It looks like another good year to see snowy owls throughout New England.

The white, powerful Arctic visitors may not be as prolific as they were four winters ago, but it is another exceptionally strong year for sure.

A glimpse at Rare Bird Alerts throughout the region show they are being seen at both coastal and inland areas. They are more likely to be seen along the coast, but not exclusively. Keep your eyes open and you just may spot one of these magnificent creatures.

I have not spotted one this year yet. To be fair, I haven’t made much of an effort as work and family duties have kept me from visiting areas where they have been seen. Luckily, I heard from a reader of my bird column in New Hampshire who sent me a photo of a snowy owl that has been seen in the southwestern corner of that state.

That photo is above and also on the “reader submitted photos” page on this site.
It’s funny, that page also includes a photo of a snowy owl taken in southwestern New Hampshire a few years ago. As I said, snowy owls are most likely to be seen along the coast, but not always.

Good luck in your search. Let me know how you do.

Below are a few photos I took during the historic irruption of 2013, but first here are some links to interesting stories about these northern birds of prey.

From Audubon:

http://www.audubon.org/news/hold-your-bins-another-blizzard-snowy-owls-could-be-coming

How are the owls doing overall?

https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2017-12-21/snowy-owl-migration-gives-scientists-chance-to-study-them

Well-done blog with maps:

https://bryanpfeiffer.com/snowy-owl-scoop/

Here’s where they are being seen:

http://ebird.org/ebird/alert/summary?sid=SN40647&sortBy=obsDt

Now here are some photo I took a few years ago.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Snowy Owl flies across the beach at The Coastal Center at Milford Point in early March 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Snowy Owl sits on a sign at The Coastal Center at Milford Point in early March 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Snowy Owl sits on a sign at The Coastal Center at Milford Point in early March 2014.

For the Birds column: Here’s the full story on that owl

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Gray Owl perches in a pine tree in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl perches in a pine tree in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Here is the latest For the Birds columns, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers.

I don’t typically chase rare birds around the region.

It’s not that I don’t want to see the birds, but either family or work obligations usually prohibit me from taking long drives to see a bird. I am often envious of the people who can drop everything, drive eight hours to wherever and look at a cool bird that is not typically seen in New England.

But a great gray owl in under four hours? That’s an effort I have to make. It is the largest owl in the world, by length anyway, and its flat, disc face elevates owl coolness to another level.

I still had work, however, but couldn’t risk waiting until the weekend should the bird decide to take off and not be found again. So I pulled a maneuver I used to do fairly often before I had kids: I basically pulled an all-nighter.

I slept restlessly from midnight to 2:15 a.m. Thursday morning and drove three hours to Keene to pick up my old friend Steve Hooper, of Sentinel photo department fame. Then we drove another 40 minutes to Newport, where this awesome bird had been seen in the same field each day for about a week straight. (I knew that thanks to the ABA rare bird alert.) Hoop and I followed the directions we found online and arrived at the scene at about 6:20 a.m. A rare bird alert message posted at 6:15 a.m. confirmed that the bird was indeed there. Thanks to Dylan Jackson of Sunapee for that update. I was minutes away from seeing my first great gray owl.

Continue reading