Yesterday was predicted to be a warmish for December (highs in the mid-40′s) and calm-ish day on the coast.
Thus, with all of the recent reports of snowy owls along the New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts coast, I made plans to head east yesterday morning; I left the house at about 7:30. It is a two and a quarter hour drive each way. Even though I only saw one snowy owl, from a very long distance away, I had a good time anyway!
I did manage to photograph a few other birds.
I found the gull and the sparrow at Salisbury Beach.
There was a large group of gulls on the pavement in the parking lot and only one or two on the beach. I refuse to take photos of gull on black top, but I compromised and got this one sitting on a sign! I found a small group of sparrows along the campground road, near a juniper full of berries and the shelter of a small grove of conifers. I assume that the combination of shelter and food was responsible for their presence here. There was a group of common eiders in the water near the boat ramp but they were too far out for good photos.
It was almost noon by this time and I was getting hungry. I headed towards Plum Island and, along the way, I grabbed a sandwich to eat in the truck later. The rest of the photos were made at Parker River NWR.
A short way past parking lot #1 as I entered the refuge, I came to a group of vehicles pulled over. As I rolled to a stop behind them, my thought was “Great! An snowy owl already!”. It turned out, the crowd had gathered for a red-tailed hawk in the tree tops just off the east side of road.
The snow owl I saw was way, way out in the salt marsh on the west side of the road. It was barely visible from the spot where the hawk had been.
After a quick lunch at parking lot #2, I drove the length of the refuge road stopping at every parking lot for a short walk except for one. At lot #5, there were a half dozen or more cars parked and I decided to pass up the crowd there… this was a big mistake!
Driving back towards the entrance, I again stopped at each parking lot. This time I decided to “brave the crowd” at lot #5. I was about three quarters of the way down the 0.2 mile trail when I met a woman who said that there was a snowy owl present. Another couple of hundred feet down the trail I encountered a group of ten or twelve folks all carrying tripods with scopes or cameras with long lens. They were all headed towards me… i.e. back towards the parking lot. The bird had flown off five minutes before! Lesson learned; when looking for rare birds go where the crowds are! Hopefully, I won’t have to re-learn this lesson too often!
A bit later, I was at the end of one trail “glassing” the salt marsh for snowy owls with my binoculars, when I caught a glimpse of something coming in low over my left shoulder. It was the northern harrier flying low and lazily as is their habit. I was able to get three frames exposed before it was out of good photo range.
Many of the ponds on the marsh side had groups of ducks, mainly mallards with a few diving ducks in the mix, in them. These birds were too far off for good photos.
I also encountered a number of rafts of diving ducks on the ocean side. In addition to the eiders I was able to photograph, I observed buffleheads and mergansers as well.
I stopped at parking lot #1 on the way out to “de layer” for the drive home just after 3:30, the light was fading fast.