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Snowy Owls Invade Martha's Vineyard

Bonanza for birdwatchers: There's never been a better time to spot snowy owls on the Cape and Islands, where the Arctic predators are wintering in what wildlife experts like WCAI's Vern Laux say are unprecedented numbers.

"It was exhilarating," said 12-year-old Charlie Moore of Marin County, Calif., after spotting his first snowy owl Sunday morning at the FARM Institute in Edgartown. (Louisa Hufstader photo)
"It was exhilarating," said 12-year-old Charlie Moore of Marin County, Calif., after spotting his first snowy owl Sunday morning at the FARM Institute in Edgartown. (Louisa Hufstader photo)
It is the winter of the snowy owl on Martha's Vineyard.

Like some other Cape and Islands locales, the Vineyard's broad, tundra-like plains, beaches and stubble fields have attracted what ornithologists are calling an unprecedented invasion of the white-feathered Arctic predators this year. 

"It was exhilarating," said 12-year-old Charlie Moore of Marin County, Calif., after spotting his first snowy owl Sunday morning at the FARM Institute in Edgartown.

Snowy owl reports have been coming in since early December, when Brock Callen spotted one at Squibnocket and the Trustees of Reservations reported snowies at Wasque.

"The species has been reported from beaches all over the Cape and Islands and it seems no beach or headland in the region has not had owls reported," said Nantucket-based ornithologist Vern Laux Dec. 18 on Cape and Islands NPR station WCAI's "Weekly Bird Report" program.

This year's influx of owls, known as an irruption, "is already of historic proportions," Laux said.

Snowy owls live in the Arctic circle where they prey on ground rodents like rats and mice and waterfowl which the owls pursue and catch in flight. In colder months, they travel south, where they favor airports and other treeless open spaces.

Strikingly large and white, their forms can easily be spotted in an open field, even from a distance. And you can see them all day long, because snowies are not nocturnal like most owls: They need to be able to operate by daylight in the Arctic, where in summer the sun shines day and night, Laux told his WCAI audience.

While the snowy owl tends to keep its distance, binoculars or a spotting scope can bring the majestic creature into closer view, and some Island photographers have captured breathtaking images of these stately winter visitors.

Have you seen snowy owls on Martha's Vineyard? Where did you observe them and what were they doing? Tell us in the comments.
Pogelt December 30, 2013 at 06:41 PM
There's usually a snowy wintering on East Beach; this year there's a whole family! A smart one by Aruda flew wide loops in front of the truck looking to snatch-up prey that's flushed out.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) December 31, 2013 at 02:33 PM
That's brilliant! I love it when birds make us their tools. When I lived near the northern California walnut groves, crows used to fly in front of our cars and drop nuts for the wheels to crack.
Paul F. Doherty January 02, 2014 at 12:43 PM
I took several photographs of a magnificent Snowy White Owl on Dec 24th at Eastville beach early in the morning by the Lagoon Drawbridge.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) January 03, 2014 at 05:17 AM
We would love to see them, Paul, if you wanted to post any on our Town Square board! http://marthasvineyard.patch.com/boards/announcements

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