Saturday, December 28, 2013

Snowy Owls and Seals

This morning my wife and I went to Cupsogue to see the seals that congregate there and typically haul out on a sand bar which appears at low tide.  For some reason - none of the seals were hauled out this morning despite the presence of a nice sandy strip of land.  However, several seals were having fun "bottling" (first image below) in which their heads are out of the water while the rest of their body remains submerged.  This is one of the ways harbor seals sleep (when not lounging on the beach or rocks).  It appeared that seals would let the current carry them from east to west and once they got near the inlet, they would swim underwater back through the current to be carried again.  Why those chose this method instead of just lounging on the beach is beside me - but it was much easier to photograph them as the sandbar is about 100 yards away and the seals in the water were only 50 yards away.

While photographing these curious creatures, my wife thought she spotted a Snowy owl way down the beach so she went to investigate.  Her instincts were correct and I was able to photograph the bird - additionally some friends of ours and their small children who had never seen a Snowy before were able to get great looks at it.  We took a trip down Dune Road afterwards and noticed nothing - except another Snowy Owl but it wasn't in a position that lent itself to photography, so we moved on.

If you are interested in learning more about the wildlife of Long Island, their habitats and the seasonal visitors the island gets, check out this book by John Turner which features some of my photography:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snowy Strikes again

This day was sans-snow, but I once again found a Snowy Owl.  This one was spotted by my wife using binoculars from Shinnecock County Park West (Hampton Bays side of the inlet).  It was barely detectable on the other side (as illustrated in the photo above), but we figured we would make the drive in hopes of getting a closer look.

When we arrived there was another vehicle with a photographer and a dog and they were watching/photographing the bird.  I was able to get some photos after it took flight and settled down to the east of my vehicle, but eventually the barking dog became too much of a concern for the bird (I'm assuming) and it took off to a nearby island.  Why a photographer would have a barking dog in his vehicle when trying to photograph wildlife is beyond me, but at least the dog wasn't running free and actually posing a physical threat to the bird.

Nothing else to report really - EPCAL was extremely quiet with only a few meadowlarks around.  No hawks of any species were noticed.  We spent very little time on Dune Road and as soon as we saw the Owl I stopped looking at any seabirds in the inlet (which, btw, was extremely rough and volatile).

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Snowy Day

My wife and I set off this morning early in hopes of finding a Snowy Owl before Christmas shopping.  Snowy Owls have been coming down to the Northeast area in droves and they are particularly reliable along Dune Road, which is the only place I've ever found a Snowy (both times without the assistance of others).  The fact that it was actually snowing seemed to increase the chances we would see one, and when that bit of logic failed our backup plan was that the CBC was going on for the area so there certainly would be other birders who would have seen them.

We took the long way down Dune Road starting in Westhampton instead of going straight to Hampton Bays which is where the birds are more likely to be.  We made it all the way to I road (just before the inlet) without seeing anything when I spotted a few birders and pulled up next to them to inquire if they had seen any.  They were participating in the CBC but laughed at my inquiry because someone else had just asked the same question and the answer was no. They had started out at the inlet - so I figured I would try to go to the fishing pier park and scan from there.

Once we pulled in the parking lot I spotted something on a nearby island and had my wife look through the binoculars.  Meanwhile I pulled up my camera to scan and lo and behold, a snowy owl sitting at the base of the fishing pier.  Within 5 or 10 minutes the birders we had talked to previously had arrived, and I was happy to be able to inform them that there was a Snowy right in front of us.  The location of the bird was absolutely terrible for photography - no real chance at getting close unless I had a kayak or a boat (not likely when it's 20* out) so I did the best I could and hoped for better chances later this year.

We took a trip down Dune Road again later in the afternoon but ended up empty handed, even with checking some of the beaches via our vehicle (though we did not drive the length of the beach - just poked our heads out at access points).  Aside from a few Northern Harriers there was nothing too special but I did spot one Northern Gannet (odd that it was alone) flying along the ocean from East to West possibly headed to Cupsogue or New Old Inlet for some fishing.

I also captured this Savannah Sparrow while hanging out with the Snowy.  I was standing at a point lower than the road surface so I was able to get a nice low angle.  According to Bob Adamo (a very skilled birder) the photo below represents the subspecies "Ipswich" which is 50% heavier than the standard Savannah Sparrow and breeds on Sable Island in Nova Scotia.

If you are interested in learning more about owls - or are looking for a christmas gift for fellow birding friends - check out this book:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Stop the killing of Snowy Owls at JFK


Airport officials in New York are starting a program to trap and relocate snowy owls after reports that the birds were being killed with a shotgun at Kennedy International Airport.

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Snowy owls pose a threat at airports in the region, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said in a statement on Monday evening. In the past two weeks, five planes at Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark Liberty International Airports were struck by snowy owls, the agency said.
“The Port Authority’s goal is to strike a balance in humanely controlling bird populations at and around the agency’s airports to safeguard passengers on thousands of aircrafts each day,” the agency said.
The New York Daily News reported on Monday that airports had added snowy owls to the list of birds it kills. Three snowy owls have been shot at Kennedy Airport since Saturday, a Port Authority source told the newspaper.
Snowy owls, large birds usually found in northern Canada and Alaska, have been migrating to the region in far higher numbers than usual this year, the agency said.
Many people were outraged by the owl killings. An online petition asking the Port Authority to stop shooting the birds had more than 3,000 signatures by Monday evening.
The petition, addressed to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Senate, called the practice of shooting the animals “barbaric and unnecessary.”
In Boston, conservation groups have been capturing and relocating snowy owls at Logan International Airport for years. Experts say the birds often stop at airports because the airfields look similar to the Arctic tundra where they live.
The problem of bird strikes at airports received increased attention after a plane crashed into the Hudson River in 2009 because Canada geese were sucked into the engine.

For those of you who have not heard, the NY/NJ Port Authority has added Snowy Owls to a list of species which are to be killed if located at airports under their control. Apparently a Snowy Owl was recently sucked into aplane's engine at JFK (no injuries to humans) and as such, the PA authorized the killing of these birds. Since then, at least two Snowy Owls have been killed via shotgun at the airport. Snowy Owls killed at JFK 

Logan Airport in Boston has had a successful trap and release program, and 20 owls have been caught and relocated this year alone. Logan Airport Approach to Snowy Owls 

The killing of these birds has been reported in area newspapers and news channels but I don't believe it's on a national level yet. 

If you would like to let the Port Authority to know that you do not support the killing of these birds, you have several options. You can leave messages on the Governor of NY's facebook or tweet him (NY Governor Facebook and Cuomo@NYGovCuomo) 

You e-mail the General Inspector of the Port Authority @: 

You can sign the petition @: Change Petition 

Or you can call the Port Authority or Governor's Office to lodge a complaint. Thank you for your time and consideration and hopefully this will be stopped quickly. 

- Luke