Sunday, January 13, 2008

Snowy Owl at Crane Beach

What an exciting day today turned out to be! After getting inspired by David Sibley's sighting of the slaty-backed gull, I was determined to go birding this weekend. I sat with a cup of coffee this morning and researched my options online. I really wanted to go to Gloucester but then I learned that Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary requires a Mass Audubon card, something I regret to say I haven't gotten yet. That put Gloucester out of contention in my mind, so I focused on other areas nearby. I got out my AMC Massachusetts Trail Guide for some more ideas and decided on Crane Beach in Ipswich, MA. I've never been there, although I have a second cousin that had a beautiful house there right on the water so I know what a nice area it is.
As my boyfriend and I rolled up to the ticket booth I was shocked to actually see someone manning it! There was a woman there to collect $7-something else I hadn't planned on. I don't know any beaches on Cape Cod that charge for parking in the winter! However, I was just happy to be out birding and hoped our trip would be well worth the effort. We decided to do a loop trail in the dunes area (part of the Bay Circuit Trail).

For the first hour we were there we didn't see a single bird! But it was great being outside today since we had mild temperatures and sunny skies. Plus, it was such a different landscape than either of us was used to so we were enjoying the trails and the workout we were getting walking on sand. For this first half of the trek we didn't even see water. We went down one dead-end offshoot hoping to see something, but no luck. We returned to the trail and then took the next dead-end trail and this one actually brought us in sight of water. As we traveled up to the crest of the first hill I spotted the owl down in the valley of the dunes, sitting in the short beach grass. My boyfriend was up ahead and didn't spot him yet. Seeing a large white bird sitting alone down in a valley seemed very uncharacteristic of a sea gull and my suspicions were right! I called ahead to my boyfriend and we hoped to catch another glimpse of him at the crest of the next hill. We did, but then he took flight:

He finally landed on a dune and I tried taking some pictures, but my hands were too shaky, and we were still too far away:

We decided to move on and see if we could get a better view of it from the top of the next dune. Basically, we were walking along a trail that ran parallel to the dunes the actually border the beach, with a valley between us. This area in between is marked off to protect the vegetation and sand from erosion so we were the closest we could get, but hoped to get a better angle as we moved ahead, since obviously it had its back to us.

As we moved; however, it finally caught on to us and flew off to some dunes even farther away. We started running behind, not wanting to lose it, as was captured in the action shot below (you can see it up by the edge of the trees) while I was trying to snap some pics of it in flight:
I didn't have much faith that we would see it again since I never saw where it actually landed. Nonetheless, we continued on for a while. We traveled much, much farther this time, but amazingly my boyfriend saw it perched on another dune directly overlooking the beach. He took the following pictures, and was able to get some really cool ones of it with its head turned completely around looking at us:
This was the only good one that I got- much further away, but it gives perspective to its perch:

And my boyfriend got this last one of it flying away. This was the last time we saw it today, as it headed inland, while we cut back along the beach.


Larry said...

I'm envious! -I've never seen a Snowy Owl-that must have been exciting!

Birdinggirl said...

I know! I obviously expected to see some cool winter birds but the Snowy Owl hadn't even crossed my mind. I've heard of some sightings on the Cape but wasn't expecting any on Sunday. said...

What a cool sighting!