Monday, January 16, 2012

Saturday, January 14 , 2012 Snowy Owl

There's one bird that I think any bird watcher gets excited about and that's the snowy owl. Reports have been around for a month or so about sightings in our area. Luckily there was a banner year for lemmings in the Arctic and as such a banner year for these birds, so much, that some of them had to make their roosts further south to claim territory that would sustain them and Washington was one of these sites.

I'd been following posts and had finally pinned down a location within an easy day drive.We got up, out and on the road by 6:45am, still very dark and very wet out. It did not bode for a spectacular day weather wise but the destination was laid in. Damon Point is a mile long sand bar toward the end of the Ocean Shores Peninsula. It's listed as a State Park but there are no signs, no "picnic area" and not even an official parking lot. The day was getting lighter as we drove but the rain wasn't quitting. We drove straight there, except for that Starbucks stop, and arrived at about 9:30am. We found the "parking area" if that's what you can call the sides of the road. There used to be a road out to the tip of the sand bar but years of tidal action have washed it away and now all that's left is about 20' of paved road with a chain across the entrance which makes for the access to the beach area. One of the posts I had read said look for the Subaru's parked along the edge of the road and sure enough there were only about 4 or 5 cars there and most of them were Subaru's. I guess birders have a fondest for feathers and Subaru's. Anyway, we found a spot for our Forester and set out to ready ourselves for whatever was coming our way. It had been pouring but it seemed to be abating a bit but the clouds were very gray and the wind was horrific.  A lady had just come back to her car as we were leaving and she told us to go down about a mile on the beach and then cut over to the grass/stump area. Evidently, ocean, sand, grass and stumps are on the wish list for snowy owl house hunters. So armed with our best REI gear, camera, video, bird book and such we set out.

Walking in sand is always harder than anything, but add rain, wind and cold and it was quite challenging and  invigorating. We trooped on for maybe half a mile and then saw remnants of the old road dissecting the center of the spit so we opted to walk down that instead of the beach area. On the north side of the point is Grays Harbor and home to many kinds of shore birds and we did see a brant #20 and some gulls, but we had one species in mind, and with the weather so bad we just pushed on for our prime target. The rain was actually being kind and letting up, the wind and cold continued. The road ended on the northern part of the spit so we had to off road and plow through the beach grass and go south toward the inland, scanning the horizon for white spots. Finally, we spotted our prey! We adjusted our gait with visions of white in our mind. We came back out to the beach and followed a bit until we came within camera distance of our first real snowy owl #21 and with baited breath watched through binocs and lens. I hate to use such a trite word but amazing--simply amazing. They are the most beautiful bird, large, alert and oh those eyes! There is nothing that gets past owl eyes. He was watching us of course but we kept a comfortable distance so he nonchalantly kept to his post perched on a large piece of driftwood in the tall golden grass. His feathers constantly being buffeted by the winds, him teetering to and fro but holding steady. His head constantly moving to check out all angles around him.

We saw another owl a bit further down the beach so we thought we'd head there. He was another beauty and closer than the first owl . This guy was really white, very much like Hedwig from Harry Potter. Thrilling is the best word, and the rain was holding back and there were no other people out there. The stars had aligned and smiled on us. He was also perched on driftwood in the grass but while we were watching and filming he flew...he flew and landed even closer to us!

Isn't he a beauty! We had so much time to watch him and film. It was a true highpoint of our day and I'm sure of this year of birding. He stayed there giving us our chance to capture the moment. We walked around to the other side and got more shots and then finally we had to bid him adieu.
Continuing on we got some nice shots of yet another owl, this one with a bit darker coloring and just as stunning. He was lower in the grass but he flew and Rudy got a few shots in air.

I've read there are maybe 15 or 20 owls in just a few acres of this land and we ended up seeing 6 or 7. Had the weather been less threatening we would have stayed longer but there were dark ominous clouds coming with steaks of rain and we knew we couldn't stay.  We walked back on the beach which was arduous given the fact that we were heading right into the blasting wind and the mushiness of the sand and my bum knee was really giving me grief but it was all worth it, plus on the way back we saw a surf scoter #23 in the water and a sanderling #22 on the beach.

We had lunch at a taqueria in Ocean Shores--never been to one run and owned by a white lady but the food was really good. After that we tried to find Bill's Spit but we couldn't find any access. Driving around we saw a female merganser #24 on Duck Lake. We decided to head back and try a few stops on the way home. We went to Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge but didn't see much except a killdeer #25 in the sewage pond area. Then we got back to Hwy 12 and took the Brady Loop after Montesano, which winds around farm land and saw a female American kestrel #26 on a telephone wire and then some American coots on a pond and some trumpeter swans in a field.

We got back on Hwy 12 to head home. It was just getting dark but we thought we were going to have an uneventful drive home...wrong. We had run into some sleet while at Ocean Shores but that didn't last long and we thought it was pretty localized. Getting back on Hwy 12 we ran into what looked like sleet but then it was snow and then a blizzard. It changed so fast and was coming down so hard it was kind of scary. Anyone who knows me well does not want to be in a car with me in the snow. It was coming down fast and sticking to the road very quickly . The worst part was thinking it might be like that all the way home. I was not a good passenger, close to getting sick, but Rudy put up with me. Luckily a bit before Olympia it did get better and the closer we got home it was clearer, so all ended great. For a full day out we only added a few more birds to the list but even if we'd only added the snowy owl, it would have been worth it.
Fist boom fireworks for sure!
Here's a little video of the owls.

1 comment:

  1. That's some serious wind and weather, Jan. Glad the day turned out so well. Beautiful shots of the owls.

    (We've eaten at that taqueria! She can really prepare authentic Mexican food.)