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Monday Morning Mystery 010818: Skull

Snowy Owl Irruption Update

This report on the Snowy Owls in NJ and the recent winter storm, from Scott Weidensaul:

... When the storm was still well out to sea off the mid-Atlantic, the high winds and heavy snow that hit New Jersey (18 inches in Cape May, according to some of the SNOWstorm team yesterday) were westerly. And that, Jim [Verhagen] said, makes all the difference to the snowy owls he observes there all winter.

“Nor’easters destroy and confuse everything on the coast,” Jim wrote. “West wind, though, is the life force, and the wind that the beach and its wildlife is probably best adapted for. I like to say ‘West is the best!’ I never miss a good west/northwest day! Northeast is the worst, and the owls struggle in it.”

“We have had a few gale-force west wind events already this winter, and the Holgate crew thrived in it. I’ve been out with them in 40+ [mph] west wind. They fly a bit funny, but hunt well and expertly. They actually gain an extreme advantage over the ducks. The deep freeze crowds the ducks in the bay, and just before the storm in the deep cold I was finding ducks ‘in shock’ washed up on the shore recovering. It was a bonanza for the owls. Strong west winds also make the ducks more likely to ‘trip’ when they try to escape a gliding owl at the last second.”

“The chaos plus heavy precipitation can still cause the drowning and navigation risks you mention generally. But my overall sense, having watched them on the beach in all kinds of weather, is that they are probably much more safe in this one, and may even be getting extra duck or two. If this were a nor’easter I’d be saying the opposite.”

The link is here. (The photo above is copyright Jim Verhagen.)