The Snow(y) Season

 The great trick of birdwatching, which gives it such large application, is holding things in balance.  It is seeing infinity in the common.  Jonathan Rosen, The Life of the Skies
  Last time, four nor’easters ago(!), we had had some good luck with our favorite Snowy Owls, mostly in Rye, NH but also in Hampton, NH,  Salisbury and Plum Island.  In the past month, despite the weather onslaught, we’ve had even more Snowy Owl opportunities and a few other surprises.   Our favorite Snowy Owl, Rocky of Rye Beach, has been there for us on almost every Saturday that we’ve searched for him.  Sometimes it’s on a nearby roof and sometimes in the marsh across from the beach parking lot and sometimes on the rocks on the beach.  One morning in the middle of the week I pulled into the parking lot and looked across toward the water and could see Rocky perched on a park bench.  I was able to snap some close photos and videos until after an hour it took off and landed on what has become its favorite roof, next to a chimney surrounded by a grate. It remained on that roof, quite comfortable, and after an hour and a half I left Rye for Hampton, figuring that Rocky might sit on that roof all day.
                                                Rocky on park bench at Rye Beach.  Photo by 
                                                John Harrison.
                                                Rocky on park bench at Rye Beach.  Photo by
                                                John Harrison.
                                                Rocky takes off from park bench at Rye Beach. 
                                                Photo by John Harrison.
                                                Rocky on his favorite roof next to Rye Beach.  
                                                Photo by Kim Nagy.
                                         We also had Rocky take off for us from the Rye marsh on another Saturday morning, flying up to a telephone pole very near us.  It remained on that pole for only a few minutes and took off to a roof.   Rocky was really active that morning, finally flying to the top of a pine before we said goodbye.
                                                 Rocky lands on roof near Rye Beach.  Photo by 
                                                 John Harrison.
                                                 Rocky on roof near Rye Beach.  Photo by John
                                                 Rocky on roof near Rye Beach.  Photo by John
                                                 Rocky takes off from telephoner pole near Rye
                                                 Beach.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  The Hampton Beach Snowy Owl, though not as dependable as Rocky, has been relatively easy to find now and then. ;  One morning it was perched on the roof of the beach buildings.  Another morning it was perched on a dune very close, unobstructed, with the cobalt blue sky behind it.  As it sat on the dune, a juvenile Bald Eagle flew over.  The Snowy looked up and followed the eagle with its eyes.  We thought it might be uncomfortable enough to take off because of the eagle, but it stayed put and we had a nice opportunity to photograph the gliding eagle.
Snowy Owl sees Bald Eagle, Hampton Beach.   Snowy Owl, Hampton Beach, Photo by John
Photo by Kim Nagy.                                                Harrison.
Immature Bald Eagle watched by the Snowy Owl, Hampton Beach.  Photos by John Harrison.
On another Snowy search at Hampton Beach a couple of Snow Buntings hopped around on the snow near the dunes.
Snow Bunting, Hampton Beach.  Photos by John Harrison.
                                                 Photographer Kim Nagy watches a Snowy Owl 
                                                 on a dune along Hampton Beach.  Photo by John
                                                                                                                                    Watching a Snowy Owl on the dune along 
                                                 Hampton Beach.  Photo by John Harrison.
  It seems that most of our recent surprises have been discovered while looking for our Snowies.  While tooling around Salisbury Beach State Park we came upon a group from Mass Audubon photographing a brilliant Merlin perched on a tree.  It stayed on that tree for about thirty minutes, giving us ample time for photographs and videos and it even gave us an indication when it was about to take off and we were ready for that. 
                                                 Merlin takes off at Salisbury Beach State Park. 
                                                 Photo by Kim Nagy.
                                                 Merlin at Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photo by
                                                 John Harrison.                           
  In 2014 most of the Snowy Owl encounters occurred at Salisbury Beach State Park.  If we didn’t see at least three of them on any visit, it wasn’t a good day.  This year Salisbury hasn’t been a good site for Snowies.  Mostly there have been sightings far into the marsh.  But on Tuesday, March 20, on my way back from Rye and Hampton, I drove along the causeway at Salisbury and quickly noticed several cars parked along the road, always a good sign, and as I got closer I could see the form of the owl relatively close in the marsh.  I was able to acquire video of the owl eating snow and preening and scratching.  The hoped-for takeoff didn’t occur, but catching it eating snow was a coup.   
Snowy Owl, Salisbury Beach State Park, Tuesday, March 20, 2018.  Photo by John Harrison.
  On another one of our Saturday morning Snowy Owl expeditions we found one on a telephone pole along 1A in Hampton.  We spent some time with that owl and continued on toward Rye.  Just a minute further along 1A photographer Kim Nagy spotted a Cooper’s hawk perched on a tree,  We were able to photograph that for a minute or so before it took off like a bullet.
 Cooper’s Hawk.  Photo by Kim Nagy.               Cooper’s Hawk.  Photo by John Harrison.
On the way back from Rye we drove the loop around the Salisbury reserve.  We parked and walked to the beach to see if the seals were on the rocks.  The tide was low so the rocks were visible and there were many seals sunning themselves on the rocks and doing other ‘seal stuff.’  They’re always fun to watch.   After Salisbury our final stop, usually, is at Plum Island.  Kim Nagy caught a look at ‘The Gray Ghost,’ the adult Harrier Hawk, on Saturday, March 10.  This is the iconic bird of Plum Island, always sought by birders.  And the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was on hand, giving us a nice fly-over, hovering right above us.  There were also Red-breasted Mergansers in the pools along the road.
Harrier Hawk, Gray Ghost, Plum Island.  Photo    Seals, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
by Kim Nagy. 
Red-breasted Merganser and juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, Plum Island.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
  Plum Island has yielded other great moments this season.   Of course the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk is seen often along the bridge road as well as in the reserve itself.  On February 24th as we were going over the bridge near Plum we noticed a bunch of people below the bridge, cameras aimed into the marsh.  We saw that white apparition in the marsh.  A Snowy for sure.  We pulled into the parking area and set up our tripods and photographed this particularly striking Snowy.  Its magical eyes were wide open and it looked around continuously.  After about a half hour it took off and flew to the chimney of the ‘pink house’ near the bridge.
Snowy Owl, marsh below bridge at Plum Island.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Snowy Owl on chimney of the ‘pink house’ near the bridge at Plum Island.  The transmitter antenna on this owl, fitted by Norm Smith,  is visible.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
 While talking to some of the other photographers present, we learned that this Snowy Owl had been released at Plum Island that very morning by Norm Smith, who had trapped this one at Logan Airport.  Looking closely at this new release, we noticed an antenna wire on its back.  Norm Smith occasionally attaches transmitters to some of the owls he captures.  This enables them to be tracked on the Project Snowstorm site  ( At this site you can track Snowy Owls that have been fitted with transmitters and learn what Norm and others at Project Snowstorm are up to.
Snowy Owl, Plum Island.  This owl was released earlier in the day by Norm Smith.  The transmitter antenna is visible.  Photos by John Harrison.
Norm has been immersed in Snowy Owls for decades.  He has trapped and released hundreds of them.  Here are some videos of one of Norm’s Snowy Owl releases at Parking Lot #1, Plum Island, on February 22, 2014, the year of the largest Snowy Owl irruption in history.
  Though the Snowies have been our principal preoccupation, there have been other things happening.  We check in at the Woburn cliffs regularly to see how our Peregrine Falcon pair are doing.  They’re in good shape.  They have been mating often and we’re hopeful of a successful brood this season.  Last year’s attempt failed.  There were no offspring.  We’re rooting for them to succeed this season.  I have caught them on telephone poles in the area often, especially the female.  Usually, if I’m patient, I get a takeoff opportunity within and hour or so.
Peregrine Falcon, female, Woburn cliffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
  It’s been slow lately at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  The Screech Owl on Vesper Ave. hasn’t been sighted in a while.  The Great Horned Owls have been seen now and then.  The last couple of sightings have been of only one owl.  Probably the male, Alexander The Great (Horned Owl).  Of course we’re hoping that the absence of the female means that it is nesting.  The last successful Great Horned Owl nest at the cemetery was in 2011 and every year since we check the Dell regularly looking for signs of another successful nest.  A pair of Hooded Mergansers have been at Willow Pond and Auburn Lake at the cemetery the past month.    
Hooded Mergansers, Willow Pond, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.
  The Mystic Lakes Bald Eagles have become a winter staple.  There are adults and juveniles entertaining us at the lakes all winter.  Photographer Jim Renault had five Bald Eagles on the ice at the lakes at one time.  Too many to get into one photograph!  No need to go to Alaska.  Plenty of Bald Eagle action in our own back yard.
Bald Eagles, Mystic Lakes.  Photos by Jim Renault.
Bald Eagles, Mystic Lakes.  Photos by Jim Renault.
Bald Eagles, Mystic :Lakes.  Photo by Jim 
Bald Eagle, Mystic Lakes.  Photos by John Harrison.
  Hunt’s Photo of Melrose and the Mystic River Watershed Association have teamed up for a Bald Eagle photograph exhibit.  Ten local photographers have submitted Bald Eagle photographs which were mounted and framed by Hunt’s Photo.  One can bid on these photographs with the proceeds aiding the Mystic River Watershed Association  Here is the press release:
  Celebrating the Bald Eagle in the Mystic River Watershed
By 1905 hunting and habitat destruction had decimated the Massachusetts Bald Eagle population. Nationally, the use of DDT, a dangerous chemical insecticide introduced in the mid-20th century, caused the Bald Eagle population to decline dramatically. This chronic and exponential population loss led to our national bird arriving on the federally Endangered species list in 1967!
Valiant efforts to ban DDT and an elaborate plan to relocate forty-one Bald Eagles from Michigan and Canada to the Quabbin Reservoir in 1982 resulted in astonishing, steady population growth. Thanks to the successful relocation, and major efforts to protect and restore habitat, you can once again find this majestic bird perched in tall roost trees or gliding gracefully along the Mystic Lakes! While we celebrate one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time, our local photographers are skillfully documenting this remarkable homecoming.
On Sunday, March 25th from 3:00-5:00pm, Hunt’s Photo and Video will host a free, public reception for their Bald Eagle Exhibit, a gallery featuring 20 breathtaking Bald Eagle photographs captured by local photographers. Marj Rines and Paul Roberts, local bird experts, will share remarks on the history of Bald Eagles in and around the Mystic Lakes and the extended watershed. Three winning photographs will be announced. 
Marj Rhines, of the Menotomy Bird Club, spoke to this new phenomenon saying, “twenty years ago I still hadn’t seen a Bald Eagle on the Mystic Lakes. Around that time, my aunt who lived in Winchester called to say she had seen an eagle. I was so jealous and spent a lot of time that winter searching until I finally saw one. I was terribly excited! Since then, it has become far more routine to see them. Some winters you can see 2-3 perched in trees or on ice at the same time.” The Menotomy Bird Club has it’s origins in the early Bald Eagle appearances- local birders would often run into each other on the Mystic Lakes searching for the eagles and built a community around these experiences.
From March 1st– March 31st Hunt’s Photo and Video will also hold an online auction featuring the Bald Eagle images in the gallery. Visit the auction website (listed below) to place bids on these beautiful signed and framed photographs. Proceeds from the auction will benefit Mystic River Watershed Association, the Arlington-based environmental advocacy organization working to protect and restore the Mystic River, its tributaries, and watershed lands.
Mystic River Watershed Association is thrilled to benefit from this auction and celebrate the natural history of the Mystic River with Hunt’s Photo and Video.
Check out to view and bid on the images.
About the Mystic River Watershed Association:
The Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) works to improve the lives of the more than half million residents of Mystic River communities through its efforts to protect and restore water quality, natural habitat and open space throughout the 76 square mile watershed. 
  The Red-winged Blackbirds, those harbingers of spring, are all around us now.  The Snowies will soon leave for their long journeys to the Arctic.  Our thoughts now turn to the monarchs of spring – the warblers.  It won’t be long before we’re in the Dell at Mount Auburn Cemetery or the S-curve at
Plum Island searching for the Cape Mays, Black-throated Blues, Yellow-rumpeds, Magnolias, Chestnut-sideds, Scarlet Tanagers and the rest of the glorious cast.  The sooner the better!
Red-winged Blackbird and Cape May Warbler.  Photos by John Harrison.  
  Dr. John Hadidian, retired senior scientist for wildlife of the Humane Society of the United States and contributor to Dead In Good Company – A Celebration of Mount Auburn Cemetery was recently in Minnesota and had a trail camera set up in front of a farmhouse.  This motion-sensor unit captured these moments with a Bobcat and a Groundhog.  John reported that the Bobcat was not successful taking the Groundhog.  It escaped to prognosticate the arrival time of spring in Minnesota…...Minnesota Phil?