A magnificent winter visitor... and always wary

By Julian K. Robinson - December 20, 2007

I shall always be grateful to Susan Jones of Vineyard Haven for directing me to my first sighting of a snowy owl. The bird was perched on a metal pole on State Beach near the Edgartown line in mid-January 2002. During the following week, through the skillful guidance of Paul Schultz of the staff of the Trustees of Reservations, I was able to document the same bird's month-long stay on the dunes and beaches of Chappaquiddick.

Snowy Owl
Photo By Julian K. Robinson. Click photo for larger version.

I was, therefore, thrilled to hear from Paul recently that at least one (and perhaps two) of the impressive creatures had been sighted in the vicinity of Chappy's East Beach. Accordingly, I joined Paul for an hour on three successive days recently for tours of the dunes. With no success, we reached a point late in the morning of Dec. 13 when, with the approach of snowfall, we headed sadly back toward the ferry. About a half mile before we would have to leave the dunes, the object of our search suddenly flew up from a clump of bushes in the dunes close to our vehicle. For the next half hour, we tracked the white predator from one perch to another. Unfortunately, it showed not the slightest interest in posing for my long lens, but rather, settled repeatedly in high grass, thereby reducing the likelihood of an unobstructed photo.

My final ploy was to make a wide circle of the subject on foot and from a distance of 25-30 yards take a final shot just as its head turned to fix me in its intense gaze. I can't remember a more thrilling experience.