Late winter and early spring are a good time to watch for owls as we move into the nesting season. Great horned owls are on nest already.
Barred owls and screech owls become more vocal as they are courting. Saw-whet owls will be migrating through soon as well. Of course the owl show has been grand all winter long as the snowy owls have been numerous and, for the most part, easy to find. We saw four snowy owls during a short afternoon visit to Plum Island on Saturday and three more at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. One bird was in the marsh near the entrance to the Reservation, with a throng of onlookers lining the side of the road. This very white bird was on the other side of a creek, prohibiting approach from its stalkers.
We proceeded to the boat ramp where we saw that another snowy owl was not so blessed. As we looked back toward the road, we could see two people with cameras walking across the marsh. We figured that there had to be an owl near them, but they were at too far of a distance from us to see. So I took out my scope and, sure enough, a young, dark snowy owl was perched on a hummock about 50 yards ahead of a man and woman.
As I watched, the woman continued to approach the owl, while the man seemed hesitant to approach. He wandered in another direction as the woman crept nearer and nearer to the owl. It was hard to judge distance at that range, but the woman had to approach the bird within about 30 feet and, predictably, the owl flew off.
She was obviously much too close, and there was no need to disturb the bird. On our way back though the campground, we stopped to talk to Jeff LaBaron who was leading a Hampshire Bird Club trip from western Massachusetts. They had been watching the owl with scopes from the road. He told us that the couple who made the owl fly came out of the marsh near them and the woman claimed that the owl was fine until they, the birders, slammed their doors. Well, she obviously knew that the club was too far away from the incident, but realized that they had been watching her selfish behavior toward the owl through their scopes. It is sad that people approach wildlife with such disregard. Jeff mentioned that the club was going to linger at Salisbury with the hope of seeing a short-eared owl. I don’t know if they were successful, but short-eared owls have been seen at both Salisbury and Plum Island in recent weeks, usually in the late afternoon.