NEWBURYPORT — Snowy owls used to be a rare sight, but this winter has witnessed a phenomenon that’s not been seen here before.
They seem to be everywhere along the local coast — sitting on tree stumps in marshes, on rooftops and chimneys, telephone poles, on the tops of dunes — anywhere that provides a good view of their hunting grounds in the salt marshes and sand dunes.
At Salisbury Beach and Plum Island, it’s become a common sight to see several cars pulled over and numerous people with binoculars and cameras focusing their attention on the handsome Arctic owls.
“There is an eruption of snowy owls this winter,” said Melissa Vokey, Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center administrative coordinator. “They had a population explosion up north. The theory is that there was such a huge lemming population, which is what snowy owls eat, that they produced more eggs and the hatchlings survived.”
In fact, there’s so many snowy owls around, Plum Island’s Parker River National Wildlife Refuge has become the go-to place to bring unwanted owls that have been hunting the vast flat areas of Logan International Airport in Boston.
Norm Smith, director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum and owl expert, released the 100th snowy owl captured at Logan this winter back into the wild on Saturday. Nicknamed “Century,” the owl was briefly relocated to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and then released with a lightweight GPS signal transmitter attached.
“Norm has released quite a few snowy owls at the refuge in the past,” deputy refuge manager Frank Drauszewsi said of Smith. “It’s just that this one, because it was the 100th owl trapped at Logan this year, which is the most he ever trapped, Massport recognized the good public relations that goes along with this because there are other airports in the country that will actually terminate birds. They don’t do that, they trap them and release them, so it’s good (public relations) for Massport and it is a good thing for the owls.”