NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

March 8, 2013

Nesting great horned owl causing stir from perch on PI

PLUM ISLAND — Forget high-profile moms-to-be Duchess Kate Middleton and Kim Kardashian. Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island has its own celebrity baby watch under way.

A great horned owl nesting her eggs in a grove of pine trees at the refuge has created such a hoot that wildlife officials have temporarily closed off the observation area where she’s taken up residence to avoid disturbing her.

The active owl nest was discovered about two weeks ago near the Bill Forward Wildlife Observation Blind, setting off a flurry of activity among birders and other wildlife observers, said Matt Poole, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s visitor services manager at the refuge.

Curiosity-seekers with spotting scopes and photographers with long telephoto lenses have been jockeying for a glimpse ever since.

“It spread like wildfire,” Poole said of the news. “Parker River is such a big birding and photography destination and once word starts getting out through the Internet, everybody and their uncle finds out about the opportunity to get really close to a charismatic animal like an owl.”

But Poole said refuge officials started growing concerned for the owl and her eggs earlier this week when overzealous observers began trampling beyond the public trail into protected areas.

“Our mission is always wildlife first, people second,” Poole said. “The only thing we can do is keep people out of there until the eggs have hatched and the birds have fledged.”

It’s not particularly unusual for a great horned owl to nest in the region, Poole said. In fact, there’s been an owl nest in roughly the same grove of pine trees near parking lot four of the refuge in the past.

But the precise location of the nest this time has in part created the problem with public disturbance. While the nest site is accessible, the owl is perched about 15 feet off the ground in a crowded area of pines, making it hard to get a clear view of it in between the tree trunks.

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