After a lack of snowy owls in the Newburyport area this winter, two were seen on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island this Thursday.
Two days prior, a single snowy owl was perched atop the town marker on the north dike on the island. A few days before that, another report of a snowy owl at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation came in that was flushed by a dog. These owls may have been released by Norm Smith, who traps and bands snowy owls at Logan Airport, so that they don’t interfere with aircraft.
Late in the season, he releases them in our area in the hope that they will continue their journey north, back to the Arctic. Or these birds might just be traveling through on their own way north. They just passed us by on their way south this winter. There have been one or two barred owls on the refuge in the past couple of months. One has been seen regularly along the “S Curves,” the winding stretch of road between Lot 3 and the maintenance area.
Another, or the same bird, has also been seen in or around the Hellcat Trail area. I have seen barred owls on the island many times before, but never, in my memory, have they stayed so long.
Many barred owls have been reported from numerous neighborhoods throughout the area this past couple of months. They have been often heard at night, but also frequently seen flying, or perching in the daylight. Some report barred owls perched near their feeders during the daylight hours. Also hunting Plum Island and Salisbury have been a few short-eared owls. These owls have also been scarce this year, but more regular sightings have occurred this past week. Great-horned owls are residents of Plum Island, and can be heard regularly, in season, at dawn or dusk. They nest almost every year on the refuge, and this year is no exception.
Great horned owls nest early in the year, and most area birds are on their nest now. So, if you hear them in your neighborhood, take a walk and check out the woods near your home for a nest. These owls take over red-tailed hawk nests and, though the nests are sometimes large, I am often amazed at how small and flimsy some nests are.
I am surprised that they can hold an owl at all. A fifth owl has been seen on Plum Island this week — a less common long-eared owl. One of these cool owls appeared at the Salisbury Reservation in late December, so to have another on Plum Island this week was a treat for a few birders. A number of screech owls have been uncovered this year already. Several folks who have screech owl boxes are lucky enough to have one roosting during the winter months in Merrimac, Newburyport and Rowley. Others have been spotted in natural cavities in other locales. Screech owls are common in our area, so check holes in trees, especially on a sunny day. Now is a good time to detect owls.
Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport and the Nature Shop at Joppa Flats.