No, it actually didn’t snow, but this is an irruption year for Snowy Owls. So what do I do on New Year’s Day? Driving more than 400 miles and 7 hours, of course, to see the Snowy Owls!
After 3.5 hours of driving I arrived at Delaware Seashore State Park on this sunny and crispy first day of 2014. The day before, there were reports of Snowy Owls at a location in this park. Sure enough, there were people lined up along the Coastal Highway watching a large white bird on the sand dune — the Snowy Owl! However, because of the rather long distance from the highway to the bird, I could not get very good pictures at this time.
But I did make a trek to the beach. There, in the Atlantic Ocean, I could see Northern Gannets, gulls (several species), and Red-throated Loons and Surf Scoters, both were new life birds for me! It sure looked like my New Year got to a good start!
After some stopping at some places along the way, seeing Snow Geese, Redheads and Canvasbacks (both duck species) and other waterfowls, I decided to go back to the beach to get a closer look at the Snowy Owl.
And this time it paid off — after trekking rather laboriously over the soft sand for more than a mile, finally I spotted the owl (and some photographers) at a sand dune. The sun was setting, but the Snowy Owl was very cooperative and allowed us to get pretty close. I managed to take quite a few clear pictures of him (“him” would be right, this appeared to be a male bird).
Satisfied, I headed back in the setting sun and chilly breeze. But it seemed that my day was not quite over yet — just then three Snow Buntings flew to the beach and stopped right in front of me. Unlike the Snowy Owl, which is irruptive, Snow Buntings are regular winter migrators found in the northern half of the United States (they spend the summer or breeding season in the Arctic). But it is a new bird for me nonetheless.
I still had more than 200 miles to go back home, but the roads did not look that long after these encounters somehow …