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4 Snowy Owl Sightings Confirmed in South County

Birding enthusiasts expect to see significant activity by Harry Potter's favorite bird in Northeastern America this year, according to eBird.

A snowy owl in Germany.|Photo credit: AP
A snowy owl in Germany.|Photo credit: AP
Anne Arundel County birders are aflutter at the news of a potential increase in the rare sightings of snowy owls this season.

Four sightings have already been confirmed by the Cornell Ornithology Lab and listed on its website eBird.

The first confirmed sighting of a snowy owl in the county was on Dec. 3 in Churchton; the second on Dec. 4 on Deale Beach Road; the third on Dec. 5 in Galesville and the most recent sighting was on Dec. 8 on Gibson Island. 

The snowy owl, known as Harry Potter's owl, are native to the Arctic tundra of northern Alaska, Canada and Eurasia. They range from 20 to 28 inches long, with wingspans of 49 to 59 inches. Snowy owls weigh anywhere from 3.5 to 6.5 pounds. 

Why are they venturing so far south? It could be for a couple of reasons for this year's irruption—or rapid and irregular increase—though according to most bird experts it's likely food-related. 

"Either food is scarce, or there is a high population of snowy owls," said Edgewater's Ross Geredien, who is on the board of the Anne Arundel County Bird Club.

Geredien said that based on the plumage of the sighted owls, they are likely young, lending credit to the theory there was a population spike this year. Younger birds tend to have quite a bit of brown plumage; the plumage of a snowy owl turns whiter as they age.

The best places to see snowy owls are in flat, grassy areas that mimic their native tundra, Geredien said. Lee Airport in Edgewater and Freestate Airport in Bowie are two area locations where local birders might catch a rare peek of the owl. 

"Anywhere there's open grassland," Geredien said.

He also suggested people check out local sod farms and beaches. Snowy owls are diurnal, so daytime sightings are likely. 

If you are lucky enough to see a snowy owl, Geredien has some recommendations for encounters. 

"People should always give the owls a wide berth and not the approach them," Geredien said. 

He suggested that birdwatchers give the owls at least 100 to 200 yards of space.

"If the owls behavior appears to be affected by your behavior you're too close," he added.

Geredien says telephoto lenses are best for capturing photographs of the birds, so if one is not available, he advises just enjoying the rare sighting at a distance comfortable for the owl.

While out on the hunt for the snowy owl, birdwatchers are likely to see other bird species—more than 100—that are native to this area in the wintertime. 

"A lot of birds spend the entire year here, and then other birds are coming from farther north and spend the winter here," Geredien said.

Cardinals, blue jays, yellow-bellied sap suckers and common song birds are all regularly seen in this area during the winter. Along the shore, there are a lot of wintering gulls and maybe even a few purple sandpipers along the rocky shores Herrington Harbor, Geredien said. 

If you suspect you've seen a snowy owl, submit your sighting online to eBird, where the evidence will be reviewed. If the sighting is confirmed, it will be added to eBird's live snowy owl sighting map.

SHARE: Have a local photo of a snowy owl or other rare bird? Send your photos to jenni.pompi@patch.com for inclusion in an online gallery.
Susan December 12, 2013 at 12:28 PM
very interesting and informative article! more like this please!

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