Friday, January 10, 2014

Extremely Rare Snowy Owl In Florida

On the late afternoon of 27 December 2013, Eric and Georgia Pourchot made the initial reported sighting of an immature female Snowy Owl at Little Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville, Florida.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.

The only previous confirmed record of North America's largest owl, the Snowy Owl, occurred in Florida at St. George Island State Park in December 1999. I believe a January 2012 record noted in other articles to be in error as I could not confirm the sighting with Vince McGrath nor Tom Obrock. This extremely rare bird species to be seen in Florida, with its second record for the state, is needless to say attracting a lot of attention. A large scale fledging of Snowy Owls may explain why this bird is here. While the northern fringes of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia, and Russia are where Snowy Owls are commonly observed during the nesting season, the birds typically work their way into lower Canada and Eurasia in the winter months. There have been numerous reported sightings of Snowy Owl much further south of their normal range in recent years. As of this writing, Wikipedia notes Snowy Owl to have been observed as far south as Georgia in the United States. In November 2013 a weather system brought a Snowy Owl to the Islands of Bermuda where the bird was observed for nearly a month up until its demise. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the Bermuda Snowy Owl death which is unknown as of this writing.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.

With the opportunity to observe the species for the first time myself, I made the long drive from Fort Myers to Little Talbot Island State Park on the morning of 3 January 2014. Unfamiliar with the area, I made use of my aging GPS device for guidance. The machine was insistent that I take the Saint Johns River Auto Ferry from Mayport Village to Fort George Island (the ferry was closed for routine inspection by the US Coast Guard). So as a result, I was lost in the area of Fort Caroline for over an hour. I finally arrived at Little Talbot Island State Park with the temperature near freezing. The wind was wicked from the NNE which made the conditions even more uncomfortable. Several layers of clothing, a hat, gloves, and a jacket were not especially helpful. After making my sighting of the owl I quickly began to succumb to the affect of the cold. My fingers became numb and I began shivering within minutes of exposure. I stayed with the bird and about a dozen fellow intrepid observers for about 45 minutes. Please be sure to read eBird's excellent article, The winter of the Snowy Owl, at North American Birding. In my research of the Snowy Owl, misinformation was discovered within a GrrlScientist article hosted by The Guardian. The article implies that the late 2013 Snowy Owl irruption included a Snowy Owl in Hawaii. This record actually occurred in late 2011 with the bird dispatched to a museum after fear of potential harm to aircraft at Honolulu International Airport in January 2012. Please advise of any inadvertent misinformation that may exist within this blog.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.

During the time of my Snowy Owl observation at Little Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville, Florida, I concluded that the owl showed no signs of distress as was earlier reported. It appeared perfectly healthy to me although admittedly not able to make a comparison with a previous observation of the species. In fact, the Snowy Owl was very alert as it hunkered down with an overflight of a juvenile Bald Eagle. The owl seemed to favor a patch of grass which I believe is where it had been regurgitating pellets from its meals. What species the Snowy Owl had been sustaining itself with at Little Talbot is unknown to me. The Wikipedia page on the Snowy Owl has a remarkable photograph of the species in flight with an American Black Duck in its talons. It was my intent on this trip to additionally observe and photograph a Harlequin Duck, another rarity at Fort Clinch State Park further to the north. However, I became unable to effectively work the controls of the camera. Inquiring what a fellow visitor to Little Talbot was looking at over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, I made my first sighting of a Northern Gannet unfortunately much too distant to feebly photograph. A Northern Harrier observed while I was leaving the park was possibly the same seen by Eric and Georgia on their 27 December visit. After exposure to the frigid conditions, I desperately needed warmth in the car. Although this trip was initially planned with an overnight layover, I drove home that same morning. While the images presented in this article are heavily cropped, it was well worth the trip for the observation made.


The immature Bald Eagle above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The immature Bald Eagle above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The immature Bald Eagle above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The immature Bald Eagle above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.

The Snowy Owl remained at Little Talbot Island State Park at least through 9 January 2014 as had been reported.


The Snowy Owl above was photographed at Little Talbot Island State Park in January 2014.

5 comments:

  1. All beautiful shots of the rare owl. I need to get up there but work has been crazy. After seeing your shots I may need to make the effort soon.

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  2. Awesome. Next time bring a coat.

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  3. The Snowy owl is also in the north of the Netherlands at the moment. Very special.
    Nice photos.

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  4. A real "snowbird"! The white sand looks like snow so it's still camouflaged...but the weather is so much better!

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  5. We are currently vacationing at Lehigh Resort Club, and there are a pair we've seen every night since Saturday in a tall tree on the golf course.

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