A Snowy Owl Irruption
It has been an exciting early winter for bird watchers here in Maine and elsewhere in the Northeast, along the Atlantic seaboard and throughout the Great Lakes region, due to a plethora of Snowy Owl visitors. For our final Musings entry of the year, we are delving further into the owl theme introduced in this month’s Featured Find.
Every so often birds that normally live year-round in the Arctic make their way south in large numbers during the winter months. This past summer researchers reported high breeding productivity among Snowy Owls in the Arctic. Their primary food source – the lemming – was plentiful, so adult owls laid as many as 8-9 eggs, about twice their usual clutch size. But when the hordes of hatchlings became hungry adolescents later in the season they started to disperse southward, presumably in search of more abundant food supplies.
Since Snowy Owls actively hunt during the day and prefer wide-open, tundra-like expanses such as salt marshes, sand dunes and hay fields, they are relatively easy to spot. When we’ve seen them in past winters, however, it has been across an expanse of estuary where even through a spotting scope they appeared miniscule.
But we recently had the pleasure of watching a Snowy Owl for an extended length of time from only 30’ away. This was in Biddeford Pool, Maine, an old settlement along a large tidal pool at the mouth of the Saco River in southern Maine, where as many as ten Snowy Owls have been seen at a time this winter. The one we viewed was sitting on the arm of an Adirondack chair, no less. We were mesmerized gazing through binoculars at its large yellow eyes and swiveling head. Since we had neglected to bring a camera, we only got a poor cell phone photo taken from a respectful distance, so you’ll have to use your imagination to turn the blob on the right arm of the middle chair into a magnificent Snowy Owl.
Thankfully, other birders at Biddeford Pool and nearby areas have gotten much better pictures of the resident owls.
We hope that all of the Snowy Owls gracing us with their presence this winter will be healthy and sated for a successful return flight to their Artic breeding grounds come March.
Owls and Antiques
We can’t close without making some attempt to tie this essay to our antiques business, which is actually not as much of a stretch as it may seem. There is a subset of rustic collectors/home decorators who are also passionate owl collectors. It is understandable how anyone who has seen a living owl would want to be reminded of that quiet, solemn presence when going about their daily tasks. Images of owls, whether channeled through antique paintings, andirons, carvings, textiles, doorstops, or yes, bookends, can remind us of our connection to the untamed, non-human world.
In his essay “Understanding Owls” about buying a taxidermy owl as a Valentine gift for a fellow owl collector, the humorist David Sedaris says, “A person doesn’t consciously choose what he focusses on. Those things choose you, and, once they do, nothing, it seems, can shake them.” We’ve found this to be true of collectors and their personal categories of collectibles. Owls simply resonate strongly for some people; the owls choose them, and we say they are the luckier for it.