Snowy Owls at Gravelly Point

By Steve Young

This winter, Snowy Owls from the Arctic have been showing up unusually far south, including in the metro Washington, DC area. This rare kind of bird migration event is called an “irruption.”

Irruptive movements may be driven by weather, breeding success, or prey scarcity up North. Snowies have been seen recently at Dulles, Manassas, and Reagan National Airports, some of the Atlantic beaches, and even in downtown DC. The owls may be attracted to airports and beaches because such places remind them of their native tundra.

Two Snowies have been spotted at Reagan National for several weeks. On January 27, 2014, David Farner organized an informal late-afternoon gathering of ARMN volunteers at Gravelly Point to look for the owls. Both were seen. I arrived at about 5:15 pm and got good looks at one of the owls.

A snowy owl at Gravelly Point. Photo by S. Young.

A snowy owl at Gravelly Point. Photo by S. Young.

The photo is a “digiscope,” made when I held my smart phone camera lens to the eyepiece of my spotting scope. This owl appears to be a scofflaw, as it is brazenly ignoring the threatening language on its sign perch. It made an interesting bobbing motion with its head a few times. I thought this might be a territorial display, but it seems it may be a motion made to help the owl discern prey movements.

Snowy owls are special birds, not often seen here, so catch the show if you can!

Ms. Owl Poses for ARMN at Gulf Branch Nature Center


It isn’t all service and no fun:  A small group of ARMN has met a few times informally to practice sketching.  The charismatic Ms. Owl at Gulf Branch Nature Center makes a perfect and natural model.

One of the artists, Cathy Broad, says, “The barred owl posed very nicely, after some curiosity at human attention.”  Below are Cathy’s lovely sketches of Ms. Owl.

Please join the ARMN Sketching Group for informal sketching sessions starting later this summer.  Email Kelly Brown if you’d like to be added to an email list to help plan or to be alerted about upcoming sessions.

Read Catherine Howell’s March 23 post Gulf Branch Welcomes Mr., errr…Ms. Owl  to discover the story behind the barred owl’s mistaken identity.

Gulf Branch Welcomes Mr., errr…Ms. Owl

By Catherine Howell

Can you spot Ms. Barred Owl?
Photo by David Howell.

The guest of honor didn’t have much to say, but that didn’t bother any of the Friends of Gulf Branch Nature Center who came out on the evening of March 10 to celebrate ”Mr.” Owl and the handsome house the barred owl occupies on the center’s upper terrace.  The ecologically friendly wood-and-mesh Owl House, built with private donations, hugs a gentle slope and is just the right size for a growing juvenile Strix varia.

Dozens of GBNC enthusiasts visited with the newcomer, who came to the nature center following the unexpected demise of Gulf Branch’s previous resident barred owl last year.

Mr. Owl, it turned out, was honored under somewhat false pretenses.  Continue reading