Snowy owl sightings rise on Long Island this winter

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Not many Long Island winters pass without someone reporting a snowy owl, but this year seems especially good for sightings of this striking bird. Several birders have spied the owl recently at Jones Beach, and also further east at Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays. It's commonly spotted at rest, likely on the prowl for prey. Its meal might be a mouse, a duck or one of those ubiquitous beachfront rabbits. In its northern home, the owls subsist on lemmings, the rodents that also make their home in the Arctic. It is the adult male owl that is truly "snowy" - though darker feathers offer "bars" of contrast - with females' coloration darker overall. The snowy is among the heaviest of the North American owls, with some females weighing five pounds and spreading wings four feet. The owl is known for its ferocity in defense of its nest - even against wolves. The state Department of Environmental Conservation last week announced that sightings of the snowy owl were on the rise this year. Explanations are vague. They could be applied in many wildlife narratives. Food might have been scarce in the birds' Arctic feeding grounds. Severe weather might have made for difficult hunting. Or the owls might have had a strong breeding season, resulting in more competition for food, and resulting wanderlust.

- JOE HABERSTROH OUT AND ABOUT FOREVERGREEN. 10:45 a.m. Feb. 7 at Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Great River. Traverse open meadows, lawns and a marshy refuge amid conifers from around the world. Free. From the west, use Southern State Parkway Exit 45E, and go east one-quarter mile on NY 27A to entrance on right. From east, take NY 27 to Connetquot Avenue, go south to NY 27A, then east on Montauk Highway. Information, Terrie 631-885-4543.

ICY WOODS. 9 a.m. Feb. 21 at Mashomack Preserve, Shelter Island. An eight-mile hike through Nature Conservancy Preserve. Meet at northern end of the Long Beach parking area in North Haven and carpool to the island. Free. Call in advance, Richard Poveromo 631-283-4591 or day of hike 917-584-7280.

POND AMBLE. 10 a.m.-noon Feb. 22, Sag Harbor. Free. Meet at Mashashimuet Park, Sag Harbor, for five-mile hike with pond views. Bob Wolfram, 725-4237.

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SEAL THYSELF. 10:30-noon Feb. 22. Educational walk to see seals; $3, children younger than 3 free. Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, Jones Beach. Reservations, 516-679-7254. - LAURA MANN

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