There are many possible explanations for the large number of Snowy Owls that have been seen this year. Some say that its because of an abundance of lemmings in the arctic during the breeding season. This leads to more young owls surviving and larger broods. In fact the female Snowy will lay less eggs when food is scarce, and I read somewhere that they lay up to 11 eggs when there is an abundance of lemmings, their primary prey.
Another explanation is that there is a scarcity of lemmings leading the birds to come further south in search of food. But at the same time, if there are a large number of owls after the breeding season, it only makes sense that the younger ones would come south for food and to set up their own territory to get through the winter with less competition.
Whatever the reason they are here and they are here in large numbers. Most of the coverage of the Snowy Owl irruption, in newspapers and on TV, shows these beautiful owls sitting on beaches, at airports, on power lines, rooftops or chimneys, like these images:
[The next set of Photographs are Graphic in Nature]
But don’t forget that Owls are Raptors, birds of prey endowed with keen senses and near silent flight. They are the Ninjas of the bird world, silently swooping down from nowhere with overwhelming force. Their powerful feet, sharp talons, and their beak make short work of whatever they catch, from lemmings, squirrels, rabbits or mice, to birds like grebes, ducks, ptarmigan, grouse, etc.
While in Biddeford Pool, I noticed a Snowy Owl in the mud flat eating a duck. If you are not familiar with Biddeford Pool (and if you aren’t from the area, I don’t really know why you would be) it is a very interesting place from a topographical and geographical standpoint.
“The Pool” is a large tidal pool that fluctuates between being a huge open mud flat at low tide and being covered by as much as 12 feet of water during astronomical high tide. Hills Beach forms a peninsula that forms a barrier to to North with the Saco Bay while a spit of land (a tombolo actually) creates a barrier beach to the Atlantic Ocean to the south. “The Gut” is a very narrow, perhaps as narrow as 100 feet, gap between Biddeford Pool (on the tombolo) and Hills Beach, where at high tide a volume of water large enough to cover the mudlfat rushes from the Saco Bay into “the Pool.” At low tide, the same volume of water drains leaving the pool to the clammers who muck their way to find their bounty.
The force of this tide going in and out through such a small space makes a very deep channel and this is where the Biddeford Pool Yacht Club is. Its the only area that still has water in it at low tide.
So, this owl, was probably close to 500 feet from the road, but surrounded by mud. Undaunted, I donned my waders and despite below freezing temperatures and significant wind, I trudged slowly through the mud to get close to the owl, without disturbing it. Eventually I got to a point where I could see the Owl stopped eating and was watching me. I backed off a bit and it resumed dining. I sat in the mud for about 45 minutes and shot some video and took as many photos as I could.
Some gulls flew in and the Owl must have felt they posed a threat, so it grabbed the duck and flew towards me for about 30 – 40 feet and then continued eating. And that is the story behind these photos.