Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Snowy Owl at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk

I drove to Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk yesterday morning to see if I could find the snowy owl that had been there for four or five days. I had never seen a snowy owl and, in the days when I was more interested in birding than I am now, I used to imagine that finding one would be the culmination of a great effort, rising at dawn, a tramp along a cold beach and marsh, tedious minutes scrutinizing the horizon through my binoculars, and finally seeing the snowy owl, ghost-like, stopping only briefly after flying down from the tundra in search of food.

Yesterday I pulled into a parking space facing the water and a jetty and immediately saw something white, almost like a large white football, within easy view of the car. I couldn't believe it might be the owl. I reached into the back seat and got my binoculars. Even through the windshield it was like looking at a snowy owl in a field guide.

There were 10 or so people with scopes and binoculars further along a path that ran along the water (in the photo above, the owl is just to the left of and beyond the sign, which says "Keep Off Rocks"). I walked down and stood near a woman with a scope. The owl was maybe 30 yards away. I told her I had had no idea it would be so close, and she said neither did anybody else -- on previous days it had been farther away. She let me look through her scope. Arcs of dark feathers formed parabolas across its breast, and there was a crown of brown feathers along its forehead.

I looked at it from several perspectives along the walk and shot some pictures with my little digital. The bird opened its eyes and closed them, and turned its head. At one point it flew about five feet, from one rock to another. The wind blew softly off the water, wet and cool. One woman was bundled up in a winter coat and hat; nearby a young man wore a tee short. The stretches of water in between the Norwalk Islands were quiet. I could see only one oyster boat working. People stolled strolled by and asked what was up. They all brightened when they were shown the owl.



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