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  • Writer's pictureDon Wilding

'Tis the season of snowy owls

The first snowy owl spotted by Don on Coast Guard Beach, 2013.

It’s that time of year again, when the days get shorter, the temperatures drop and snow starts to fall. No, not the holiday season, but the arrival of snowy owls on Cape Cod.

The first appearance of the mysterious majestic birds for the 2018-19 season were first spotted out on Sandy Neck in Barnstable a little over a week ago, and more are being seen around the Cape.

Snowy owls have been visiting the Cape for some time now, but their numbers picked up significantly about five years ago. Some point to climate change as factor. Others have said that it’s due to a larger than usual amount of younger owls, who head south in search of food after being forced out of the Arctic regions by older, more dominate owls.

The owls prefer open spaces, so it’s not unusual to see them at beaches along the eastern seaboard. On the Cape, I’ve managed to spot them at West Dennis Beach (where they love to hang out in the unoccupied osprey nest platforms and on lifeguard benches during the winter) and at Coast Guard Beach in Eastham.

Prior to the snowy invasion five years ago, I never saw one, but on one foggy afternoon, I ventured down Coast Guard Beach near the inlet. There it was sitting on the sand in a cut between two small grassy dunes. Talk about a pleasant surprise.

A week later, I returned, this time on a frigid sunny day. There was another one, more than happy to pose for several shots.

If you’re looking for a snowy, don’t get too close — like their neighbors from the north, harp seals, they stress out easily when humans are present. If there’s a flock of gulls nearby, chances are there isn’t a snowy around — the owls prefer small rodents, but they will dine on gulls, ducks, and other birds.

The snowy owls usually hang around through March and even well into April. This has led to some territorial differences with ospreys, who are arriving back on Cape after spending the winter in warmer climates.

If walking a long distance on a cold, windy beach isn’t your speed, perhaps an informative film on the snowy owls is. On Wednesday, Dec. 5, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster will be presenting the documentary, A Winter’s Tale: The Journey of the Snowy Owls, at 11:30 a.m.

Snowy owl on a distant dune, Coast Guard Beach.

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