Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
The real surprise of the season, and maybe the year, was the bird that showed up at Salisbury Beach State Reservation last Sunday. A morning text from a fellow birder alerted us that there was a barn owl there, and we headed there immediately to try to see it. We had some trepidation over what we would find when we got there, as we recalled the incidents a couple of years back when a pair of long-eared owls were harassed by over zealous photographers approaching too close. It was so bad, that the environmental police intervened and roped off the area to keep everyone at a distance.
Although barn owls are found on most every continent, we are at the northern edge of its range in eastern North America. They do nest on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and few nest on the mainland. Historically they have nested under the Route 1 Bridge near the Traffic Circle before it was torn down and rebuilt to make way for the train. There were other nesting reports in West Newbury decades ago, but none recently. (Check your barns!)
When we arrived at Salisbury, we saw a large contingency of photographers and birders along one of the boardwalks over the dunes, all focused on an area in the middle of the dunes. Luckily, this owl was roosting in a group of tall pines far enough away from the parking lot and boardwalks where it could be viewed without disturbance, (except for the occasional loud noise of excitement.)
We were so pleased with how everyone was behaving. Word got out and more photographers and birders arrived over the next few hours. The owl was mostly obscured in the tall pines, but it could be seen through openings in the pine boughs from specific angles. It hopped from branch to branch a couple of times, in and out of obscurity, but the high-powered scopes and cameras were able to get some good views. It crouched down, closed its eyes, and rested for much of the time, even undisturbed by five crows that tried to harass it out of its roost.
The cooperation among all the viewers was heartening to experience. Everyone who came to see it had good views of this rare owl without disturbing it.
Now if we could just get this federally protected barn owl to nest in the Pink House!