After a winter's worth of searching (mostly from the car, I confess), it finally happened today. On my way home from work I stopped in at the West End of Jones Beach and ... saw my first snowy owl! After surveying the dunes on the east side of the bathhouse at Field 4, I hopped in the car to try the west side. And as I drove over, there it was, sitting on the roof of the bathhouse! Just sitting there, like it had been there all winter. Like it was just waiting for me. Even still, I almost missed it. I only noticed it after another motorist stopped and quickly clamored out of his car with his camera equipment. I got out of the car, too. Not having a fancy camera to fuss with (see below for what I managed with my phone), I just stood and watched as the bird swiveled its gaze from side to side and the wind ruffled its thick feathers.
A third person arrived before long and reported immediately that it was a female. "How do you know?", I asked. "Because it has dark markings on its chest," he explained, "the males are all white." I knew what he said was true about adult birds, but that young birds of both sexes have dark markings. But I didnt' feel the need to correct him. After a while I got back in the car to head home. As I started to drive off, the bird launched itself off the roof in the direction of the setting sun. It flapped its powerful wings a few times, then dropped to glide just over the top of the snow-covered parking lot. It settled atop a snowy dune with the huge orange sun at its back. The other guys jumped in their cars and raced after it. I was content to continued on my way, deeply satisfied that I had finally encountered one of our beautiful artic visitors. - Enrico