DUXBURY – The splendid snowy owls have been back at Duxbury Beach for some time now, and this past Thursday, amateur photographers and others hoping to spot them kept up a steady flow of cars up and down Gurnet Road.
The word had gone out from the Town of Duxbury beach operations office that everyone needed to show the owls some respect and not get too close.
"We are experiencing some folks whose exuberance for the owls is creating havoc," Gordon H. Cushing, the town's recreation director, said in a Jan. 5 update on the beach.
"Please remember to not harass the birds. Many times, you will see them at rest, and that is what they need. Please keep your distance and enjoy them respectfully. Stay out of all vegetation at all times."
That is just what the photographers did.
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Three people had set up their tripods on the road beyond the first crossover. Others were in a pull-off closer to Powder Point Bridge. They stayed in cars or stood quietly beside their tripods, looking through their cameras to the east. Near the bridge, a large owl was perched on an old abandoned utility pole. Beyond the crossover another owl was sitting on a dune post, moving its head slightly now and then.
Near the crossover, Linda Fuller, of Plymouth, said it was a privilege to be so close to the owl she spotted after walking and driving around.
"They're beautiful and I love taking photos of wildlife and being outdoors," she said.
Patriot Ledger photographer Greg Derr has photographed the owls in flight.
Fuller comes to the beach fairly often and has found this "a good year" for the owls and said Norman Smith, of the Audubon Owl Project, had released several at Duxbury.
"They don't all stay here, but there have been enough for us to photograph," Fuller said.
Cris Lattazi, executive director of Duxbury Beach Reservation, said that “folks drive from all over to catch a glimpse of snowy owls, the largest owl in North America. Duxbury Beach Reservation is very fortunate to have them during the colder months and we ask that the public respect their need to rest and feed while they are here.”
Mass Audubon is working to protect snowy owls, the largest owl species in North America. On its website, it states that Smith, former director at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, has been studying them since 1981. As part of his research, he attaches bands and transmitters to snowy owls at Logan Airport to track their travels.
Two weeks ago on a "Birds as a Pathway to Phenology" birding walk at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield, Doug Lowry, adult learning specialist, and birding expert Sally Avery, of Cohasset, also pointed out the importance of not getting too close to snowy owls. None were seen on that walk but a blue heron handily swallowed a vole.
"One misconception is that the snowy owls come here because they are starving," Lowry said. "They are not starving."
The Blue Hills Trailside Museum has a number of stunning photographs and videos on its website along with tracking and migration maps.
As Cushing stated, "If you experience or witness an issue (bird in distress) and you feel you need to report this, please call the Beach Operations Administrator, Ryan Brown, at 781-934-7034 Ext. 2.
"Ryan will receive phone messages via email if he is out of the office and can respond. You may also call the supervisor on duty at 339-236-4183, Wednesday through Sunday, and leave a message.
"Let’s work together to insure these awesome wild birds have a safe and healthy visit to our beach."
Reach Sue Scheible at email@example.com.
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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Keeping their distance, photographers enthralled by Duxbury snowy owls