If you ever have had a yearning to see a snowy owl and do not have the dollars or the time for birding on the Arctic tundra, grab your binoculars or spotting scope and get to open country right here in Connecticut. Each winter, a few snowy owls usually show up hereabouts but this season promises to bring a bumper crop of these large, predatory birds.
From three to five snowy owls already have been sighted in the state, according to birding expert Jerry Connolly, owner of the in Madison. Many more may be arriving, says the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Snowy owls are popping up in the lower 48 states from the Atlantic to the Pacific because of a food shortage up north, according to USFWS. On the tundra of Canada and Alaska, the staple food of the owls is the lemming, a rodent that experiences population booms and busts. During a low point on the cycle, lack of lemmings may be one of the pressures that forces owls far to the south in search of better pickings.
"Bad news for the owls is good news for birders," says Connolly.
Besides Connecticut, the states with happy owl spotters include Washington, Maine, New York, Vermont, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and North Dakota, according to USFWS.
The best news for owl watchers is that, unlike other owls, snowy owls are active by day. They like to perch at good vantage points so they can survey open landscapes, such as those near beaches and, often, around airports. Boston's Logan Airport is a prime site for wintering snowy owls.
is one of Connecticut's best places to see the owls and, says Connolly, the bird has already been spotted there. So far this year, the owls have also turned up in East Haven, Bridgeport and , he says.
The snowy owl holds the distinction of being one of the animals pictured in prehistoric cave art. They range across the tundra of Eurasia as well as North America. Scientists do not fully understand why the southern irruptions of the owls occur. Lemming numbers are involved, but researchers increasingly believe that environmental factors such as snow cover and temperature may be involved.
Snowy owls are big birds, up to two feet long. Their nests are mere scrapes on the ground and hold betwen three to eleven eggs. Besides lemmings, they feedon other rodents, rabbits, waterfowl and even fish.
New Farmington Trout Regs
Speaking of fish, the State Department of Energy and Environmental Conservation (DEEP) has instituted new trout regulations on the West Branch Farmington River and upper Farmington River starting New Year's Day.
The new regulations will open almost 21 miles of the river to fishing year around. Under the new regulations, year around catch-and-release fishing at the West Branch Farmington River Trout Management Area will be expanded 1.5 miles upstream. The rest of the West Branch and the Farmington down to the Route 177 bridge in Unionville, will have a two-trout daily limit, 12-inch minimum length from opening day to August 31 and catch-and-release the rest of the year.