Snowy owl makes Christmas visit

Published 5:32 pm Thursday, December 19, 2013

MELISSA HEDGEPETH | CONTRIBUTED A snowy owl takes flight over a field near the fire station on West 15th Street.

A snowy owl takes flight over a field near the fire station on West 15th Street.

Washington and eastern North Carolina have been visited by at least one of those Canadian snowbirds — and not the kind of two-legged snowbird that drives south for the winter.

This snowbird is a snowy owl. Snowy owls usually live in the Canadian Arctic and the northern reaches of Alaska and Eurasia. For whatever reason, there’s been an influx of snowy owls in the United States in recent days.

It appears that influx has been as far south as North Carolina. Wildlife experts believe the snowy owls are ranging farther south than usual because they are searching for food. Snowy owls are closely related to horned owls. The snowy owl is the official bird of the Canadian province of Quebec. It is a partly nomadic bird.

Melissa Hedgepeth, an amateur photographer, was lucky enough to photograph the snowy owl that visited here Sunday. A neighbor, a firefighter who works at the fire station on West 15th Street, told her about the bird. The snowy owl, a raptor, was in a field near the fire station and the Food Lion on the west side of the city.

Hedgepeth went to the field to photograph the bird, which she had to chase to get her photographs.

“I went through a lot to get those pictures. … The pictures didn’t turn out as clear as I wanted because I was running through the field,” said Hedgepeth, who had never seen a snowy owl until Sunday.

“Some people might think it’s a big dove of something, but I know it’s an owl. It looked like a little ghost out there. Sitting there, it looked like a little, white ghost,” Hedgepeth said.

The same owl or other snowy owls have been seen in other places in North Carolina within the past several days, including Beaufort County, according to Linda Boyer, an environmental educator with the North Carolina Estuarium.

“There have been a number of sightings. A fellow was in Friday and had seen one at Gilead Shores Road. They’ve been sighted down at Buxton and some in Hyde County at Lake Mattamuskeet. I’m not sure if it’s the same owl just traveling around or a number of different owls, but they are rare around here,” Boyer said.

Jon Shaw, a wildlife biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said it’s rare for snowy owls to be seen in North Carolina.

“They don’t come down this far very often. … I know there have been some recent sightings. I’m not sure why. Sometimes there’s no explanation why wildlife does what it does,” Shaw said.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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