Have Twins, Will Travel

Snowy Owls on Plum Island

Newburyport, Mass – Daddio doesn’t like skiing or scuba-diving. But he does like to play golf. And more than anything, he loves birdwatching. For Daddio’s birthday, we should do what Daddio likes to do. So I planned a birdwatching outing for the whole family. For this pandemic field trip birthday outing, we went to try to spot snowy owls on Plum Island.

Off the North Shore of Massachusetts near Newburyport, most of Plum Island is occupied by the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. The barrier island includes pristine beaches on the ocean side and glorious salt marsh on the coastal side. It’s wonderful for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, walking and wildlife watching. In recent years, Plum Island has become a prime wintertime destination for the majestic snowy owl.

Snowy owls breed in the Arctic, but they often spend the winter in New England. They are attracted to salt marshes, large tracts of agricultural land, and airports. We saw a snowy owl hunting at dusk in a field in Meredith, New Hampshire, on our way home from Gunstock Ski Resort. And of course, last year we startled a barred owl on when we were hiking at Harold Parker State Forest. But Daddio was not with us on either occasion.

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot at Plum Island, we noticed a cluster of bird-nerd-looking folks at a viewpoint overlooking the salt marsh. So we made our way over. Several had their binocs trained on goldeneye ducks in the foreground. They were very cool – a noteworthy sighting in their own right. Another gent, however, knew what we were looking for. His scope captured a snowy owl in the distance. We were fortunate that birders are so generous about sharing their finds, because the owl was not visible to the naked eye. But the scope provided a clear view, that even the kids could appreciate.

Snowy Owl at Plum Island

So… we drove an hour to get to Plum Island and we found what we came for in the first five minutes. We have to call that a success but… now what?

Fortunately, it was a beautiful day, so we headed to the Hellcat Interpretive Trail for a nature walk. This boardwalk trail has a loop around the marsh and a loop around the dunes, for a total of about a mile and a half. Short and sweet. Highlights include a bird observation tower overlooking the salt marsh, and a beautiful view of the beach. On the way home, we stopped for fried clams to complete Daddio’s special day (a New Englander to the core).

Hellcat Interpretive Trail, Plum Island