Snowy Owls are iconic birds. You rarely find a person – birder or non – who doesn’t want to take a good long look at a bright white owl. And, of course, you rarely meet a photographer who doesn’t want to take a good close picture of a bright white owl. On Saturday, as has already been mentioned on this blog, a couple of us went out to Breezy Point, the southwestern extremity of Queens, and were pleased to see a Snowy Owl in the dunes there. The three of us, Seth, Pat, and I, were the only ones there looking for birds except for one photographer, and the owl seemed content to sit in the dunes and we left it where we found it, undisturbed and unmoving.

That night, a birder posted on the New York State birding listserv that not just this one Snowy Owl, but a second bird, almost completely white, was also present at Breezy Point. Now, my plan had been to bring my folks out to see a Snowy Owl on Sunday regardless. And, figuring that a spot with two owls was better than a spot with one, we made another visit to Breezy Point. But, let me tell you, the atmosphere between the two days couldn’t have been much more different.

photographers illegally in the dunes at left stalking the Snowy Owl at right

Where on Saturday there was only dunes, beach, ocean, and owl there was, on Sunday, dunes, birders, beach, birders, ocean, birders, owls, and photographers. Not only that but two photographers were out in the dunes where folks are not supposed to go trying to get that perfect owl picture. Rob Jett, better known as The City Birder, was not at all happy about them being in the dunes, especially considering that he had previously witnessed one of them trampling through protected habitat in Brooklyn. So he shot video of them and posted it to the New York State listserv.

The ensuing string of emails on both the city and state listservs was amazing. The birder / photographer, “elite birder” / “average” birder, responsible people / irresponsible people, owl reporter / owl suppressor, and indignant / lulz divides were all explored ad nauseum. The amount of text put onto the listservs is likely longer than most Russian novels. And all of this because of two owls and two photographers. Feelings were hurt, reputations were damaged, and laughs were had but, in the end, nothing has been resolved. If you want to see some of the posts before they all slide off the back end of the archive you can check them out on Birdingonthe.net.

All of this brings me to my point. I will not report owls to listservs ever again (not that I have any time in the recent past anyway). I will, however, let birders I know and trust know about owls that I have found or heard about. What is your policy on reporting owl sightings?

Sure, I would’ve liked a better shot of this bird. But I wasn’t going to chasing through the dunes after it.

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.