Amid blistering cold, area becomes a haunt for snowy owls

March 14, 2014

It’s a season that will not cave or quit. Even amid several warm days in March, Washington has had freezing cold days. The forecasts for Sunday and Monday contain the word that means maximum winter: snow.

Meanwhile, this has been the season not only of frequent snow, but also of the snowy owl.

Traditionally these creatures stick close to Arctic regions. But this winter, many have chosen to sojourn among us. The saga of just one became a central part of the season’s narrative after it was found in downtown Washington.

Only this week, two more members of the imposing avian species were found in eastern Baltimore County, environmental officials said.

A female was captured just after sunset Thursday, and a male was picked up Friday morning. In late December, another of the breed was captured at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport and relocated.

These finds are not routine. In the Mid-Atlantic region, sightings began in December and continued into this year in what wildlife specialists have described as an event of historic proportions.

“Events of this magnitude occur only rarely,” wrote two specialists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. These movements of species far beyond their usual haunts are known as irruptions.

This winter’s snowy owl irruption into eastern Canada and the eastern United States is “the largest since the 1960s,” said the two scientists, David F. Brinker of the Maryland Natural Heritage Program and Cindy P. Driscoll of the fish and wildlife health program.

Biologists have described the irruption, which itself is not fully accounted for, as an opportunity to learn more about the snowy owl, regarded as a mysterious creature.

The two owls found this week at Martin State Airport in Baltimore County were examined and are to be relocated “well away” from the airport. The female will be outfitted with a transmitter to track her movements before she is released as part of a nationwide study of this winter’s great owl migration.

Meanwhile, Washington’s visitor, which was injured by a bus, carries an additional aura of owlish mystery.

After treatment at a rehabilitation center in the District, it was taken for further recuperation and its own protection to what rehab workers have described as an “undisclosed location.”

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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