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Whooo Is Visiting from the Arctic?


A snowy owl at Waterfront Park - COURTESY OF KYLE TANSLEY
  • Courtesy Of Kyle Tansley
  • A snowy owl at Waterfront Park

A snowy owl has been hanging around the Burlington waterfront since late December, to the delight of birders eager to view the visitor from the Arctic.

They've trained their binoculars on the fluffy white bird at several spots including Perkins Pier, the Burlington breakwater, Blodgett Beach and the U.S. Coast Guard Station. The raptor has endured the attention, as well as the city's New Year's Eve celebration, which included waterfront crowds and fireworks.

"I was surprised that the fireworks didn't scare it off, frankly," said Burlington birder Kyle Tansley.

After birders reported sightings on the website Vermont eBird, Tansley wanted to see the owl for himself. He used a long lens to snap photos of the bird near the Coast Guard on New Year's Day. "That was a pretty good way to start my year, I have to say," said Tansley, a market research analyst.

The wind was howling, and the owl seemed to be taking shelter in the rocks of a breakwater. "It basically just sat there and moved its head around in circles a bunch,'' Tansley recalled.

That was his second snowy owl sighting. The first took place two days earlier at the Edward F. Knapp State Airport in Berlin, where another snowy owl has been blending in with the snowdrifts and attracting a following. Other recent snowy owl sightings have been reported in Hardwick, Colchester and South Hero.

The golden-eyed owls migrate south into the northern U.S. during the winter. But they are uncommon and beautiful enough to excite people. The owls prey on small mammals and birds, including ducks, which as of Monday were paddling in good number around Perkins Pier.

"Snowies" have visited the Burlington waterfront in past years, according to Montpelier consulting biologist Bryan Pfeiffer, coauthor of Birdwatching in Vermont.

"What I think's amazing about this is that this is the Arctic visiting Vermont," Pfeiffer said. "No polar bear or Arctic fox will ever show up on the Burlington waterfront, but snowy owls come and visit us. And they are coming from a place that most of us will never go see. And for me that's kind of exciting."