[CT Birds] Snowy Owl in New Hartford, info from 11/19/2017

Roy Harvey rmharvey at snet.net
Sun Nov 19 22:21:57 EST 2017

Passing this along.

Roy Harvey
CTBirds admin/moderator
Beacon Falls, CT


The snowy owl was observed between 1:15-3:15 on Nov 19. Easily seen from the side of Route 202 near Gresczyk Farms on Route 202 in New Hartford. But prepare to be patient; it's typical of these birds to be still for long periods. When it did take flight....oh, it was worth the wait.

When I first arrived, the owl was hunkered down on the ground in the north end of the field, near-ish to the barns, outbuildings, and machinery where it has been recently seen and photographed. It took some diligent scanning to find it; only the top of its snowy white head was visible amongst the broken-off corn stalks. A mixed flock of bluebirds, house finches, and (one) tree sparrow was a pleasant distraction during slow owl times. NOTE: Observers were horrified to see a farm employee approach the bird in a motorized farm cart, making blatant, deliberate, repeated attempts to disturb the bird and make it move. This man repeatedly "shoo"-ed the owl, approaching within arm's length, appearing to shout at it, and at one point, seeming actually to try to "bop" the bird on the head. He may have actually touched the bird. (I wouldn't touch an owl! I like having ten fingers.) The owl hopped a few hops away, spreading its wings to maintain balance, making me worry that it was injured and unable to fly away from its harasser. This was very distressing. I understand that one of the birders there phoned the farm to alert them to the fact that an employee was illegally harassing a protected species. Another birder told me that he had filmed the entire incident. As 3:00 approached (end of work shift?), some men working in the adjacent field to the south headed back toward the buildings at the north end of the farm, where (apparently) the equipment is stored. Now, TWO motorized vehicles headed straight toward the owl, and to be honest, it seemed that one of the workers deliberately drove right toward the bird, driving right through and over the exact spot where the owl had been resting. This time (hooray!) the owl took flight, eventually lighting on a piece of farm equipment inside the building complex at the north end. Again, a worker approached it to harass it into flying.... and this time, it went briefly to the ground, then lifted up and headed straight toward the few lucky birders who were still there, floating directly over our heads just before it crossed 202 (high enough to avoid the rushing cars!) and settled down at the edge of a scrubby field on the other side of 202, where it remained easily seen until I left a half hour later. To see this bird directly over head, in the afternoon sun, close enough to see its eyes, talons, and individual feathers... it's a sight that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I am still a little stunned by the sheer beauty of this bird....  Though I am outraged by the behavior of the farm workers, I try to remember that they may be ignorant of this bird and its likely life story. They may be ignorant of the laws that protect the bird. They may be ignorant of the fact that this bird is actually a beneficial visitor to the farm. Still, it was hard to see these people chasing and harassing this beautiful creature for no apparent reason.

Regarding parking: I have always understood that unless the State posts signs to the contrary, parking is permitted on state highways provided that the parked vehicle does not impede traffic. See: 

Along this particular stretch of state route 202, there is a wide paved shoulder inside the white line AND a generous verge which is probably included in the state right of way. Although Route 202 goes alongside the farm property, the roadside and verge are (as I understand it) part of the state highway, and are probably state property, NOT farm property, and therefore, one may park there if one is not impeding traffic. Personally, I interpret "not impeding traffic" to mean parking well within the white line that separates the traffic lane from the emergency lane, without getting on to what is probably private property. Can the property owner control parking on state property? I don't think so.

During the 2+ hours that I was there today, I did not see any representatives of the farm show any concern or approach any of the birders who were parked in this right-of-way area. All the birders I saw were well off the road, quiet, pleasant, and welcoming to all who arrived to see the owl, offering scope views and taking time to help people find the bird, and explaining to those less familiar with birds why this bird is here and offering insights into its behavior and intrinsic value. Every birder I talked to at the site was friendly, encouraging, and generous. You are all good ambassadors for our quirky hobby. <--birding joke :-)

SH Johnston
Farmington CT

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