By Eamon Corbett
On December 12th, during finals week, 5 of us headed to Belle Isle Marsh Reservation in search of one of the most spectacular animals in Boston: a Snowy Owl. Snowies often hang out in the vicinity of Logan Airport in the winter (the treeless environment resembles their tundra breeding grounds), and there had been a number of sightings of one at Belle Isle. On this unseasonably warm December day, we were hoping to track it down.
Construction on the T slowed us down but we arrived at the marsh mid-afternoon, and started birding the entry road and nearby marsh. Chickadees and Song Sparrows were common, and we came across a big flock of American Tree Sparrows, with their crisp red-and-gray plumage.
We started scanning for the owl from the main observation tower, which has a view of the entire marsh. Gulls and geese were common, and there were a variety of ducks as well: Buffleheads, Red-breasted Mergansers, American Black Ducks and Mallards.
We didn’t see any owls immediately, but did spot a different white bird in the marsh: an immature Little Blue Heron, not yet old enough to be blue, and quite unusual for the area. It had been seen a Belle Isle recently by others, so we were happy to spot it.
We continued down into the marsh, but had no further success owl-wise, so we searched the meadow briefly, finding a singing Mockingbird and a Red-tailed Hawk. At that point a big group of birders walked by to the marsh, and we asked what they had seen.
“Well, there’s a Snowy Owl on top of that building,” was the reply.
And there was! On a distant hillside there was a large brick building (a school, probably), and we looked through a telescope to see an unmistakeable white blob perched atop its chimney!
It was a very distant owl, but it was definitely there, and we climbed the observation tower to get a (slightly) closer look. It watched from its lofty perch, bringing a touch of the arctic to otherwise balmy Boston, until the sun began to set and we headed back into the thick of exams.