Monday, January 23, 2012

White Out

Apparently, reports of the death of Old Man Winter were greatly exaggerated. Last Thursday’s overnight snowfall followed by Saturday’s all-day white-out left New Englanders with the sense that the universe had righted itself again – a feeling accentuated by yesterday’s victory/escape by the New England Patriots over the Baltimore Ravens sending the home team back to the Super Bowl for the fifth time during the Belichick/Brady era.

A weekend of bunkering, shoveling, football and stew cooking – Narragansett porter turns out to be a good water substitute when simmering in combination with pork, potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic – felt like Rhode Island in January again. So maybe those fat backyard squirrels (referenced in a previous blog) were onto something after all. (One is pictured here indulging in a bit of leftover fruit from the compost pile at my parents’ property in Barrington, courtesy of a photo taken pre-snowstorm from my sister, Kai, visiting from England.)

For nature lovers, one of the signature signs of a Rhode Island January is the sighting of snowy owls. According to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s “bird alert,” one has been spotted for the past couple of weeks at Island Rocks off Sachuest Point in Middletown. The owls nest in the Arctic tundra but winter south and have been reported in Rhode Island with regularity in recent years. They primarily feed off lemmings up north but will make do with any small rodents, birds, rabbits, fish or carrion in the Ocean State (in owl circles, Rhody road kill is known as New York System Carrion). Adult males are virtually pure white, which combined with their large size and hunting skill, gives the birds a mythic reputation.

Yesterday’s New York Times had a story on America’s “unusual spike” in snowy owl sightings. According to Denver Holt, director of the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Mont.:

One showed up at the airport in Hawaii, and they shot it. It’s the first ever in Hawaii and they shot it!

As reported by Jim Robbins: “The owl was killed on Thanksgiving by federal officials who feared that the bird would interfere with landings and takeoffs.” A valid concern, perhaps, although Boston’s Logan Airport, which attracts large numbers of snowy owls “because the airfield looks like tundra,” traps and removes them – 21 so far this year, closing in on the record of 43 in 1986.

Why so many are showing up all of a sudden remains a mystery. But with a plethora of white owls suddenly in our midst, coupled with last year’s sighting of a white hart in Dartmoor, England, isn’t it about time we saw a white lobster pop up in Narragansett Bay? (For the record, by “white lobster” we mean the albino crustacean. White lobster is also the term used in Central American fishing villages to describe the bounty of discarded cocaine from drug dealers fleeing federal agents that washes ashore or circulates in local fishing grounds, inspiring a trade that turns thatched hut communities into islands of mansions and satellite dishes.)

What is your most memorable animal encounter in Rhode Island?