Central Park’s White Owl, New York’s Latest Pandemic Star

It does not matter that the thermometer reads below zero: every night dozens of people go out to Central Park equipped with good gloves, binoculars and their longer glasses to try to take a photo of the new star of New York, a snowy owl, also known as white owl or snow owl. The presence of this variety of owl had not been documented in the park for 103 years.

For Carlos Sánchez, better known in the photography industry as @chocotuits and author of a photo book about the cityOne of the keys to getting an owl snapshot is perseverance. “I got it the third time,” says the Spaniard. He says that the coldest time it was on his first visit, since he waited hours to see the bird near one of the park’s ponds.

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“I came back another day but someone said they had seen the owl further north and I went walking with a group. I didn’t see him, but the people who stayed up later did get to see him that night. A week later I went for the third time, this time I went to where the baseball courts are. I met an Argentine boy, who was also looking to get a photo, we went down to him Reservoir and when we had already lost hope of seeing it, a girl told us: ‘If you are looking for the owl, it is there’ and pointed us further north than where we were. We headed there and, indeed, there were a couple of photographers observing the owl, which was perched in a tree, ”says Sánchez.

The first time the photographer saw an owl in his life was last October “exploring an area of ​​Central Park that he did not know.” So far this winter, the also product designer has seen three types of owl: barred, horned and snowy.

Sánchez, like many other photographers and bird watchers, got to see so many types of birds thanks to Manhattan Bird Alert o @BirdCentralPark, a Twitter account that not only shares photos of the birds that fly over the island, but also tells in real time where the birds were last seen.

David Barrett is the person behind this profile that has almost 46,000 followers. The retired hedge fund manager explains that he started the account in 2013 to “provide people with the best possible alerts in real time.”

“It is a full time occupation. But, no, it is not a job. I don’t earn money with that ”, explains the also account manager that warns about the birds of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Barrett says he does not have a favorite bird species, as his obsession with some type of bird changes with the seasons and which birds are in Central Park, a park that is near his home. This winter, for example, it was owls. “In general, when a barred owl comes, it stays one, two or three days, not five months like this time,” says the author of the book. A Big Manhattan Year: Tales of Competitive Birding. “What’s even more unusual is that the snow stays in Central Park,” says Barrett, who explains that it was first seen on January 27.

One of the mysteries that was discovered a few days ago is where the bird hides during the day. The response came from Twitter, where a user shared a video of the bird perched on top of a tree in Harlem, a neighborhood north of Central Park.

The question now is whether the bird is still in Manhattan or has gone to the Arctic Circle. “He could leave at any moment. He will wait for the wind to help him. (…) This owl cannot reproduce in Central Park, as it has to do so in its place of birth ”. One of the theories is that the photographed owl took advantage of the southwest winds of a few days ago to make its way to northern Canada.

Barrett emphasizes that the fame of this bird is not only due to the fact that its presence had not been recorded in Central Park for more than a century, where an average of 200 different species of birds usually stop each year, but also because of the reduced activities that have been carried out. allowed for most of this year in New York, one of the most cautious cities after the first wave.

“My account has had tremendous growth in the last year. I have twice as many followers. Much of this growth is due to the pandemic, which has given more people more time to do things outdoors, ”he explains. He also says that this crisis has not caused New York to receive more birds – as Central Park is still as quiet as before – but that this has been a record year for types of birds that have been seen in the park.

Although the snowy owl was the focus of all the objectives, the Central Park bird watching guide Robert DeCandido points out that it has nothing to do with the admiration he received the colorful mandarin duck in 2018. “It is a non-native species that escaped captivity, took flight and ended up in Central Park. There were people who covered it from newspapers and televisions around the world, ”he recalls. “The snowy owl is getting attention, but nothing compared to the mandarin duck, that was top“, He says.

The growth of interest in bird watching and photographing by New Yorkers has also increased concern for a portion of this community. It’s one of the reasons Barrett inserts tweets on his profile about how to behave around birds. One of the tips he emphasizes is not to illuminate owls with flashlights or flashlights at night.

In addition, according to Sánchez, in sightings there are always experts or regulars who tell the rest of the group when not to get closer to the birds. One of the practices that is criticized by some members of the sector is the use of recordings of birds to attract a certain species. Technique that DeCandido sometimes uses on his walks – which are priced at $ 10.

“The best bird scientists in North America use these kinds of calls because they can’t see or hear birds that are far away. When they get closer then they can get a better idea of ​​what is around them. So we are following those steps ”, says the guide.

He justifies himself by assuring that the bird’s “confusion” lasts only a few minutes. “Maybe these birds are bored because they have already caught their food – mainly rats, in the case of owls – and now they have 10 hours with nothing more to fly over Central Park. And hearing another bird of your species call out to you can be fascinating to an owl. Well, we confused them. It’s true. Their minds are focused on finding the source of the call for a few minutes, maybe even enjoying it. It is difficult to know. I am not a bird. I cannot put myself in the mind of a bird ”.



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