UPDATE: Offshore owl photographer comes forward

Josh Pennell
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Snowy owls make their way to drilling vessel

It’s not the most common sight when working offshore, but two snowy owls were spotted last weekend on the heli-deck of the Terra Nova FPSO.

Given that the vessel is several hundred kilometres offshore, it seems an odd place for a species with a palate for lemmings and mice.

Such land-based visitors to offshore vessels and rigs is not completely out of left field, though, according to bird enthusiast Bruce Mactavish, who is The Telegram’s birding columnist.

“On these rigs and on ships way out there, they do get land birds during migrations,” he says.

A lot are off course and will land anywhere at that point, he says. Long migrations mean birds are hungry and exhausted, but whether such birds will find anything to eat that far offshore is questionable, depending on their hunting method and their choice of prey.

The snowy owls are a particularly interesting case.

“There’s a real influx of snowy owls happening right now in the last two weeks in Newfoundland,” says Mactavish.

Forty-two were counted Saturday near Cape Race.

Snowy owls breed in the Arctic.

“If they’ve had a good nesting season up there, they produce a lot of young.,” Mactavish says.

Those young ones fly south looking for places to feed. Mactavish says a lot of the ones spotted here have heavily barred plumage characteristic of the young birds. The photo sent to The Telegram of the birds on the FPSO fits the description.

Some winters, none are seen in this province, Mactavish adds, but there have been concentrations seen at Cape Spear along with Cape Race and some other sightings as well this year so far. As hospitable as Newfoundland can be for visitors, the owls may have done better if they explored elsewhere.

“They should have taken a right, though, toward the mainland, because they like mice. Lemmings and mice. And we just don’t have many of those in Newfoundland,” he says.

The Telegram was sent a photo of one of the owls on the weekend and asked the photographer to contact us.

Melissa Foley, an inspector and abseiler offshore, said in an email, she took photos of two owls on the FPSO. A photo showing both of them now accompanies this story.

"There were two owls here, and they're still just hanging out here around the Terra Nova," Foley said. "It was a great sight to see out here in what feels like a vast and cold part of the ocean."

Other unlikely visitors to offshore vessels have been herons and other land-based birds. Their survival once they land is questionable, given how far offshore they are, whether they can find their way back to land and if they can manage to find food.


Geographic location: Newfoundland, Cape Race, Arctic

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Recent comments

  • Fake Name
    February 03, 2014 - 06:22

    The Terra Nova is a production vessel not a drilling vessel.