The Aegis
Harford County

'It's fantastic': Arctic visitor draws bird watchers to Havre de Grace farm

The solitary owl sat motionless behind the Hopkins Farm, its white feathers matching the snow-covered hill and its head swiveling, looking for anything that might resemble food.

But the owl itself was also being watched.


A dozen or so photographers – some with an arsenal of camoflauged cameras and massive lenses and others more modestly equipped – lined the fence by Aldino Road just south of Route 155 on Wednesday afternoon.

The rural corner north of Havre de Grace has attracted a steady stream of curious onlookers and weathered birdwatchers since Sunday, when an unusual snowy owl was spotted on the farm during a snowstorm by a Harford Bird Club member.


Richard Donham has been bird watching since he was a child but said he has not seen a snowy owl in 20 years.

"It's a beautiful bird," said the Oxford, Pa., resident as he kept his camera trained on the owl on the hilltop. Donham had been watching the owl on and off all day, he said.

Snowy owls are natives of the Arctic but have been making their way farther south in search of food and for reasons that seem to be eluding scientists.

The strange "irruption," or unpredictable migration, has been making headlines from Chicago to New York City, where the Port Authority has been struggling to keep the birds at bay at airports.

At the Havre de Grace site, one man was not happy about media attention for the owl. He said too many spectators could endanger the bird or at least drive it away, something he said happened in Rehoboth, Del., after a snowy owl was seen there late last year.

Others seemed glad the bird has been receiving so much attention.

"It's fantastic, and I am so glad that it's here," said Dave Gigliotti, a Bel Air native who teaches at Abingdon's Anita C. Leight Estuary Center.

"It's a great opportunity for everyone in the area to come out and see the owl and learn to appreciate wildlife and the great wildlife that actually visits Harford County," Gigliotti said.


It was his first time seeing a snowy owl. He had been owl-watching for about 3 1/2 hours, seeing it go into a cornfield for a while and get harassed by crows.

No one seemed to have witnessed the bird eat all day, which concerned watchers like Richard Donham.

"That worries me, because he needs to hunt food in order to survive," Donham said.

Despite the vehicles lining a driveway to a cemetery across the street, Gigliotti said the onlookers and cameramen have been respectful so far and he has not seen any police or other signs of problems.

He noted David Hopkins, whose family owns the farm the owl has been visiting, let the bird watchers park on his property the other day when the owl was closer to Route 155.

"I am very appreciative of the property owner and everyone in the area," Gigliotti said. "The property owner was very gracious."


He also did not think all the cameras were affecting the bird so far.

"At this distance, the owl is aware of us, but it's not afraid and we are not impacting the owl," he said.

The Aegis: Top stories


Daily highlights from Harford County's number one source for local news.

Although he got some in-flight shots of the bird, "I would love to get some photos of it catching prey."

Sharon Stafford came with her husband from Hanover, in Anne Arundel County, to see the bird.

"It's a lovely bird," she observed. "It's beautiful when it flies over the snow."

David Hopkins, who was pulling his truck into his farm off of Route 155, was not overly interested in the owl himself but has had no problems with all the birdwatchers.


"They seem very respectful," he said.

About the bird being on his property, Hopkins noted: "It's cool."

"It's pretty amazing to me that they get pretty excited about something [like this]," he said about the bird watchers. "It's pretty neat, and all the people I have met all seemed like a good bunch of people."