Baltimore, New Jersey

What's Wrong With This Picture?
What’s Wrong With This Picture?
I see two things. Why is that Snowy Owl sitting on the Easter Bunny? And why does he have an iPhone?
I see two things. Why is that Snowy Owl sitting on the Easter Bunny? And why does he have an iPhone?

We can assume he is sitting on the Easter Bunny in his own, delightful, small-mammal mangling way of celebrating the Equinox. Perhaps as a protest of Spring, and the fact that Winter is ending, and that he must soon return to the Arctic for the Summer which, as we all know, is quite a boring place to spend the Summer. Hopefully he has access to HBO and can tune in shortly to the Game of Thrones, Season 5 Premiere, where Winter Is Coming, not ending.

His iPhone tells us that he is a VIO: (Very Important Owl). His name is Baltimore, and he is an Ambassador for his species. Kind of like Angelina Jolie, only far more important and much less annoying. You see, that is not an iPhone he is sporting, nor is it a Samsung; it is a GSM transmitter lovingly gifted to him by the good people at Project Snowstorm and their supporters.

Nom nom nom nom nom nom nom....
Nom nom nom nom nom nom nom…. mmmm… Eazter Bunneh… nom nom nom…

Project Snowstorm is a fancy research project which smartly & briskly took advantage of last year’s epic Snowy Owl Irruption to tenderly slap some devilishly expensive tracking devices on Snowy Owls, then study the data, to learn more about what they do and where they go and who they hang out with when the visit places like New Jersey. Kind of like what the NSA does to you and your family when you travel, shop, surf the net, call your friends, etc., only far less sinister and illegal.

Where In The World Is Baltimore
Where In The World Is Baltimore?

If you want to know the location of Baltimore, you need to check the map. But not just any old map; you specifically need to check the maps on the Project Snowstorm Web Site. You’ll soon realize that Baltimore is New Jersey. And not just anywhere in New Jersey, but right here on LBI. Look carefully and you’ll see why you should urgently begin checking your own roof and jetty for this beautiful bird each morning.

It’s been a long road from Baltimore to LBI. Baltimore the Snow Owl was originally caught in 2014 at a Baltimore airport by owl-master Steve Huy, who then lovingly relocated  him to the coast before he got sucked into a jet engine, as dozens of Snowy Owls do each winter. But when Baltimore returned for the Winter this year, he flew straight back to the Marin State Airport where he was trapped again. From the Snowy perspective, airports are some of the last available, and most obvious, wide open space left along the East Coast; in addition to being the absolute worst and most dangerous place for a Snowy to hang out: for both Snowies &  Frequent Flyers.

Fortunately, LBI’s commitment to keeping some of the last “Wild Beach” habitat on our coast preserved has provided an ideal home for Baltimore to finish out his Winter being the Noble & Majestic Monster that he is. Luckily he found us before Newark, JFK, or LaGuardia.

nom nom nom nom nom nom
…nom nom nom nom nom nom…

It’s also been a long road from LBI to Baltimore. You see, while Project Snowstorm normally tracks subjects from places so far-off and obscure they might as well be in the Arctic, like “Michigan”, this year two of the $3,000 transmitters were donated to help track some Jersey Birds. So under the cover of bitter cold and blinding darkness, Project Snowstorm sought out the Garden State’s best & brightest Snow Owls for participation in their research. And of course, as a collective of the most knowledgeable Snowy Owl researchers on the planet, they immediately recognized that our own Sunny and Mr. Handbersome would do just fine.

The Right Stuff
The Right Stuff. Team Snowstorm on LBI.

And so the Winter was spent with alternating groups of State & Federal officials, master Trappers, biologists, and veterinarians, led by the unbelievably cool, world-famous owl-guy Scott Weidensaul, on a mission to outfit our own Sunny & Mr. Handbersome with tracking devices.

Scott Weidensaul
Scott Weidensaul: searching for Handbersome. Scott is perhaps the nicest, funniest guy you’ll ever meet. Which becomes surprising when you learn he is an epic genius, adored by nature lovers around the globe. When confronted with that fact, he is characteristically humble. You can pretend you are just a “regular guy” like the rest of us all you want Mr. Weidensaul; but you can’t hide your Pulitzer nomination from Readings From The Northside. We practice amateur journalism around there.
Master Trapper & Project Snowstorm co-founder Steve Huy. This is Steve out in the dunes of LBI this February. Notice his hand. Notice the lack of gloves. Can you remember any time this February you were out on the beach at sunset clutching metal objects for hours without any gloves?
Master Trapper & Project Snowstorm co-founder Steve Huy. This is Steve out in the dunes of LBI this February. Notice his hands. Notice the lack of gloves. Can you remember any time this February you were out on the beach at sunset clutching metal objects for hours without any gloves? Steve is as sharp, dedicated, and passionate as they make ’em.
The Field
Into The Field

Readings From The Northside happily gave up any and all intel to assist the effort, including such gems as “I think Sunny likes my blue coat better than my beige one” and “Mr. Handbersome is kind-of a d%^k” in exchange for answers to inane questions, like, “who is your second-to-least favorite Snowy Owl?” and “Who do you think would hate it the most if I pet him, Sunny? Or Mr. Handbersome?”

Sunny Sees All
Sunny Sees All
Scott-Set
Watching at Nightfall

Sadly, despite lots of dedicated people driving hours through miserable storms in the Northeast, like a twisted game of Frogger, to spend bitter nights trying to capture Sunny & Mr. Handbersome, the operation was a strikeout. Just plain, bad luck with Sunny, and Mr. Handbersome… well, Mr. Handbersome is a d^%k.

Project Snowstorm is, almost daily, learning stuff we never knew about Snowy Owls before. While it is important to understand how the population as a whole behaves, it was surely a bummer to lose the chance to learn for sure what our own, local Owls are up to on our little Island; to see what type of adventures and mischief they may or may-not be up to at night. Our two gems, Barnegat Light & Holgate, are favorite hangouts for Wintering Snowies. On an Island made up of various, seasonal residents, we can surely count Snow Owls as locals, and as neighbors. The chance to know more about our elusive, local Snowies was, and remains, an invaluable gift.

"U didn't seriously think u'd katched-ed  me, did u?"
“U didn’t seriously think u’d katched-ed me, did u?”

As luck would have it, this story has a Happy Ending. Just as it became clear that it had become too late in the season for Sunny or Mr. Handbersome to join the elite squad of Project Snowstorm Celebrity Snow Owls, Baltimore accidentally stumbled onto our little slice of Heaven on his way from Maryland to God-knows-where, and has been making it a home of sorts ever since. Baltimore is serving as a useful proxy for Sunny & Mr. Handbersome as he resides around Barnegat Bay, happily uploading data each week ; data which gives us a peek into how the Owls, our wild neighbors, use the Island. Like, using it to murder the Easter Bunny.

"Iz mah Eazter Bunneh"
“Iz mah Eazter Bunneh!”

You are strongly encouraged to do a whole bunch of stuff:

What an honor for LBI to host the elite and completely awesome Project Snowstorm this winter. The astonishing fact that our tiny little Summertime paradise has an important link  to the life-cycle of the Arctic is astoundingly cool. Thanks again to Project Snowstorm, and to all those small bands of dedicated people who dedicate their lives to helping keep our beaches a little more wild. If you’ve ever enjoyed a photo of a Snowy Owl on the beach, please consider making a small donation Project Snowstorm to keep the dream alive.

And don’t forget to keep an eye on Baltimore’s map… he just might be hanging out on your roof deck.