Birders Lee and Melinda Varian tell me there's a major influx of snowy owls into New Jersey from the far north. My first thought was not appropriately celebratory, but rather of the pilot whales stranded in shallow water in a remote section of the Everglades, and whether these mass displacements of wildlife might be signs of the big changes coming down the pike. After all, the NY Times earlier in the week had hidden a major warning about global warming on page A24, citing a "risk of rapid, drastic changes in some human and natural systems", and, relevant to the whales, "the threat of immense dead zones in the ocean." Since snowy owls feed on lemmings, maybe they came down this way on the rumor that humans are exhibiting a lemming-like affinity for metaphorical cliffs.
Turns out, however, that this visit from snowy owls is not a new phenomenon. Melinda sent me links to a few posts on the subject. This post grapples with the question of why the snowy owls sometimes come down our way from the arctic. Some believe they come down because the lemming population up north has gone over a cliff (so to speak), but there's evidence that the incidence of snowy owls hereabouts is the product of a good breeding year for the owls (due to an abundance of lemmings), which means the young have to range farther for new habitat.
The freidaybird blog counts 26 snowy owls in New Jersey, a number it says is not likely to be equaled for a long time. Typing "snowy" in the searchbox at the upper left of the blog gets more posts on the owls.
They can sometimes run into trouble during visits to New Jersey and elsewhere (Melinda says one once showed up at the airport in Hawaii). They seek out flat, open, grassy areas that remind them of the arctic, which means they can sometimes gravitate to airports where they are considered a hazard. The beaches and dunes offer a much safer haven, where they can bask in the appreciative attention of birders.
Update--More from Melinda: "Here's the best yet video of one of this year's Snowy Owls. It is being dive-bombed by a pair of Peregrine Falcons, who aren't happy about the competition. The first half was taken through an iPhone to give the big picture and the second half was taken at the same time by digiscoping to show the owl up close:
Snowy Owl vs. Peregrine Falcon from Tom Johnson on Vimeo.