Marie and I drove down to the Jersey beaches this weekend on the snowy owl lottery. It was a lovely day, almost spring-like, and a very enjoyable drive both ways. Jersey fascinates us, strange melting pot of extremes, oscillating from bad to great, from odd to quirky, tacky to chilled, industrial to pristine.
Working our way down a monstrous highway—seven lanes wide at times, that’s fourteen lanes of round-trip traffic—we settled into a fast flow and landed at Island Beach State Park in two hours flat. The park occupies the southernmost end of an almost completely detached twenty-mile-long barrier island separated from the mainland by Barnegat Bay. I had unsuccessfully looked for an owl there a month ago (link below) and figured twice would be the early charm. Bis repetita placent.
Driving straight down to the bottom parking area, we set out in deep sand and sought intel from long-lens-equipped photographers coming our way. “Yes, there is an owl,” they nodded, “it’s about ten minutes, thataway.” Almost too easy. A brisk walk along the waterline’s harder sand keeping an eye on people along the dunes, a lens pointed in the right direction and we had found our snowy owl.
Unfortunately sitting quite far into the off-limit area, the bird was busy doing what snowy owls appear to spend most of the day at: nothing. We could not blame it for keeping its distance as the beach was bustling with people, dogs and even four-wheel drive vehicles cruising by once in a while—they might protect the dunes but they allow trucks on the beach under permit, go figure.
I took a few pictures but the afternoon was maturing and it was time for our picnic so we left the busy tip and stopped along the rigorously straight road at a much quieter strand, crossed to the beach, and ate a wonderful, steaming-hot red wine, mushroom, bacon and paprika soup facing the vast ocean and quieting down our minds.
On the path back through the dunes, as I was scanning one last time for the unlikely white spec of an owl, an unexpected dash of fiery orange caught my eye. It was a fox, casually roaming through scrubby vegetation.
After spotting us, it decided to lie down in the grass, his ears barely poking through like radars, now you see me now you don’t. A patient wait later it was asleep, or at least resting rather carelessly. The sound of my shutter spooked it, I had forgotten to set the quiet mode—a mental spanking there— and it took off, only to go curl up in the sun a bit further. It’s a fox’s life after all.
Needless to say the owl had some serious competition in the cuteness factor area that day.