Totally captivated in 2007 by the live camera feed of the Hornby Island nesting Bald Eagles in B.C., I was drawn into birding and have never looked back. Thus begins my account of what I'm fortunate enough to discover each day and perhaps capture with my camera.

Unless otherwise stated, all images were taken by and are the property of Janice Melendez

Species Counts:

2014 Final Year List: 255; 2015 Year List a/o June 5, 2015: 235; Life List: 327

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lots of Snowies but No Snow!

The winter of 2011/2012 has proven to be an irruptive year for Snowy Owls, as initial sightings of them along the shores of Lake Ontario began at the end of November. Of course I didn't know this at the time when I rushed down to the Whitby harbour at dusk on November 26th to see one that had been reported that afternoon:

As the sun set behind her, there she was in the tree, just right of the centre:

I rushed back down the next day to see her on the rocks...

...and the day after that:

...and so on:

...and so on:

...and so on:

...and so on:

Her dining room table was the concrete pier, where on this particluar day she was mantling over her kill, some of which can be seen behind her if you double click on the photo. Rumour had it that she was seen taking out mergansers on the wing: 

For the most part she was easily found at the harbour, but there were also days when she was not to be found. This next set was taken on Sunday, January 8th, when she was seen feeding on a poor duck or gull:

After finishing her meal, she waddled across the concrete with those massive feathery legs and POOF, was gone, as she dropped down onto the boulders right behind the pier. No wonder there were days that she could not be found! 

The latest news here in Whitby is that a second one is at the harbour too, so indeed Snowy Fever continues to spread. In their high Arctic breeding grounds, the main food source for Snowies is lemmings, so when the Owl parents have figured out that it's a bumper year for lemmings, they'll raise lots of young owlets accordingly. But eventually they'll face competition for food, so that's when they start heading our way. 

For further information on this irruptive year for Snowy Owls, check out this link:

I hate to admit it, but I began to crave closer views of Snowies than what the local harbour one was giving me, so I headed north to the Ravenshoe/Holland Marsh area that's usually a guarantee each winter for Snowies, or so I thought. I dipped on them during two trips there, and a third trip gave me a distant view of a white blob across a field, grrrr.

I dodged another CAA call as I fish-tailed my way through deep mud with water-filled canals on either side of me. I dodged another CAA call as I slid on ice with frozen water-filled canals on either side of me. I'm still undecided as to which scenario would have been preferable had I slid off the road...

To add insult to injury, an adult male Snowy had been reported in another nearby area, which would be a first for me, as I'd only ever seen females or immatures. So finally, on my third attempt in that part of Holland Marsh did I see him at last, on  Friday, January 6th. It's been a weird winter for us with hardly any snow to date, but the lack of snow makes it easier to find the owls! I saw the all-white adult male and this immature Snowy Owl on the wing across a field when I first arrived, and followed the latter to his landing pad:

The flat agricultural area that attracts the Snowies consists of dark soil where market gardening crops are grown each year, and the dark soil made it soooo easy for me to find him at last!!! So I plunked myself down in an onion field (with permission from the land owner), my boots and butt totally covered in mud (just like my car!), and spent an hour with him, watching him preen away, what a gorgeous owl! 

But it still wasn't enough for me, so yesterday I returned to the area and saw five different Snowy Owls in the end, what a day! My first stop was for the adult male again, he was such an easy find as I once again crawled through an onion field (with permission):


I left him to snooze in the sunshine and braved the roads at Ravenshoe once again, which in fact were much better than expected re mud versus ice. My second Snowy for the day was the white blob in the distance, can you see it?? It's a bit tougher with snow on the ground, isn't it? especially when one's car is fish-tailing on a narrow road

My third Snowy for the day was seen far off in the distance, so I walked along the path and was so focused on the distant Snowy that I almost stepped on this fourth one on the ground right in front of me!

I encourage you to double click on these next few photos to see more detail:

I have never been to the Snowy Owls' breeding grounds in the Arctic, but perhaps the stark landscape and wide open fields of the Holland Marsh remind them a bit of home? Could the same be said for the rocks and boulders along the harbours of Lake Ontario? In any case, I feel privileged to see them at all!

A Neglected November

...well actually, it's far more than just one dreary month that I've been off the radar with my blog, so I'm now trying to get back on track with it as best I can, breaking it up into manageable chunks. I can't even say I've had too many bird and critter photos to sift through as generally it's been a quiet late-autumn, but now I'm back!

This will definitely be an odds 'n' sods posting, though, the only orderly thing about it is that it's in chronological order, going back to an early misty morning in the Kawarthas on November 1st:

The one advantage of reviewing my photos so long after the fact is that I am reminded of what good birds we've had in the area, as was the case with this immature lone Brant seen in Pickering on November 3rd, but only for a few days:

This was not a Lifer for me, having already seen them in great numbers at the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen, British Columbia, but it was a "province" bird for me!

It eventually got quite comfortable with me being so close to it and began to preen, perhaps beacuse I was lying flat on the ground in goose poop!

Never let it be said that I don't take photos of gulls! Here's a Ring-billed Gull that was checking me out as I fussed over the Brant:

I made several trips to the Oshawa harbour in early November for the annual Loon look-out, managing to see a Pacific (thanks, Jean!), some Red-throated and thousands of Common Loons that survived the severe botulism scourge that had ravaged the province. Here were some Common Loons seen on Friday, November 4th:

Monday, November 7th saw Ann and I on a road trip to the Kawarthas, and our first stop was at Mr. and Mrs. Corn's place, aka Sharon and Joe. The 902 Trumps were there in full force, eagerly awaiting their breakfast:

Ann's now hooked on them too!

...'twas a better day for the "outcast" cygnet, as the family allowed it a much closer approach without getting its butt kicked by mom, hooray!

Preening after the meal:

We said our farewells to The Trumps, Sharon, and Joe, and continued along back roads where we saw a lingering Great Blue Heron...

...a slaughtered Ruffed Grouse who's seen better days:

...and some beautiful landscapes to make up for the dead bird sighting:

On our way through the Carden area, we spotted my first White-winged Crossbills in nineteen months (!), this is a garbage trash really, really bad record shot only:

We saw a perched Rough-legged Hawk (that are now few and far between this winter, I must say!) that was quietly minding its own business...

...until a Common Raven harassed it:

We dropped in at Ginny's place in Uphill and enjoyed a Hairy Woodpecker feasting on peanut butter:

On the Owl front, all we saw was this Barn Owl, sigh GOTCHA!:

It was still hunting season, so Ann and I were mindful of where we went on the back roads, and it seemed that the critters knew that too, as we really didn't see very much that day. A Northern Shrike at the Golden Hour was our last good sighting for the day, and my first for the season:

  Master John has always told me that it becomes more and more difficult with time to add Lifers to one's list, and I now understand that, somuchso that when we read an ontbirds posting of a dark morph adult Pomarine Jaeger seen in Cobourg harbour, off we went on the afternoon of Sunday, November 13th. There was a distinct sense of urgency as the reported bird was suspected to be in its death throes from botulism.

We didn't make it in time, nor did the bird.

But John and I probably had our closest views ever of its field markings, sad to say, before it made its final journey to the ROM:

My next road trip with Ann was on Monday, November 14th, and we stayed local along Lake Ontario, preferring to avoid any hunting encounters up north. At Humber Bay, we readily saw the resident Northern Mockingbird: 

House Sparrows were abundant:

My BOTD, though, had to be the Gadwall! I confess that I've never really paid that much attention to the different shades on the male's head, but also love the scalloping details on his breast:

Look at him, he has colours that I wasn't even aware of!

Ann snapped a secret shot of me not- so- gracefully "Gadwalling". Thanks, Ann!



We wrapped up our day at the Evergreen Brickworks in the Don Valley, a new area for us both. In its prior life, it was a quarry and industrial site, but has been converted over to a park with several ponds in the middle of the city:

The former Don Valley Brick Works was in business for almost a century, and supplied bricks to several Toronto landmarks, including Massey Hall, Osgoode Hall, and Casa Loma:

On the nature front it has great potential, but not so much in mid-November, other than a gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk that had been drenched a bit by the wet snow showers earlier that morning:

Working on those tail feathers:

Now that's a red tail!!!

My next Kawarthan road trip with Ann on Monday, November 21st was exciting, but not because of what we saw, but more on that later.... Our target bird was a reported Snowy Owl, but we dipped on that, and pretty much anything else that moved, so we enjoyed the views instead:

An early winter's thin sheet of ice on the surface of the water:

The subdued neutrals of the landscape almost made us beg for a snowfall:

On the outskirts of Fenelon Falls, we were surprised to spot a Coyote!

We stopped off for lunch in town and then headed for the north shore of the lake, and that's when all hell broke loose I decided I had had enough of these boring road trips. The car needed a break, too:

Actually, it was all part of my master plan to spend some time with a local tow truck driver fellow to glean some information on wildlife viewing in the area. If anyone tells you otherwise, they're just wrong!

Meanwhile back at the ranch, European Starlings were in a feeding frenzy by our garage. They're such noisy party birds, excelling at flash mobs on the ground or in the sky. And they're really quite attractive too, if only we paid more attention to them versus slamming them all the time!

The one on the left has a crossed bill, which may be either an injury or a genetic deformity:

A solo run to the cottage on Thursday, November 24th produced a pair of live (!) Ruffed Grouse... well as this Common Loon off the Point, what an unexpected treat!

My final November road trip with Ann was on the 28th to the west end of Lake Ontario, starting off at Bronte Provincial Park where the best bird was this pretty young Cedar Waxwing:

At LaSalle Park in Burlington we saw lots of waterfowl, including this female Greater Scaup...

...a Red-breasted Merganser:

...a dashingly handsome Mallard drake:

...and American Coots:

Our next stop was at the lift bridge and it turned out to be one of my most memorable photography sessions ever, as the lighting was sweet, as were the birds, including thousands of Long-tailed Ducks:

A first year male (thanks Justin!):

The Red-breasted Mergansers were spectacular to see, and on subsequent return visits, I have never seen as many there as I did that day:

What a joy to see White-winged Scoters as well!

It was time to head east again, so we stopped off at Colonel Sam for Grebes, which were too far out for any decent shots, but this female Ruddy Duck was a good bird to see:

Our last stop of the day at Humber Bay gave us awesome views of Redheads, what gorgeous ducks!

A pair of delightful male Redheads are bookends to a single female, with a Mallard in the rear:

My final BOTM on the very last day of November was this Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in a tree over my feeders as I pulled into the driveway:

I have not replenished my feeders since.

So ends November, 2011, phew! This was a long overdue posting, and I now still have December and January to do, as well as some October stragglers, noooooooooooooooooo!!