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!