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, February 25, 2014

Short-changed No More!

After dipping on last year's OFO Haldimand-Norfolk outing due to spinning out on an icy highway 403 with Master John, I was determined to go this year. Miraculously, the weather cooperated, but would the birds??? 

They did. Especially Short-eared Owls that I've felt short-changed by, having only ever seen them four times in my life. My first and probably most dramatic encounter was over four years ago at Boundary Bay, British Columbia, when I was dazzled by a Short-eared Owl and a Northern Harrier chasing each other back and forth right in front of me, with Bald Eagles looking on from the sidelines perched on hydro poles, can you imagine? 

Distant views of a Short-eared Owl hunting at dusk in Whitby a month later was a new addition to my Ontario List but mediocre by comparison to my first encounter in British Columbia. Two more distant views in Fisherville and on Amherst Island last year at dusk didn't cut it. So yes, I had every right to feel short-changed by Short-ears. 

Until now. 

Our trip leader Dave Milsom easily found six Short-eared Owls together at our very first stop in the area they were known to frequent. There were fourteen vehicles in total on this popular outing, and wisely positioning myself behind the lead car, I was immediately gasping with excitement at the sight of these beauties right next to us.  

What happened next was magical, that's all I can say, as forty-three birders watched and listened in awe of  these gorgeous owls take to the air, erratically flying up and down and back and forth in the field in front of us. A few of the owls were perched in a distant tree, how easily can anyone locate them in this mega-cropped pic??

On the wing, gorgeous!

Landing on trees:

Roosting in evergreens:

Never before had I such a good opportunity to study the dramatic black wrist markings on the underwings as they swooped in and over our heads:

And then back to a preferred perch, its short ear tufts are barely visible:

Some us were hearing dogs barking in the distance, somewhat muted, when we realized in fact it was the owls barking! Sibley refers to their calls as "nasal or wheezy barks", Peterson refers to "an emphatic sneezy bark", it was pure magic! 

More views of them soaring overhead, with dark streaks on the breast:

A view of  the mottled pattern on the back, and its buffy wing patches:

This is yet another one of my most memorable encounters and by far the best with Short-eared Owls, so no longer do I consider myself short-changed!  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fine Dining in Durham

On a whim I arrived at the local waterfront just before dusk in search of Canvasbacks that had been reported the day before. I was dismayed to see a thin layer of ice forming up once again around the pier limiting the waterfowl population, so was prepared to head home empty-handed for my target species. 

The harbour was totally deserted as it was quickly getting dark ahead of our next round of snow grrrrrr , with the exception of this fine specimen of a feisty Mink feasting on a fish!

The only sound heard was the occasional "crispy crackle" of the fresh ice, when I suddenly realized it was the weight of the Mink and its meal causing the ice crackles!

It was never a matter of if , it was a matter of when the Mink would haul the fish up off the ice and carry it away to secretly stash:

..but the size of its meal was challenging:

The Mink rested for a moment, perhaps pondering its caching strategy as it took another lick of its meal: 

...but then off it went again, this time with a dragging versus carrying strategy:

...which was still not all that successful, as the Mink bounced up off the ice at one point with the fish firmly gripped in its mouth. I'm killing myself laughing at this point, as admittedly it was pretty amusing to watch:

In the fading light the Mink managed to grasp and carry the fish again, almost tripping on it at times as the crispy ice was creaking under their weight: 

With gravity working against it, the Mink even tried to unsuccessfully drag it up on the snow. It suddenly disappeared, though, silently slipping away into a small patch of open water for not more than ten seconds, and then climbed back out, having stashed the fish right under the ice! 

It cautiously walked around on the thin ice a bit longer:

....then gave itself a good shake to remove the icy water off its beautiful coat before disappearing into the darkness: 

Another wonderful ten minutes of yet another unexpected wildlife encounter!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Grayer Shade of Pale

It has been no secret to those that know me well that the Great Gray Owl has been my nemesis bird since beginning my birding adventures the year after the last major irruption of them in Durham Region when these magnificent beauties were apparently trash birds in south Whitby. Constantly reminded of this on numerous occasions by my so-called birding buddies (thanks, guys, love you too!), I secretly wept each winter as they continued to elude me. Double-digit "dip trips" were made to Algonquin during the fall and winter of last year when they were frequently seen by everyone else except me, so I eventually stopped trying.

Until last March when one was quietly reported offline in eastern Ontario, so off I went with Master John on a Sunday afternoon with absolutely no expectations (yeah, right), for finally a brief and distant glimpse of this Lifer bird for me:

It seemed like perhaps my GGOW drought had ended, but alas no, as I returned to this remote location a few more times throughout the following week, with the hopes of another sighting to further study this species, all to no avail. But at least I finally had a wonderful memory of this Life, formerly Nemesis Bird for me.

Until a few weeks ago when another Great Gray Owl was reported, but this time a mere ten minutes from home. I arrived at dusk with no expectations, and was greeted with this dramatic view without even leaving the car, gorgeous!

I was in total awe of this beauty, shaking like a leaf as I crawled to the back seat of my car for a better glimpse, only to look back up at its perch to see it had flown away! So imagine my surprise when I realized it had in fact flown in closer, landing on a fence post almost next to my car:

As it grew darker and darker, the Great Gray eventually took an amazingly silent flight to a tree further back in the field. Here's an eerie, almost ghostly view of it as it flew by my car window, admittedly not a great shot but it somehow still resonates with me:

By now I somehow found myself alone with this beautiful Great Gray as the few other birders there, including Master John, had departed in the darkness. Perched in its distant tree, the Great Gray was now magically silhouetted against a rising, almost-full moon, a precious memory that will endure forever in my mind.

A week later, a hasty decision on my part was made to return for a Golden Hour glimpse, again with no expectations, but its ridiculously close proximity and golden lighting made for spectacular views:

Its feathers being caressed by the frigid arctic breeze:

 occasional doze in the brutal arctic temperatures:

Five minutes in total were shared with this Great Gray Owl, before leaving it in peace as the day came to an end.

I continue to be humbled by its magnificence.