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

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Owls and a Muskrat!!??!!

This past week saw a few more interesting and unexpected encounters out in the field, starting with a day trip with Tessa to the open country near Lake Erie. I'd given up hope of seeing a Short-eared Owl after driving around in vain, but as we headed home a pair were spotted right out in the open. I photographed only one of them as the other moved around in the tree:

It gave me great views of its short ear-tufts:

Its yellow eyes followed the moth- like flight of its companion:

The other owl had landed on an upper branch to the right of this one:

I was fortunate to see a pair of Short-eared Owls with some friends during a return visit a few days later. They were thrilled to see these beauties for the first time ever, not that one ever tires of seeing them! This particular Short-eared Owl spent the afternoon in a cedar:

A handsome Red-bellied Woodpecker was seen in the glow of late afternoon lighting: 

Rough-legged Hawks continued to grace the winter skies in Durham, as seen during Sunday's annual Pickering Naturalists' Feeder Tour (and no, it's not just about the feeders, we are allowed to look up as well):

Trumpeter Swans did a flyover in north Pickering: 

This was one of many cats that a few of us wanted to scoop up and take home with us, despite their presence near the bird feeders that kept most birds away:

We were told by our hosts to check our cars before departing as the cats frequently hitch rides with visitors!

By far the most bizarre encounter this week occurred yesterday on a back road when I easily spotted something dark and furry foraging around in the snow:

I pulled over to park, walking back to where I'd first seen it, fully expecting whatever it was to be long gone, but in fact this muskrat continued to walk towards me! At times it was almost hopping, its long tail dragging in the snow:

Muskrats are mainly nocturnal but during cold winters can be active in the daytime, taking advantage of any available sun and warmer temperatures: 

Its larger hind feet are partly webbed and act as paddles while swimming, with smaller front feet (and very long claws!):

It continued to walk towards me, and in fact I had to back away for my lens to focus:

Muskrats have poor vision, hearing and smell, so it was oblivious to my presence: 


By now it's actually wandered under my car and I waited for it to come out from the other side but it didn't. Another car approached from the opposite direction, so I made sure it didn't wander out and get hit, but saw that it was quite close to one of my front tires (in fact I wondered if it liked the warmth from the car, even though it was turned off). 

The muskrat didn't budge and at one point it looked like it was going to crawl up into my wheel well, so in the end I clapped my hands and shouted like an idiot to get its attention. It finally clued in and moved out from under the car, safely off the road and back into the frozen marshy area. It wasn't spooked by me in the least, as it meandered away! 

Another view of its tail that's flattened on the sides, acting as a rudder while swimming:

This was my last view of the muskrat as it made its not-so-hasty retreat. It's no wonder they have so many predators, including minks, raccoons, owls, hawks, foxes, coyotes, and of course humans: 

The last time I had a similar close encounter was a few years ago when a Porcupine waddled right up to me after I was taking some sunrise shots...

...and in golden lighting, no less!

I can't wait to see what my next close wildlife encounter will be, no doubt it will be equally surprising!

Monday, January 19, 2015

There WILL be Owls

One never knows what to expect each winter when it comes to owls and hawks. Will it be another irruption year for Snowy Owls? Will Rough-legged Hawks be easily seen again hovering over open fields or will they be a rarity like past winters? What about Barred Owls? This is why I love and at times hate this hobby of birding as there's always an element of surprise or disappointment. The past several weeks have been spent out in the field and were incredibly exhilarating, hence why my blog has been neglected. I also participated in four Christmas Bird Counts, three of which were in new count circles for me as I continue to expand my provincial birding territory. 

As much as it killed me to be inside today, a review of my photos was long overdue (code word for my hard drive was running out of capacity). I shall therefore begin with a December 2014 recap of my odds and sods for the month, which kicked off with an impressive sighting of a Barred Owl when and where it was least expected SILLY ME!! 

This is a very special owl, and perhaps the same one that serenaded me all season at the cottage that I was never able to get a visual on. I somehow stumbled upon it during a cottage run on a dreary day less than a kilometre away from the cottage, and to this day don't know how I even spotted it as it was almost invisible against its surroundings. 

So very pleased to meet you at last!

Two more owls, this time Snowy Owls, were seen from a distance on the return trip home: 

Another Snowy Owl encounter was soon to follow:

Preening beauty:

My first trip for the season to Lake Ontario was with Rosemary and we immediately found the King Eider at Humber Bay:

A late Hermit Thrush was a nice find for my Winter List:

As we sat near the water's edge, a female Mallard settled in on a log next to us, she was quite a character! 


An inquisitive Trumpeter Swan approached:

Another Snowy Owl for the month was seen at the marina:

A preening Greater Scaup in Burlington almost tipped over on itself:

I participated in the Burk's Falls Christmas Bird Count for the first time, arriving the day before at Judy and Stephen's beautiful new home in Sundridge. It was a snowy drive up and I explored the back roads as the sun was trying to break through:  

I heard a calling Barred Owl along this snowy road!

Susan, Dan, and I set off for our count sector in Burk's Falls the next morning and our first good bird for the day was a Rough-legged Hawk that turned out to be only the eighth time for this species on this count. We were unable to count these Peacocks, but in the end it was a good thing we spent some time watching them...

...when suddenly Dan yelled out "GOSHAWK!". Immediately turning my camera away from the Peacocks to the in-flight hawk (no doubt with the worst possible settings), I managed a few shots before it disappeared from sight:

Dan and Stephen spent a lot of time that evening reviewing this and other despicable record shots shot and confirmed it was indeed a Northern Goshawk, in fact the first one seen since the 2007 Bird Count. 

It was an overcast count day for the most part, yet we were still blinded by a beautiful Snowy Owl that was in flight up to the top of a hydro pole:

One of our prettier stops along the way:

Later in the afternoon our daylight was dwindling but we spotted a Snowy Owl in a tree not too far from where the other Snowy Owl had been seen, and we weren't sure if it was the same bird: 


Upon closer analysis of the markings of both birds, there was no doubt it was a different and therefore our second Snowy Owl for the count. We later found out from Martin that this was a new bird species for the count, we were all very pleased!

We dipped on House Sparrows at a barn that lacked livestock, but making the best of a disappointing stop, the carving detail and weathering of the empty barn was quite striking:

As for our furry versus feathered friends, Whisper was quite the party animal. His retriever instinct was frequently demonstrated when slippers, mitts, towels, and other articles of clothing were quietly carried around by him in the main house, what a goof, just look at those devil horns! 

Whisper listened attentively to Stephen as we loaded up the cars the next day: 

After saying our farewells, Susan, Dan and I returned to where the male Snowy Owl had been found the day before. It was now a brilliant day of sunshine and brutally cold temperatures as this white beacon lit our way:

Never before had I seen an adult male such as this:

Ice crystals could be seen on his face:

Lift off:

It was time to leave Burk's Falls so off I went. On my way home a skirmish between a Common Raven and an adult Bald Eagle distracted me, this isn't the best shot but it provides a good size comparison of the two:

A juvenile Bald Eagle in flight:

An Eagle tree!

Another Rough-legged Hawk was seen a few days later while out back roading with Chris, this time it was a dark morph juvenile:

My raptor and owl momentum continued when a Red-tailed Hawk was seen in north Whitby: 

Another Rough-legged Hawk was seen en route to the Kawarthas:

This was my second Snowy Owl sighting for the day:

A record shot of a banded Red-tailed Hawk, it was impossible to decipher any data from the band:

My third Snowy Owl sighting for the overcast day...

...and seventy-five minutes later on the same pole, finally enjoying some sunshine:

My fourth Snowy Owl sighting for the day:

And a distant fifth for the day:

A winter's sunset:

It was time for my third Christmas Bird Count, this time back in the Kawarthas. I expected to see nothing on such a dark and drizzly day, but instead encountered a drenched Rough-legged Hawk that was too water-logged to even care about me:

An equally drenched Snowy Owl in the misty drizzle:

Trying to regurgitate a pellet:

A Snow Angel: 

Another Snowy Owl was eating its meal off in the distance:

And yet another one perched on a scary-looking hydro line:

Sadly on the day of the count and ahead of meeting up with my fellow counters Anne and John, I discovered a "lightly-killed" (just learned that expression yesterday from Kevin, with thanks!) Barred Owl on the road outside of Bobcaygeon while it was still dark out. I collected it up and after easily obtaining the necessary MNR documents online, it now awaits mounting at a taxidermist's. We saw no other Barred Owls in our sector except for this one...

There was no snow cover which made for a challenging bird count at any bird feeders we found. We saw a Coyote off in the distance along one of our roads: 

Anne deserved a special mention for spotting this Ruffed Grouse while driving, unbelievable!

Sunrise at Susan and Dan's the next morning after an overnight snow fall was beautiful:

Anne and I enjoyed great views of this Snowy Owl who spent the better part of the day here, as I checked again later in the day on my way home:

So almost ends my December recap as there's one last encounter for the year that will eventually be shared. 

But by now it's obvious Snowy Owls are dirt birds for the second winter in a row, not that I would ever consider such beautiful owls from the north to be "dirt". 

Rough-legged Hawk sightings are and continue to be frequent, as I write this. I've seen more of them in a month than in the past several winters combined. 

This winter has seen my most memorable and enjoyable moments with both Snowy Owls and Rough-legged Hawks, with lots more to come, stay tuned!