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!

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