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:
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:
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!