January 04, 2009

Canadian Owl Blitz

White-winged Crossbill
Hello folks. Hope you all had a great holiday season. Sarah and I drove up to Canada for a couple days to look for owls. Here is my trip report.

January 1 – This morning Sarah and I drove up to Amherst Island, Ontario. I wanted to jump start my year list with some good owls since I only had a couple of them in 2008. The weather was clear, calm and sunny but bitterly cold. The first good bird of the day was a NORTHERN SHRIKE just outside of Fulton on Route 3. There was also a surprise RED-SHOULDED HAWK near Millhaven, ON. We arrived on the island at about 2:00 PM and immediately had our first ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS (all light phase today). Shortly after that Sarah picked out our first SNOWY OWL flying over some fields, which was followed by two more on the eastern end of the island. Beautiful birds; most of them fairly heavily marked. Sarah also found a couple of Gadwall and a flock of Snow Buntings before we arrived at The Owl Woods. On our way in we had another SHRIKE and our first American Tree Sparrows near the feeders. Then we found a group of people with cameras and scopes all clustered around a small evergreen. Sure enough, it was a stunning BOREAL OWL perched within arms length and seemingly oblivious to all the attention. This was a lifer for Sarah and a far superior look for me (I'd seen one previous bird on Amherst several years ago, mostly obscured by branches). Just before we entered the pine plantation we had another fly over SNOWY OWL and a small flock of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS. We found roughly 10 LONG-EARED OWLS tucked away in the pines. It was difficult sometimes to find them before they would flush. No Saw-whets unfortunately but we were extremely fortunate to find a second BOREAL OWL which also allowed some fantastic photos! The cold was intense and it was beginning to get dark so we decided to call it a day. On our way back to the ferry we saw several SHORT-EARED OWLS and at least five more SNOWYS! One was perched in a tree near the road and as we approached it flew right down in front of us; one of the best looks I've ever had. All in all it was a wonderful day of birding. We're headed to Ottawa tomorrow to look for Great Gray and Hawk-Owls. My year list is at 31.
January 2 – Today we continued our owl blitz and headed north to Ottawa. Along the way we tried for a Great Gray that had been seen near Smiths Falls and a Hawk-Owl that had been reported near Perth but neither bird was out this morning. We did find a nice flock of roughly 60 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS on Route 7 with a small flock of PINE GROSBEAKS and a larger flock of Pine Siskins in the same area. When we arrived at the Hawk-Owl spot in Ottawa (Grandview & Hastings) it was blowing snow and we couldn't find the bird anywhere along the road so we decided to have some lunch and wait out the weather a bit. The snow let up after a few minutes and we saw a guy with a spotting scope emerge out of the brush. He was very friendly and showed us the NORTHERN HAWK-OWL perched in a tree a little ways back from the road. It was a very cooperative bird and gave great looks until the snow started in again. It was only early afternoon so we decided to keep heading north and cross into Quebec to look for the final ultimate goal bird of the trip... a Great Gray seen near Luskville. We arrived in the area at about 3:00 PM and decided to walk the road and scan the distant tree line. It was snowing moderately and in the fading light visibility wasn't very good. But after only a few minutes Sarah found the GREAT GRAY OWL sitting low in a tree much closer than where I was looking. What an amazing bird! We had decent scope views although we weren't able to get any pictures. It was our sixth species of owl; a fantastic final bird of the trip. There was also another small flock of PINE GROSBEAKS across the road. My year list off to a healthy start with 38 including 7 birds I missed in 2008.

Boreal Owl

Snowy Owl
Long-eared Owl
Northern Hawk-Owl