Thursday, 5 January 2017

Snowy Owls (Harfangs des neiges) in Wellington County

     We now have lots of snow and our landscape is being transformed from the drab colours of November to the sparkling crispness of an Ontario winter.

     Winter brings its challenges but its rewards are many, not the least of which is the arrival of iconic winter species into our area. Where else can you leave home for a couple of hours birding and be almost certain of finding Snowy Owls Bubo scandiacus, Rough-legged Buzzards Buteo lagopus, Snow Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis and Horned Larks Eremophila alpestris? Maybe even a Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus or two thrown in for good measure?
     Red-tailed Hawks Buteo jamaicensis are very common; this individual was advantageously perched to scan the snow for telltale signs of its rodent prey.

     I couldn't help but notice the profusion of Tamarack cones throughout the area. This is the favoured food of crossbills, but so far this winter there have been no reports of either species locally.

      The star of the show is unquestionably the magnificent Snowy Owl.
Miriam and I were able to find three but there are more around and there are other likely locations to check. On Tuesday our regular birding jaunt will feature a dedicated search for Snowy Owls and Snow Buntings...and whatever else we can find of course.
     Our first sighting was of a very distant male and female together. Miriam's picture is reproduced here merely to show the proximity of the two birds, which led us to wonder whether they were a mated couple that had retained the pair bond after the breeding season, uncommon though this may be. The male is on the fence post, smaller than the female (sexual dimorphism is pronounced in Snowy Owls).

      Some yahoo couldn't be content with observing the owls and trekked across a farmer's field to try to get closer for a photograph, flushing the birds. The female landed in a field some 500 metres or so away, and we took our pictures without disturbing her again. They are not the best, but they provide a record of what we saw that day.

     For anyone reading this blog, please adopt a good code of conduct when observing these owls and don't disturb them unnecessarily. They are concerned with daily survival and any disruption affects their ability to forage, sleep and conserve energy. We all like to get a good picture, but as my good friend Jan Windhouwer once reminded me, the best picture is the one stored in your memory.
     The third Snowy Owl we observed was a male resting on the ground. This image shows clearly how difficult it can be to spot a white bird, at some distance, in a white landscape. To make things even more problematic this individual is a male in pristine white plumage. Look at the centre of the picture about a third of the way up from the bottom and you will see the bird.

     But Snowy Owls at times can be very easy to photograph and I am showing some of the pictures from our archives to show you how close we have been to these birds from time to time. 

     I have no idea how many Snowy Owls I have seen but it is well into the hundreds, but there has never, and I mean never, been an occasion when the sight of one of these birds fails to fill me with awe, and the cold bite of a winter's wind suddenly doesn't seem so bad anymore.


  1. Great pictures, fantastic Snowy Owls!

  2. It's sort of gratifying to know that your toggers can be as bad as our own although I wouldn't mind betting that my count would be higher than your own. I must admit I am now jealous of the species you are about to see, and would happily swap you 10,000 pinkies for that last Snowy Owl.

    Will all that snow around you will surely need and be well able to afford the latest top specification 4 wheel drive Chevvy. I suggest you prise up a few of those floorboards and spend some of your cash before the Canadian Government spend it for you.

  3. Oh oh oh !!!! superb David !!!! Very very beautiful bird.
    Too bad that some Americans attract them with mouse and mulot ! It's very stupid just for take a pictures !

  4. Preciosas fotos David, que envidia me da poder ver a ese magnífico búho blanco en libertad, me imagino que fue una experiencia para recordar. Un fuerte abrazo desde España. FELIZ 2017!!!

  5. They're a real bonus to your winter birding, and great to see. I've only seen one in the wild, on the edge of Vancouver, but would love to see more!

  6. You're so lucky to have seen hundreds (!). As iconic a bird as the Stellers Sea Eagle is here in Hokkaido. Fantastic, I would dearly love to see one.......

  7. Always in any weather there is a beautiful bird.
    Owls fascinate me, and these in the snow even more.

  8. Hello David, I would love to at least to see one of these birds and you saw hundreds! Some great captures you made of them.
    Love it,

  9. Piękne zdjęcia :) Śnieg jest u mnie też. Pozdrawiam

  10. Hi. Great photos. Winter is a fantastic time.

  11. Great post David,love seeing Snowy Owl shots,and these are superb images.

  12. It's great to see that the Snowy Owls are back with you, and you have some wonderfully snowy landscapes. I love the images.

    I guess that two of the birds that I'd most like to photograph in the wild are Snowy Owl and Great Gray Owl. However, given the conditions and locations that they are most likely to be seen in, the longer I leave it, the less the chances are. Oh well - - -

    Love to you and Miriam - - - Richard

    1. Get on a plane to here tomorrow, Richard, and come with us on our walk on Tuesday, and I will show you Snowy Owls.

    2. It's tempting, but I'm booked on Tai Chi on Tuesday morning - maybe next week!

    3. Gets even more interesting. I just got a tip for a Barrred Owl too!

  13. Hi Both, again some super images, wonderful to see the Snowy Owls and the numbers you have seen, wow. I see you also have the must get closer idiots that don't think of the birds or others that would also like to see them. All the best, Regards John

  14. Yes !!!! This is really great David.
    I love owls and beautiful white snowy owl is fantastic. In the Netherlands, we can see the snowy alone in a zoo and Neit like you in the great outdoors. I enjoy these beautiful images of the snowy owl
    Thank you

  15. Fantastic to see these photographs of these wonderful owls.

    All the best Jan

  16. They look real cute. The owl I have seen (in person) is the barn owl.

  17. Great pictures of the snow owl. And a lot of snow there.....I hope there will be a little more winter in the Netherlands..