19 December 2017
We decided that what we would all most like for Christmas was a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) so we set off to scour the areas where these denizens of the north frequently spend the winter, especially in years when there is insufficient food on their tundra habitat.
Mary was not with us, having just returned from a visit to Florida with her daughter, but the other seven of our usual group of eight set off. Franc as always had his camera at the ready. Sometimes I think it is welded to his hand!
It was not long before we found our first bird (in total we had seven sightings of at least five birds) - a beautiful female.
Ironically, we have had a mild spell of late and most of the snow has melted, but the brown substrate gives a little better chance of seeing a bird.
You can see from the images above how the birds seek out remaining patches of snow to roost during the day.
Under any conditions they are magnificent; in flight ghostly and surreal.
A male is noticeably smaller than a female, and almost pure white. This is the Snowy Owl that most people conjure up in their minds.
When there is a lot of snow on the ground a male can be very difficult to spot. In flight they are sublime.
Snowy Owls are not the only visitors from the north. We saw as large a flock of Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) as we have ever seen, certainly in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 birds, although it is very difficult to get a good indication of a swirling flock of these avian gems.
Here is a little closer detail.
Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) - known as Northern Shrike here in North America (why we are different from the rest of the world I don't know) - is an uncommon visitor to our parts during the winter, but is not easy to find. Sometimes I go a whole winter without a single sighting, so we were ecstatic to have this close view - and it was a lifer for Franc, Carol, Jim and Francine.
Just before leaving "Snowy Owl" territory, we spotted another large female on a discarded piece of farm equipment, probably a different bird from the one we had seen earlier - but who can be sure?
Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are notoriously hard to photograph, for often in the past it was a gun that a human wielded, not a camera, and Franc is to be congratulated for these fine images.
What a great afternoon of birding! I am sure we will do it again.