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Wednesday, 2 December 2020

A Snowy Owl (Harfang des neiges) and Other Birds

29 November 2020

     Miriam and I were deciding where we would go for a walk on an uncharacteristically sunny November day, when a telephone call from Jim and Francine announced that they had located their first Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) of the season. They gave us precise directions to its location, and since Miriam finds this species enigmatic above all others, our die was cast. We got in the car and headed for Wellington County.
     The bird, a handsome female, was exactly where Jim and Francine had found it.


     The temperature hovered around seven degrees, and without a speck of snow to act as camouflage, the bird was not difficult to see.
     It was constantly surveying its surroundings, no doubt looking and listening for rodent prey. Owls are able to swivel their heads 270 degrees, and it would go from appearing to look right at us, to showing the back of its head.


     It preened a little, paying attention to all its feathers, including those down on its feet.


     Birds are known to be able to sleep with one eye open, as this owl seemed to do so from both the right and the left, while still being alert to any sign of danger.




     We watched the bird for about a half hour; finally Miriam reluctantly agreed that we should move on. 


     I don't think she can ever get enough of a good thing!
     This sighting was actually on the rural road where Miriam lived on a farm during her early childhood, not far from the Conestogo Dam to where we headed next.


     Before getting to the dam proper we pulled off on a wide shoulder to scan the reservoir.


     The dominant species on the water was Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) and the number was simply staggering.

Common Merganser ♂

Common Merganser ♀
     Males clearly outnumbered females, by a substantial margin, and we estimated that a thousand or more individuals was a conservative count. The following pictures will convey an impression of the density of mergansers present, and there were other species alongside them too.






     It was a grand spectacle that we enjoyed immensely.
    We saw only one Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), but it is more than likely that we missed a few others, intermingled in the ever-moving mass of mergansers.


     Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) were abundant.....


     ..... as were Canada Geese (Branta canadensis).


     And they seemed to enjoy the same stretch of shoreline together.


     A Mennonite buggy passed by us, bespattered and in need of a good clean. That chore will doubtless be added to someone's list of tasks once the sabbath is over.


     Downstream from the spillway there were groups of ducks and gulls.



     Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) was the commonest duck, although some mergansers sought their company, away from the mass of their congeners on the other side of the dam, and a small group of American Black Duck (Anas rubipres) remained aloof, too far out for a photograph.


     Ring-billed Gull was far and away the most common larid, but small groups of American Herring Gulls (Larus smithsonianus) made their presence known too.


     Sub-adult gulls of various ages and of different species seemed to favour each other's company.


     In years past I have seen both Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) and Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) at the Conestogo Dam, but try as I might today, I was unable to detect either of these species of any age. Perhaps it is a little early and as winter advances they may show up.
     Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) verge on predictable here and no sooner had Miriam and I expressed surprise that that we had not seen one, this individual came into view.


     The plumage gives every indication that this is a bird fledged this year.


     There is no shortage of prey at the Conestogo Dam and Reservoir, both fish and ducks being in great supply, with ample conifers for roosting, so this bird has the potential to grown strong and healthy as it perfects its hunting skills. 


     May it live long and prosper.

66 comments:

  1. What a beautiful, beautiful Snowy Owl!!!

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  2. I think I might take up a new career as a psychic, David - what other birds would you like me to suggest you will feature soon?

    Seriously though, I fully share Miriam's enthusiasm for Snowy Owls. I wish that they were an annual sighting that I could look forward to. Maybe one day I will be lucky enough to see my second ever in the wild.

    I am totally bog-mindled by all those Common Merganser. However, I was delighted to see a single female of the species less than 2 km from my home last Friday in a location that I recently re-discovered, having been put off about 20 years ago by a preponderance of dog-dirt.

    I am a little concerned about my ID skills when I realize that if I'd seen that Bald Eagle here, I'd have just put it down as a Common Buzzard, although the under-tail markings should have sounded warning bells.

    Best wishes to you and Miriam - - - Richard

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    1. Hi Richard: I think that had you seen the Bald Eagle, its wingspan would have alerted you to its identity, added to the fact that we were in an area where it is frequently seen. An adult with white head and tail is unmistakable.

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  3. Hi David,
    such a nice owl, to wait at the announced spot till Miriam and you had arrived.
    Also such a beautiful bird; long time ago I saw one; in a German zoo.

    Best regards, Corrie

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  4. You're lucky to see up close a Snowy Owl too!
    In January two female Snowy Owls were seen on Vlieland, a Dutch island in the North of the Netherlands. The snowy owls are thought to have arrived by ship from North America.
    Does the Mennonite buggy belong to an Amish family?
    Do not laugh! 😅 I don't know much about Canada!

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    1. Hi Ella: Amish and Mennonite are closely allied, both rejecting modern life and living without electricity, cars, tractors and other trappings of modern life. Just as Christianity in general has many sects - Baptist, Pentecostals, Methodists etc so do these extreme offshoots, Amish being far more extreme even than Old Order Mennonites. The Amish men are always bearded, Mennonites not.

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  5. My goodness ... you certainly fill your posts with interesting info. I can hardly keep up but I was enthralled from the sweet snowy owl on to the regal eagle to cap it all. You certainly live in an amazing area ! You reminded me of a blog entry that I wrote years ago about courting ducks and I will repost it if I can find it ... true story.

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  6. We can't get "enough of a thing" on any of your photographs! Thanks so much for sharing.

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  7. It's the first time I've seen an owl standing on the ground.
    The lake seen from above has an idyllic atmosphere.

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  8. Your Snowy Owl interested me the most. In 1976 when we had just bought our house on Lewis we were told that a Snowy Owl inhabited the trees on our land. Sure enough there were plenty of pellets. There were reported sightings but I can't recall that we ever actually saw it and then one day we were told that a keeper had shot it on one of the estates. That is the fate that befell almost every one that ever came to the Islands in the last 60 or so years. I don't think there has ever been a report of one since 1976.

    Oddly I came across some of my Mennonite photos recently: ones like yours and also the fields being ploughed with horse drawn ploughs.

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    1. It is a tragedy that these owl were shot, a tragically unenlightened response to a magnificent wild creature that would serve to keep the rodent population in check. It sometimes seems that gamekeepers are a law unto themselves.

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  9. I adore owls and see them rarely. Like Miriam I would have to be dragged away (no doubt protesting loudly) from this beauty.
    Mind you, the rest of your day was also packed with wonders.
    Many, many thanks to you both.

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  10. Lovely post David!Especially liked the snowy owl :)))))

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  11. I love all owls but I don't think I have ever seen one sitting on the ground.

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  12. How lovely to see the snowy owl. I only know snowy owls from the zoo and Harry Potter. And you saw a huge number of ducks at the dam. Lovely to see so many mergansers and gulls together, a wonderful sight. And you still have Canada geese? I thought they were all here in Germany! Glad you had such a successful trip. Have a great afternoon, take care, hugs to you and M!

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  13. The Snowy Owl is beautiful and I can quite see why Miriam was so entranced with it.

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  14. You have offered a wonderful collection, as usual, of scenes from nature. The Merganser group is quite impressive!

    But, of course, as you hinted earlier, I am totally envious of your Snowy Owl. She is simply gorgeous! Alas, a bird we will likely never see in our neighborhood. One was seen on the northeast part of the state a couple of years ago - quite rare.

    A cold front has plunged us into unfamiliar temperature ranges today (2 C/36 F). This actually seemed to stimulate bird activity early this morning so I'm not too upset at having to don long sleeves.

    We hope your week is filled with birds, joy and peace!

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  15. Hello David,

    The Snowy Owl is gorgeous. Wonderful collection of photos. I also love the Common Goldeneye and all the Mergansers. I thought we would see some Merganser here now, they must all be near you! Great post and sightings! Take care, have a happy day!

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  16. The owl looks quite graceful and serene.

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  17. I also share Miriam's enthusiasm for the snowy owl, in fact I think you would not have got me to move on any further until the owl decided that it was also time to move. How I would love to take a walk with you two. I would never have guessed that was a bald eagle !!
    Keep safe Diane

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  18. I love the snowy owl. Never seen one before except in photos.

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  19. Love the Snowy Owl as well as the Bald Eagle.

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  20. I completely understand Miriam's reluctance to move on. I think if I were to see a snowy owl, I'd sit there forever: or at least until the owl decided to move on. It was great fun to see the Mergansers, too. I've seen exactly one pair down here, although I'm sure more are around. Their hairdos crack me up.

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  21. Once you track down a snowy owl, it sure gives you a lot of photo ops.

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  22. I haven't seen many owls. This is a very handsome one as you say.
    You saw hundreds and hundreds of birds that day...

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  23. Hi David, beautiful photos. You are so lucky to see a snowy owl.

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  24. Buenos días apreciados amigos, entiendo que Miriam quede fascinada y sienta pasión por el Búho nival, es una auténtica maravilla. Majestuosa aparición solo con nombrarla del águila calva, estas impresionantes aves da gusto verles en cielo abierto con sus majestuosos vuelos. Un exquisito reportaje como bien nos tienes acostumbrados.
    Imagino, te habrás recuperado del todo de tu visión.
    Recibir un fuerte y caluroso abrazo de vuestro amigo y compadre Juan.

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  25. Amused at the buggy on the road :)
    Love that owl and can see it's pleasing to Miriam's eyes.
    Lots of birds on the water there..
    Take care.

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  26. Hi David,
    Beautiful photos of the Snowy Owl. Interesting to se the head turned around. My brother is a good hobby photographer and are out in the forest every day to take photos of local owls. One of them are Cat Owl/ Strix aluco. He is very interested in birds and nature. He have a instagram account, but not a blog.

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  27. Hi David.

    You show a lot of beautiful things, but that Snowy Owl has the wahhh factor.

    Greetings from Patricia.

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  28. What a fabulous bird day. I have never seen a snowy owl and I think I might still be standing there with Miriam! What a day -- my favorite Merganser ducks, the bald eagle and especially the owl. A very big wow!

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  29. Il y'a beaucoup d'oiseaux sur l'eau.
    Magnifique chouette blanche, très bel oiseau, une chance de pouvoir l'observer.
    Bonne soirée

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  30. Woooow
    A beautiful snow owl. I would also like to admire it because it is an extraordinary specimen. A very interesting Mennonite show, it looks like from a museum.
    Hugs and greetings.

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  31. Hi Both,
    I can certainly understand Miram's reluctance in leaving that beautiful Owl. but after that you managed some super waterfowl and then to finish with a young Bald Eagle, what a trip.
    You stay safe, hopefully not long o go,
    John

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  32. Hola David.

    No tienes ni idea de cuanto me gustaría poder observar al Bubo scandiacus (búho nival), un ave de una belleza y majestuosidad que impresionan en fotos, observarla en vivo no tiene precio.

    Muy buena salida, el paisaje cambia poco a poco con cada entrada que publicas.

    Un abrazo desde Galicia, España,

    Rafa.

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    1. It is a fabulous bird, Rafa, yet not especially difficult to find here during the winter.

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  33. Jakie cudowne zdjęcia z sową!Wyobrażam sobie te emocje, które towarzyszyły wam przy spotkaniu! Życzę kolejnych takich wspaniałych spotkań! Trzymajcie się zdrowo!

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  34. David - I love owls, and I so enjoyed all the photos of the Snowy. I probably would have asked you to just leave me there and come back to pick me up!!! I would not have expected a Mennonite buggy in your neck of the woods ... I guess I am uninformed in that regard!

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    1. There is a substantial Amish and Mennonite community in this area.

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  35. The Snowy owl is fantastic! I will post about it in the next few weeks too, but of course I saw it in a zoo in Lapland.

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  36. Hello David,
    What a bird that Snowy owl. I am glad for Miriam she saw the first one this season. Hope lots of more sightins will follow. The amount of waterfowl is unbelievable. Stunning.
    Regards,
    Roos

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  37. Hi David - the photos Miriam's taken are just stunning ... so brilliant to see - and the close-ups ... love them. The Snowy Owl is amazing isn't she ... just beautiful - and they are so well adapted - but lovely that we could see her without snow. Incredible how long they stay in situ - waiting to be admired by the look of it! Wonderful part of the world you live in ... just love seeing it. Take care and all the best - Hilary

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  38. Maravilloso ese búho nival, por aquí no tengo la suerte de verlo. Me encantó el reportaje. Espero que estéis bien de salud. Abrazos.

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  39. I have watched this owl introduced by a TV program. Happy weekend to you.

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  40. Great photos of the beautiful Snowy Miriam. Hope I have the great pleasure of seeing many of them this coming winter.

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  41. the Snowy owl is a bird I really would have loved to see, but never has. It is such a beauty.
    Loved to see your beach birds. :)

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    1. You just have to pay us a visit during the winter and we will show you one!

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  42. Hi David,
    Beautiful Post with lovely ducks and goose. But......the snowy owl takes my breath away ;-)Stunning to see one and great captures! Beautiful landscape as well.
    Stay save!
    Warm Greetings,
    Maria

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  43. What great views of the Snowy! Even the back of his head .... I used to chase every report of one spotted in central Minnesota! Good to see the number of ducks present. Maybe some of them will make their way down here for the winter.

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  44. Gosh that Snowy Owl is so beautiful, David! I am not surprised Miriam likes them so much - I would definitely travel to see this beauty with my own eyes as well. Another gorgeous trip!

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  45. Hello David,

    What a great variety of birds. I love the Snowy Owl. I think some of those Mergansers should be headed here by now. Great captures of the Bald Eagle. Fantastic photos. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Take care, have a great weekend. PS, thanks for leaving me a comment.

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  46. What a stunning Snowy Owl! I would be 'over the moon' to see one again! They sure stand out with the winter grasses. And it's fun to get out and see all that nature holds. We are planning a hike for this afternoon. I have a mystery bird in my post today that I'm sure you can help me with! Enjoy your weekend!

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  47. hello David
    You only see such birds here in the Zooo of the zoos, there are probably corners here in Germany where this species of owl can be found but also great to see that it doesn't bother you at all when you watch them, you can't get enough of seeing as beautiful as this one Birds are
    Greetings Frank

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  48. Gracias, David, por compartir tan excelente reportaje, con alguna imágenes que son de una ejecución insuperable.
    Me gusta mucho conocer la fauna y flora de todo el mundo, y más, en países como el tuyo donde la orografía y climatología es tan diferente a la de Andalucía, donde predominan los días soleados aunque a veces con temperaturas muy tórridas, que ya estamos acostumbrados a sobrellevar, y con unos inviernos con temperaturas relativamente suaves.
    Me ha gustado mucho la fotografía de ese precioso Búho que parece que está hecho de cerámica fina, así como me ha llamado también la atención ese carro cubierto, tan diferente a los nuestro, y que no había visto nunca.
    Un abrazo, y cuidaros mucho, que según veo en las noticias, por Canadá también está subiendo el número de contagiados.

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  49. Always enjoyable to see your photographs, but that Snowy Owl is very special and looks so beautiful.
    Have a good weekend.

    All the best Jan

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  50. Oh my gosh, this owl is so stunning! With the nickname "Hootin' Anni" you can understand my elation!!

    Thanks for joining us this weekend at IRBB!

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  51. Estoy de acuerdo con Miriam, este búho blanco es enigmático y muy bello ¡parece de mármol!. Me ha gustado mucho este paseo, ver los gansos, gaviotas y águilas.
    Muchos besos.

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  52. What a beauty is the snowy owl, it is a bird that with all certainty I would like to see, I remember the movie The Big Year that was the bird that everyone was missing. Very impressive the number of ducks and other aquatic in that lake.
    For several weeks I may not be able to read your blog, we will make a trip to the south perhaps until the end of the year, visiting many places to see birds, both in the pampas, steppe, forest and mountain range, in addition to seeing the total eclipse, next in Argentina will be in 2048 and there is a long way to go, so we will enjoy that natural show.
    Hasta el año próximo David!

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    1. Sounds exciting, Hernán. Have a wonderful time. I will look forward to your return.

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  53. I've never seen trumpeter swans-only sketches in children's books. What a stunning swan.

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