Snowy owls are few this winter here in southern Ontario.

Indeed, sightings are so rare that birders and photographers ‘flock’ to known viewing sites en masse. Some have driven several hours to visit the two regularly seen in the fields that I have been frequenting for eleven years now.

Meanwhile, out in Saskatchewan the numbers are apparently good. 

In discussing the low numbers in the east with some of the leading snowy owl researchers the subjects of avian flu, climate change and of course the lemming numbers in the snowy owl’s arctic breeding grounds come to the fore. Lemmings are the prime source of food for snowy owls in the arctic. 

Scott Weidensaul of Project Snowstorm (www.projectsnowstorm.org) which relies on public donations to conduct snowy owl research and does such great educational work,  told me:  “I keep reminding people, it’s not the first time we’ve had a bust winter for snowies.” 

Sunday I went back to the area principally to look for the short-eared owls, which in the relative absence of snowy owls, are enjoying southern Ontario fields. Of course, I couldn’t resist looking for the snowy owls.

Remarkably for a weekend, there was only a pair of photographers in one car near where a young male snowy was roosting. I drove around for another hour and a half eventually returning to the snowy owl. The photographers were still there.  We chatted for a few minutes. 

As it was nearing the time when, if past history is to be trusted, the owl would fly to an elevated hunting position – a tree, a fence post or a hydro pole – I went into the muddy field walking probably 500 metres to avoid approaching the owl directly.

This owl is the same one I have sat with only a couple of times this winter. Being Sunday evening, and this being a largely Mennonite community, horse drawn buggies came up the dirt road frequently. These owls seem fascinated by the clip-clop of the horses. They are also aware of sounds made by people on the road. And if the sleeve of a down jacket makes a sound they will hone in on that too.

As the sun descended and the temperature dropped I could seen no evidence that this owl was in any hurry to move.  There is no competition from other owls this year. He preened his feathers and removed mud from his talons. I prepared myself for a long wait.

Just about the time my camera was at its limits (I was pushing ISO 6400 for the photographers reading this!) the owl started checking out activity in nearby fields. Something caught his attention behind him – I would later realize it was the pair of short eared owls hunting.

He looked overhead too and I wondered if he was watching prey or perhaps another snowy owl. Then he honed in on something behind me. 

At this point I had almost given up on seeing him fly and only remained because I didn’t fancy walking 500 metres through mud to avoid disturbing him. But then he finally took off.

I watched him disappear and walked the shortest distance back to the road. The other photographers had watched the event and waved to me that it was now on a hydro pole. We exchanged pleasantries, I turned my car around, and I drove back to where I hoped I might see the short-eared owls. 

I was just in time to see the shorties flying along a road side ditch. Too dark for pictures but it confirmed, in my mind at least, that the snowy owl had been watching them.

In past years this area has been a stop off place for some snowy owls migrating back to the arctic in late March – early April,  from further south. So I hold out hope that we may see some more eventually. 

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Here’s another short reminder that registration for  ‘Coyotes: The Misunderstood Predator’ is underway. The event is scheduled for Wednesday April 17th (6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.) at Idea Exchange (The Old Post Office) 12 Water St. S, Cambridge, Ontario.

Using dozens of my images I will make a case for coyotes being a largely misunderstood species. 

Here is the link to the registration page. Please copy and paste into your browser:

https://ideaexchange.libnet.info/event/10054061

I hope to see you there!

 

 

4 Comments

    1. Paul E Gains

      Sometimes it works out and other times……..not so much. Today I spent another hour and twenty minutes with this same owl. He was still in the same place when I gave up. The light was gone. This little fella was watching something, possibly the short eared owls, in neighbouring fields. With no other snowy owls around he can afford to take his time. Still, it’s marvellous to watch him.

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