Winter has visited with its usual unpredictability here in southern Ontario which makes for some interesting wildlife encounters.  

A couple of times the temperature has dipped to around -14c with strong winds making it more like -20c. Three times in a week I found this male northern harrier taking a break from the hunt, sheltering from the wind. One day he sat there for about 90 minutes before going after a small bird in the next field. My hands were frozen.

Another time I caught him tearing into his freshly caught prey. The landowner had previously given me permission to go onto his property so I used a couple of parked trucks on his lot as cover to get nearer to the harrier.  

The wind was so powerful I leaned on the back end of a truck using it as a shield. The harrier, of course, could see me but I kept back a fair distance so as not to scare him off his prey. I was using a 500mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter which got me in close. When he had finished his meal he decided it was time to leave the scene. Off he went to roost somewhere.

Whiteout conditions are not uncommon when I am out looking for snowy owls and although I have yet to encounter a snowy owl this winter I have enjoyed other species. As the wind whipped up the snow and blew it across open fields I spotted this family of trumpeter swans huddled together. 

On my travels I try to pay attention to my surroundings. Crows mob hawks, owls and falcons so when I hear their commotion I will scan the trees with my binoculars. 

A few days ago I noticed a dead raccoon by the side of a road with coyote footprints in the snow leading to it.  Since then I have returned to the site a few times to take a look.  

On Tuesday I spotted crows  on the ground near the carcass. A juvenile bald eagle popped its head up when it heard my car approaching. When I stopped the eagle took off and flew a circle overhead before landing in a tree. It was snowing lightly making my autofocus dodgy.

Clearly the eagle hadn’t finished its meal and was hoping I would leave.  I drove around the area to see what else I might encounter. A rough legged hawk has been hanging around these fields and I could see it hovering. 

A pair of adult bald eagles have been spending time scavenging too. I believe they are from the nest in Paris. One day I spotted this one on top of this spruce about a kilometre from the nest. 

Finally, sometimes we are fortunate to see wildlife up close and from the comforts of our own home.

This Cooper’s hawk is an occasional visitor to the trees directly behind my apartment. It will go after the smaller birds which have become dependent on bird feeders regularly replenished by residents. 

With the harsh and varied conditions, which might cause many folks to stay home, spare a thought for the wildlife that must still find food and shelter. They have learned to adapt and survive. Observing nature continues to amaze me.



  1. Linda Gray

    Very nice to read of your adventures with wildlife and nature. I’ must admit, I was looking to also see if you’ve seen any Snowies. It’s sad that you didn’t. I’m glad you found Eagles and a most gorgeous Male Harrier. Congratulations to you for your ongoing “lessons” in nature for us.

    Hope to see you out there .


    1. Paul E Gains

      Hey Linda, great to hear from you. Snowy owls have not turned up en masse this winter, so far. I hold out hope that I will get to see a few over coming weeks – in the fields I have been going to for ten years or more. On my last visit I spoke with a farmer whose son had seen one fly across their land. On their property there has ALWAYS been at least two or three each winter. But there are plenty of other species to enjoy when you are out there looking. I will keep my eyes open for the short-eared owl next time I visit snowy owl country. Good luck and get out with your camera!

    1. Paul E Gains

      Glad you like it. To be honest I rarely photograph swans. But on that day, with the wind whipping up the snow and the family huddled together like that, it was irresistible. Take care!

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