Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 12,2013 Great Gray Owl, Barred Owl and other winter birds in Ottawa.

The birding was great around the Ottawa-Gatineau district today especially with the nice mild weather. It was a slow start but the bird activity picked up during the morning hours with a couple of Ruffed Grouse feeding just off the road side near Bourget. A quick run through the Ste. Rose-Casselman area produced a small group of Lapland Longspurs feeding where some grain had spilt in the farm yard. Great close-up views! Along Cons.19 there were a couple of Rough-legged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and a lone Northern Shrike hunting in a fallow field perched on a metal fence post.  Unfortunately no Snowy Owls and along Cons. 20 a few small groups of Snow Buntings flushed off the road. As we worked our way west towards Ottawa we encountered a large flock of 150+ Snow Buntings along Giroux Road. It was interesting to watch  some of them bathing in a shall pool of water along a creek which had opened due to the mild conditions. Further along the road a large covey of Gray Partridge were feeding in the field.  A quick check along the Rideau River revealed no Barrow's Goldeneye but there was an adult Cooper's Hawk sitting up in a tree along the river. It looked very wet as it had its wings out and tail spread as if it was drying off. While it sat there a Merlin flew by and buzzed it. There was also 1 adult Great Black-backed Gull resting on the ice. Over the years, winter gulls population has changed drastically in the Ottawa district. Back in the late 60's/early 70's gulls were almost non-existent during the winter months and would only occasionally appear during a "January thaw". By the mid 80's this had changed and we had our first overwintering gulls. Over the next 20 years gulls during the winter months weren't uncommon. Now in the last 5 years there has been a major decrease and for a while this winter, no gulls were found along the Ottawa River. This is partly due to the change in landfill and recycling practices. With little edible waste going into  landfills and garbage quickly bull dozed and covered with earth, there is virtually no food for the lingering gulls. There is also a falconer at the Trail Road Landfill discouraging the gull too. There are two landfill sites east of Ottawa, 1 at Russell and another just east of Casselman that have had gulls during the winter months. I'm not sure where these birds spend the night perhaps along the St. Lawrence River.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent searching the open water along the Ottawa River for any interesting water birds. Nothing note worthy but there were a couple more Great black-backed Gulls and an immature Herring Gull. A small flock of Bohemian Waxwings were observed near the Champlain Bridge and numerous small groups of Common Redpolls. Late afternoon we were rewarded with a Great Gray Owl  and Barred Owl feeding in the open. This has been the best winter for the Great Gray Owl since our largest invasion back in the winter of 2004-05. There were 200-300 hundred owls in eastern Ontario! So far this winter 20+ but most just passing through the area. I'd recommend driving around before dusk and watch for them as the hunt over open fields or along edges of wood lots. 

Good birding, Bruce

A Barred Owl hunts during the late afternoon. Through nocturnal this owl  does hunt during the day light hours. 

Great Gray Owls have amazing hearing and  will fly off a  hunting perch and plunge into the snow and retrieve a vole. 

Great Gray Owl 

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl 

Great Gray Owl hunting. 

Great Gray Owl 

An adult Cooper's Hawk  appears to be drying out with tail spread and wings drooped to its sides. 

The Lapand Longspur is a regular but local winter visitor  and prefers open fields  where manure has been spread or around farms building where seeds/grain has spelt. Always closely check flocks of Snow Buntings for longspurs. 

This winter hawks have been scarce, likely due to a lack of rodents. This dark morph Rough-legged Hawk  was patrolling the open farm land east of Ottawa. 

The Northern Shrike is also known as the "butcherbird". This winter shrike impales its prey on thorns . 

A flock of Snow Bunting take advantage of the mild conditions and do some bathing in the open water. 

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