Sunday, March 17, 2013

Winter Owls around the Ottawa area, February and March 2013

 This winter will definitely be remembered as one Ottawa's best winters for northern owls in years. For the first winter in many years Amherst Island wasn't the owl capital of eastern Ontario but instead it was Ottawa. With Boreal, Northern Hawk, and Great Gray Owls around birders and photographers flocked to the Ottawa area to view these highly prized owls. We were even lucky to have a few Snowy Owls in the area too. Birders/photographers came from many of the north eastern states and even from as far away as Texas. Starting in mid February all four species could be found in one day or in a few hours of searching. It was hard to estimate the total numbers but at least 40-50 Great Gray Owls were reported, mainly from the greater Ottawa area and Algonquin Park. Others were scattered around  north of Kingston and east of Presqu'ile. The Northern Hawk-Owl was only found a handful of times with one setting up a winter territory in south-east Kanata. This individual was first observed before Christmas hunting along Robertson Road just east of Eagleson Road and finally settled in near the Old Quarry Trail. A few were found west of Ottawa along Hwy. 7 too. It was probably the best winter for Boreal Owls in Ottawa since I started birding in the late 60's. At least 5 were found  and 1 was present for over a month at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. This individual was a lifer for many. Others were observed at Constance Bay, Kanata, Stittsville, and in a couple of wood lots in the city of Ottawa.
On February 13th I recorded all 4 northern owls in one day in the Ottawa 50 km radius, my first time ever and also one of the few times I've recorded the 3 boreal forest owls in one day too. Unfortunately the down side of all the excitement was the issue of baiting owls. This began with the Great Gray owls along the Rockcliffe Parkway at Green's Creek and continued with the Northern Hawk-Owl at Old Quarry Trail. Even the Boreal Owl at FWG was taunted with a mouse. The big question for many was..Is this practice ethical?   

The first south bound Boreal Owl was reported during November and  by mid January it was apparent that a small movement was underway. 

Not all were found hidden in spruce or cedar trees. This individual was roosting in a deciduous tree all day. 

For the first time in Ottawa a Boreal Owl took up residents in a local park and was present for over a month. Most Boreal Owl sightings in Ottawa are one day wonders.


On a few occasions the Boreal Owl was observed with a rodent in its talons for a later meal.

A Northern Hawk-Owl takes flight. 

The Northern Hawk-Owl is a rare but regular winter visitor to eastern Ontario. The first ones were reported in November and others were found during mid January to early March scattered around eastern Ontario.  

This Northern Hawk-Owl  spent much of its day roosting in a tamarack stand  where it had cached many of the domestic mice it was baited with during the day.

The Northern Hawk-Owl devours a domestic mouse that it had cached in a old platform nest. 

After a meal it sometimes would sit and preen for a while before flying back out to its favourite perch.

While studying the Northern Hawk-Owl as it was feeding I noticed that it suddenly raised its head and stared up into the sky. It was apparent it was watching something over the tamarack forest. I looked up and there was an adult Bald Eagle soaring over the area.

Adult Bald Eagle soars over the area as the Northern Hawk-Owl watches. I've observed this behaviour before with Great Gray Owls. During the winter of 1983/84 I watched a Great Gray staring up into the clear sky. I looked and couldn't see anything, so with my binoculars I scanned the sky. Amazingly the owl had caught sight of a small silver balloon. Incredible eye sight!  

A Great Gray Owl rests during the afternoon in a pine tree after a morning of being baited. Our last invasion and likely the largest was back in the winter of 2004/05. That was the first winter I witnessed  baiting which coincided with the boom in digital photography.

Great Gray Owl

A Great Gray Owl  sits up in a spruce tree and catches the early morning sun shine.

The Snowy Owl is a regular  winter visitor  to eastern Ontario. Their numbers vary winter to winter and this year were very scarce.

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