Snow Birding

Barred OwlLast weekend it was too cold to go birding.  This weekend it was too snowy.  Although the temperature was better for birding (only -9°C compared to -19°C), it snowed all day on Saturday and all morning on Sunday. I can’t say that I am impressed with the weather so far this year; good birding days  – at least during the weekends – have been few and far between. 

In defiance of the snow, however, I decided to go out to Jack Pine Trail on Saturday morning.  I haven’t been out for a walk in the woods in a while, and this time when I arrived the feeder was humming with activity.  Several chickadees, a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches, a White-breasted Nuthatch, a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers and a single Downy Woodpecker were all visiting the feeders.  At least one Dark-eyed Junco was flitting about in the shrubs behind the feeders, and I even saw two Blue Jays and a brilliant male Northern Cardinal patiently waiting in the trees nearby.  While I usually see one or two jays hanging around the feeders, the cardinals don’t stop by very often.  In fact, the cardinals are more frequently seen – and heard – during the warmer months of year.

I wanted to take a picture of a small, male Downy Woodpecker on the suet feeder but couldn’t get my camera out before he flew off to a nearby tree.  The female Hairy Woodpecker quickly took the now-vacant spot and so I happily photographed her instead.  Although common in any area with large, mature trees, I think woodpeckers are neat.  They liven up the winter woods with their rapid tapping and loud, sharp calls. Woodpeckers like to pretend that we human observers are of no interest to them whatsoever….they studiously ignore us while they’re busy working the tree trunks for food, and often allow us to walk up to within a couple feet of them.  Put out some seeds in an area without feeders on a cold winter’s day, however, and they will often come to investigate, especially once they see the chickadees and nuthatches feeding.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Although I didn’t see any Pileated Woodpeckers during my walk, I found evidence of their work.  These large crow-sized woodpeckers excavate rectangular holes in trees to find ants.  Hairy Woodpeckers sometimes follow Pileated Woodpeckers and investigate the deep holes once the Pileated has moved on, searching for insects the Pileated has missed.

Woodpecker Excavation

Pileated Woodpecker Excavation

I saw a few more nuthatches, a few more woodpeckers, and lots of friendly chickadees on the trail.  I also saw one Brown Creeper and one American Tree Sparrow as well.  There was no sign of the goshawk, and squirrels were the only mammals that appeared to be around.  Despite the newly-fallen snow, there were few animal tracks around, and none of them were fresh.  Still, the sun did in fact manage to shine weakly through the clouds, casting the snow-laden woods in a beautiful light.  This is my favourite picture from my outing:

Jack Pine Trail

Jack Pine Trail in the Snow

It snowed the next morning too, but as the weatherman promised it would clear up and the sun would come out later in the morning, I decided to head out anyway.  A Barred Owl was spending the winter in the woods behind the Nortel campus, and although I went looking for him once without success, I decided to try again after hearing that he’d been seen only two days ago. 

The woods were quiet when I arrived.  I didn’t hear a single chickadee calling in the silence of the falling snow and didn’t see a single crow.  I began to worry that without the crows I wouldn’t have a chance of finding the owl.  Still, I trudged on, and felt relieved when I finally found about half a dozen chickadees playing tag in the treetops.  I watched them for a while, then continued on my way.  It was strange to see and hear so little wildlife, although at one point when I stopped to look around I was startled to find a small red squirrel sitting on a branch right in front of me.

At last I gave up and decided to head back to the car.  I stopped to watch the chickadees again, then resumed my walk.  It was then that I saw a large, pale bird fly out of the woods, across my path, and land in a not-too-distant tree.  I left the trail (snowshoes would have been a good idea) in order to get a better look.  Sure enough, it was the Barred Owl!  I walked close enough to get a couple of decent pictures, but he decided he didn’t like the look of me and flew to another tree.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

He was much closer to the chickadees, who were by this time making their alarm calls but showed no signs of vacating the premises.  I followed the owl to an area just within camera range and took a few more photos.  After this photo session he flew off again, this time back the way he had come.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

I was thrilled to see this large, graceful owl in the snowy, peaceful woods, and was quite glad he was able to hunt (at least that day) without a pack of crows following and mobbing him wherever he turned. 

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