Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Northern Hawk Owl

Local birders were recently abuzz over the discovery of a Northern Hawk Owl that's been haunting an intersection of county roads just west of Buckhorn, only ten minutes from our back door. News of the bird's rare local appearance reached us when we were some 1200 km away, in northern Ontario, within the actual breeding range of the Hawk Owl.

We figured the owl would be long gone by the time we returned to Stony Lake and this led us to make an extra effort to find this bird in the north, where we were organizing a Christmas Bird Count. As we drove over frozen logging roads and the Trans-Canada Highway, we searched the spruce-tops and hydro wires for the distinctive silhouette of the Hawk Owl. Nothing (but thousands of Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls and Common Ravens).

On Christmas eve, we neared home in torrential rain and paused at Flynn's Corners where the bird had last been reported on December 20. We scanned the adjacent fields to no avail. Disappointed but hardly surprised, we set off for home. We rounded the corner on to CR 36 and there was the bird, sitting motionless on a hydro cable. The light was failing and the bird was soaked but there was no mistaking its identity. It turned to face us and we could clearly see its yellow bill and eyes and the dark margins of the facial discs. Beautiful.

We returned again on December 30 and saw the bird in better light. These pictures were taken at a roadside, out our car window.

The photo session was cut short by a pair of Common Ravens that harassed the owl until it flew into a woodlot at the back of the field where it had been hunting.

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