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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Adrian Binns

February 11-13, 2005
Ontario Owl Trip

Day 1 : Border to Kingston; Kingston Hot Ponds; Amherst Island – Lake Ontario, KFN Property, Owl Woods

It was one of those picture perfect days that for those having been up here in winter before could cherish. It is not always this pleasant - it was 60 degrees colder 2 weeks ago! No sooner had we crossed the border there were 2 Bald Eagles, an adult and an immature, actively hunting right besides the bridge. We managed to see the young one come down, talons outstretched, and graze the surface of the water in an attempt to get a fish. Another raptor, a Sharp-shinned Hawk made its way (flap-flap-glide, flap-flap-glide) across an open area as we entered Kingston and Frank picked out a quasi-raptor, the Northern Shrike as we approached the ferry at Millhaven. Luckily for him, Cele re-found the bird on the other side of the road. We pulled over and had great views of it, but by the time we pulled out our scopes a train came by and blew its horn (the driver must have seen Frank) scaring the bird away! The Hot Ponds were covered with 500 plus Mallards, handfuls of Black Duck, 5 Coots, a lone Canada Goose and a female Common Merganser.

We caught the 11:30 ferry across to Amherst, where the water on Lake Ontario was completely open with the exception of a few ice floats. I had never seen it like this and what a huge difference from several weeks ago. Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye, some displaying, were seen, but surely more were much further out. We came across a few small flocks of Snow Buntings as we drove around the eastern end of Amherst before venturing into Owl Woods. Of course Black-capped Chickadee’s were the first to greet us, and readily came of out seed filled hands. A White-breasted Nuthatch and Downy were at the feeders along with American Tree Sparrows. It was not long before we located the Boreal Owl, well concealed and sleeping 15 feet up a cedar tree. At one point he awoke to yawn, scratch his face and then just as quickly tucked his head back over his shoulders and went back to sleep. For most of the group this was a lifer – the first of the big three northern owls. It has been a very quite winter on Amherst and Owl Woods was no exception. Next up was the Great Gray that had been reported on and off the last week. We first made our way all around the perimeter of the woods in the hopes of finding it ‘on the outside’, but nothing was sighted. We then bumped into a couple that had it earlier in the dense Jack Pines at the eastern end of the woods. Trying to relocate it was another thing, but after checking a good portion of the woods, there she was about 8 feet up and 30 feet in from the edge of the woods. How something this size could maneuver in pines so dense puzzles the mind. From a distance, we had relatively unobstructed view of this regal boreal inhabitant. Lifer number two of the big three, again for most of the group. It’s hard to leave such a majestic owl, but we had to look for a Snowy and Short-eared before heading off the island. And look we did, everywhere, numerous times…..and not one owl!

Day 2: Division Road, east of Peterborough; Orillia – Big Cedar Estate, Fairgrounds Road, Muley Point Road and vicinity

Today was set aside to look for Great Gray’s and it was not long before Harry shouted “owl”. Perched on a low evergreen in someone’s front yard was an actively hunting Great Gray. He moved about between 3 perches before a snow plow flushed him out of view. One down! On this overcast morning I expected to find a number of hunting, and sure enough not too far away, we came across a second one. At one point he flew very low across the road, his huge broad wings very evident and we all commented that it was not surprising to learn that a number of them had been hit by vehicles. And on and on it went, one after the other, and by lunchtime we had reached a dozen (more than all of us put together had ever seen), some close that we stopped for and others in the distance seen silhouetted in deciduous trees.
During our lunch hour (or so), we visited a kind lady whose hospitality we will forever be grateful for, allowing us into her home just in time to see a beautiful male Varied Thrush that had taken up residence in a spruce tree next to her feeders since early January. He came down to feed on seed placed at the base of the tree. A Brown-headed Cowbird, two dozen Common Redpolls and 2 Bohemian Waxwings were also seen here. Not too far away an immature Harris Sparrow was in someone’s yard, and after half an hour of looking for it under a row of spruce trees, Cele said “There it is”, and sure enough there he was, at the feeder on the back deck along with Dark-eyed Junco’s. The remainder of the afternoon was spent looking at Great Gray’s, Northern Shrike’s and a Rough-legged Hawk in the Muley Point vicinity. On this particularly nice weekend afternoon there were a great many people out ‘owling’ the easy way. After watching a few on the snow in a field pouncing on voles we went in search of a quieter location. Soon we found one sitting out in the open on the edge of the road 12 feet above the ground, and yet somehow he blended in perfectly, his mottled gray and brown camouflaged feathering a perfect match for the bark of the deciduous trees. Always alert for this slightest noise or movement as he looked for a rodent, his head would turn almost completely around so all we were faced with was the back of this head, and then back around again to show his small yellow eyes in comparison to the large head. We enjoyed a magical few moments with this most distinguished of owls before vehicles spotted us and came to investigate. By days end we had witnessed 18 Great Grays!

Day 3: Bracebridge; Oxtongue lake Raod; Algonquin Provincail Park – 8km, Arowhon Road, Mew lake, Spruce Bog Trail, Visitors Center; Whitney; Rte 127 to 62

One of the big three was left to see, the Hawk Owl. Searching an area in Bracebridge Nancy picked it up sitting on a telegraph pole in the distance. We were soon setting up our scopes and viewing it and before we knew it, it flew right towards us, in a straight line reminiscent of a raptor not an owl, and perched only a short distance away on top of a deciduous tree. By now the sun was rising and the first rays of lights were striking its heaving barred belly and it was in full view right in front of us – what a sight. It long wedge shaped tail wavering as it held its balance and its menacing face glaring at us. We were soon joined by Tom’s group and he produced a mouse for the owl. No sooner had it been placed on the snow bank the Hawk Owl dropped off its perched and on one swoop picked the mouse off with one foot and alighted besides the van in a small tree – even closer! Tearing off morsels it feed as quickly as it could, before bolting the final piece, cleaning itself and returning to its favorite perch. What an encounter!

Algonquin was as beautiful as ever on this bright crisp 20 degree day. Actually it was some 50 degrees warmer than 2 weeks ago and a great deal of snow had melted. The White-winged Crossbills were few and far between with only a few being seen, a female giving the best looks. A pair of Boreal Chickadees showed well, but soon disappeared leaving two dozen Black-caps in their wake. Ravens, with the huge wedged tailed circled above the road and Gray Jays came right in looking for hand outs, feeding off of snacks and peanuts out of our hands. Several Pine Grosbeaks were seen picking up grit from the road and included a young male with strong russet coloration. At the entrance way to the Spruce Bog Trail, Harry spotted a mammal, which turned out to be an American Marten, which everyone saw very well as it worked its way back into the woods. Our friend Jimmy Dowdell was up from the South Jersey coast with his son and he pointed us in the right direction towards a Spruce Grouse that they had seen earlier in the day. We found grouse footprints, just besides the trail and followed these into the woods. When they came to an end, Frank looked around and sure enough there was a fine male perched 10 feet up a small spruce tree right against the trunk. How lucky we were…...not to have Rick Mellon on this trip!

Heading home we encountered 3 Barred Owls, one at a feeder, one in someone’s yard, and another besides the road. Since this has been the first year that I have had Barred on the trip, I wonder if these came down with the Great Gray’s, especially as they seem to be fairly obvious out in the open country.

 


BIRDS

Canada Goose - 1 at Kingston Hot Ponds
Mallard - Common at Kingston Hot Ponds
Gadwall - 2 just before Kingston on 401
American Black Duck - Common at Kingston Hot Ponds
Bufflehead - 2 at Amherst on Lake Ontario
Common Goldeneye - About 30 at Amherst on Lake Ontario
Common Merganser - 1 at Kingston Hot Ponds; 5 at Amherst on Lake Ontario
Bald Eagle - 2 just after crossing the border
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1 just as we entered Kingston
Red-tailed Hawk - Several in the Kingston area; Amherst; Rte 62
Rough-legged Hawk - 1 dark morph on Amherst; 1 near Muley Point Road
American Kestrel - 3 near Orillia; 1 on 62
Ruffed Grouse - 1 on Division Road
Spruce Grouse - 1 male on the Spruce Bog Trail
Wild Turkey - 27 near Peterborough
American Coot - 5 at Kingston Hot Ponds
Herring Gull - Several flying near the Kingston Hot Ponds and the Amherst Ferry
Rock Pigeon - Up to 40 seen daily
Mourning Dove - Up to 15+ seen daily
Northern Hawk Owl - 1 in Bracebridge
Barred Owl - 1 in Whitney; 1 on 127 and 1 on 62
Great Gray Owl - 1 in Owl Woods on Amherst; 7 east of Peterborough; 10 near Orillia
Boreal Owl - 1 in Owl Woods on Amherst Island
Downy Woodpecker - Up to 2 a day
Hairy Woodpecker - 4 at Algonquin
Northern Shrike - 1 just before the Amherst Ferry; 2 on Muley Point Road
Gray Jay - 16 in Algonquin
Blue Jay - Up to 40 seen daily
American Crow - Common seen daily
Common Raven - 10 in Algonquin
Black-capped Chickadee - 40+ daily
Boreal Chickadee - 2 on Arowhon Road in Algonquin
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 5 in Algonquin
White-breasted Nuthatch - Up to 2 seen daily
American Robin -2 on Amherst
Varied Thrush - 1 male in Orillia
European Starling - Common
Bohemian Waxwing - 2 in Orillia
American Tree Sparrow - 6 in Owl Woods
Harris’s Sparrow -1 immature in Orillia
White-throated Sparrow -1 heard in Owl Woods
Dark-eyed Junco -6 on Fairgrounds Road in Orillia
Snow Bunting -Several groups. Up to 35 seen on two days
Northern Cardinal - 2 in Orillia
Pine Grosbeak - 5 in Algonquin
White-winged Crossbill - About 5 in Algonquin
Common Redpoll - 24 in Orillia
Brown-headed Cowbird - 1 male in Orillia
House Sparrow - Seen daily in small numbers

MAMMALS
Red Squirrel - 2 in Owl Woods; 4 in Algonquin
Gray Squirrel - 1 in Kingston; 1 black squirrel as well
White-tailed Deer - 40+ on Amherst Island; 7 on 62
American Marten - 1 at the Spruce Bog Trail in Algonquin