Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Harris's Sparrow, Duck Murder and Snowy Owls

It feels good to be outside, especially because it is that time of year when you can sense that winter is winding down!  The temperatures are warming, the birds are starting to sing and the snow banks are receding like my hairline.  Today I was in Hamilton to do some work and managed to squeeze in a little birding before (and after) the site visit.

My pre-work stop involved twitching the nearby Harris's Sparrow.  This bird has stayed in this location for weeks now, and I haven't gotten around to seeing it.  I generally prefer to combine twitching birds with other nearby activities (unless they are super rare!).  This sparrow breeds in the high arctic of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and typically winters in Tornado Alley from Texas north to Nebraska.  This species is a regular vagrant to Ontario, showing up every year.  At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to find it since it wasn't around for a bit when I arrived, and some lady had waited for 1.5hrs prior with no luck, but then it promptly showed up and I snapped a few pictures.  This species is our largest sparrow and this individual appears to be a 1st winter bird.

Harris's Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow
 After I finished up at my field site in Hamilton, I checked a couple of spots along the Lake Ontario shoreline.  I stopped at a small park near Brandon's condo and saw some more duck murder taking place (check out Brandon's story on the Bald Eagles hunting ducks).  I watched as a Great Black-backed Gull mangled and slowly drowned an adult Surf Scoter, which is a type of diving duck.  The battle continued for several minutes until the duck seemingly escaped by diving under water, but the gull followed him from above and every time he tried to come up for air the gull dove on him until he was exhausted.  When he came up for air, the gull finished him off quickly.  A gruesome reality of winter life for ducks on the Great Lakes.

A little further up the shoreline I had some great views of a Snowy Owl to cap off the day.  This one was perched along the shoreline on the mounds of ice that have piled up.  I like the starkness of these photos, they could just as well be taken in the arctic.

Sleepy Owl

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