Monday, 15 February 2016

Amherst Island Trip Report: Snowy Owl Bonanza!

To celebrate family day weekend, Caitlyn and I made the trek home to Kingston!  Besides spending a great time with my side of the family, we also made it out to Amherst Island on Sunday afternoon to do some owl watching.  Saturday was a bit too cold, but Sunday warmed up to -18 Celsius, and with the bright sun and low wind it was almost balmy!  It was Valentines Day, and I tried to play off the trip as a boat cruise to a romantic island getaway, but Caitlyn wasn't buying it.

Nonetheless, we caught the 130pm ferry over to the island along with two of my friends, Heather and Patrick, and reached 'owl woods' quickly.  Highlights on the way to the woods were numerous Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks and a couple Northern Harriers as well as the Northern Shrike shown in the pictures below.  This is one of my favourite birds.  They are called butcher birds for a reason, as one of our truly predatory songbirds, they often capture and kill prey such as mice, voles and small birds, after which they will often look for a small thorn to impale the prey on while they feed.

Northern Shrike

Below is a shot of a light phase Rough-legged Hawk dining on some small rodent.  It was right beside the road and gave great views and photo opportunities!

Rough-legged Hawk

We also saw this beautiful adult Bald Eagle fly by over head.

Bald Eagle

We scoured owl woods for an hour and a half and had a brief glimpse of one Long-eared Owl as it flew away.  Unfortunately, none of the other small owls made an appearance.  If they were there, they were likely very well hidden!

Not to be deterred, we made our way back to the cars to see if we could see a Snowy Owl or possibly even a Short-eared Owl.  On the walk out, we spotted our first Snowy!  This was followed quickly by another...and another and many more!

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (male)
This one had caught a rodent of some sort off the side of the road and gave great views!  I believe this bird to be a female or young bird due to the dark barring on the back and wings.

I like the shot below, it really shows how well camouflaged these birds can be.  Can you spot the owl in flight?

Snowy Owl -in flight
The sun was just setting, giving the trees and snow a pinkish hue.  This owl was huge! Likely a female, as lady owls are typically bigger than the boys.
Snowy Owl
As we were watching this Snowy Owl, we spotted our first Short-eared Owl flying around at the back of the field!  These smaller owls are fascinating to watch, as they actively hunt the fields.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl 

We decided to make one more pass around the east end of the island on the way back to the 6pm ferry, and saw many more Snowy Owls, bringing out total for the day to 15 individuals!  This is the most that I have ever seen in one day and there were almost certainly as many more that went unobserved.

Heather and Patrick looking at another Short-eared Owl that I drove right past!
Sunset on Amherst Island 
Snowy Owl -ghostly in the fading light
 I like this last shot of this Snowy Owl perched at the top of the tree as the sun goes down on Amherst.

Overall, a very fun day out, and I can hardly wait until my next day on the owl island.

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