Ontario Owls and More Part 2(March 25-27, 2005)
With a three-day weekend at Easter, Karen and I decided to follow Jim Valimont and his crew to Canada to see if we could repeat his success in finding some Canadian owls. We were afraid that we might be too late for the owls and too early for waterfowl but decided to try anyway. You go when you can and hope for the best. Jim graciously sent an early draft of their trip report to help in the planning.
We left on Thursday evening and drove almost to Buffalo, NY. On Good Friday, we got an early start and crossed the Peace Bridge and started our drive along the Niagara River. The first stop was to watch a big block of ice float down stream with a half-dozen Great Black-backed Gulls going for a ride. The river was active with hundreds of Red-breasted Mergansers in the upstream stretches being replaced with Common Mergansers as we neared the falls. We found none of the unusual gulls among the thousands around the falls and downstream. That takes a lot of time and patience.
Nearing Niagara-on-the-Lake we found hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks. They were quite active and noisy with their barking sound. At one of the marinas in town we got to study a male in full breeding plumage from about 20 yards. I think he must have been the one that posed for Sibley. That was a real treat.
We stopped at Fifty Point Conservation Area in Stoney Creek. The locals helped us find the two Northern Saw-whet Owls that have been there for several weeks. From the quantity of droppings, it was easy to tell they were using their favorite roosts.
We had decided to limit our trip and not do the eastern part to Amherst Island. We fought our way through the Toronto traffic and headed north to Huntsville. From a few miles north of the Toronto area it was still winter with snow-covered land and still-frozen lakes. At Huntsville we stayed at a Holiday Inn where we had stayed on a ski trip 27 years ago.
The next morning we drove highway 60 through Algonquin Provincial Park in both directions. The highlights were some Common Ravens soaring over the road, Gray Jays at a trailhead, and 7 Evening Grosbeaks at the feeder behind the visitor’s center. We missed finding any of the grouse, northern woodpeckers, or Boreal Chickadees – a good reason to go back.
We then backtracked to Orillia. We had reservations at the Siberi* Inn bed and breakfast so highly recommended by the Valimont group. We checked in by late afternoon and got directions for the 12-mile drive to Muley Point from host Mike Pidwerbecki. We had traveled just over 4 miles when I noticed a gray lump in a tree on the left side of the road. While I was executing a u-turn, Karen said, “There’s one on the right.” Great Gray Owl number one found. We watched it fly from perch-to-perch several times before going back to check out the gray lump. While trying to get the scope on it, Great Gray Owl number two flew in to the field about 30 yards away. The lump proved to be number 3. Then number one joined number 2 and we had three in view at once. We finished our planned drive to Muley Point and found 7 more. Our fear of being too late for the owls proved to be unfounded.
While finishing getting ready for breakfast the next morning, I heard a chattering. The trees filled with Redpolls. Mike estimated the number to be about 600 – I didn’t count. He has fed about 750 pounds of niger seed this year. His maximum attendance at breakfast has been about 1500. We had French toast instead of the niger. With the toast he served local maple syrup from the first batch of 2005 – Ontario equivalent to extra-virgin olive oil.
We stopped at the waterfront in Burlington and had great views of more Long-tailed Ducks and White-winged Scoters. Some local folks suggested we go to La Salle Park in Hamilton. Always pay attention to what the locals tell you. At La Salle were dozens of Mute Swans and Tundra Swans within feet of us. The water was covered with ducks. I really enjoyed watching a group of Common Golden-eyes. At one point, seven males surrounded a lone female. The males were all displaying with their heads thrown back over the tail. Each was trying to out-show the others. The female was not at all impressed and dove for food. Our fear about being too early for the waterfowl proved to also be unfounded also. The Burlington-Hamilton area has great access for close waterfowl views. Easter Sunday was a beautiful sunny day with the temperature about 55° F. The Canadians were all enjoying their first spring-like day of the year. The foot traffic on the lakeside trails was heavier than the highway traffic. It would have been nice to have more time – work still has priority, however.
by William Parker