Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Snow and SNOW

The last few days have seen continuing cold temperatures and a sizable dump of snow. The snow fell largely during the South Peel Christmas Bird Count, seriously impacting the number of birds seen. Most birds were at feeders or huddling in dense bushes like this robin.

The local Mallard flock has swollen to nearly 100 birds in the past few days as ice covers parts of the river, including this male American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid.

My group walked for about 7 hours on the bird count. Normally I'd go for longer, but the heavy snow made driving undesirable. Still, we found some nice birds in the snow, including 2 Pileated Woodpecker, 1 Belted Kingfisher and Swamp, Song and White-throated Sparrows.

A few days later, I took much of the day to stop at a variety of locations along Lake Ontario in Mississauga and eastern Oakville.

The first birds I saw on my first stop of the day were a small flock of Common Goldeneye close to shore. It was immediately apparent that one of the birds was a bit different, with an almost entirely orange-yellow bill.

This bill colour is an indication of Barrow's Goldeneye, a rare bird here, but head and bill shape show that this is a Common Goldeneye with a yellow bill - a rare variant that I've seen a couple of times before.

My main goal for the day was Snowy Owls, and I stopped at a number of parks to scan piers, marinas and floating ice for owl-shaped lumps. My first success was of a very heavily marked Snowy Owl sitting on some piled up ice way out in Lake Ontario.

I could tell (barely) that it was a Snowy Owl, but needless to say I wasn't quite satisfied yet.

At my very next stop as I scanned the ice I noticed another Snowy Owl flying around out over the lake. I watched it for about two minutes as it moved eastward, circled a few times and was harassed by gulls before disappearing into the shimmer on the horizon.

My Snowy Owl adventures for the day weren't over yet though - I scanned a large pier in the early afternoon to see not one but two Snowy Owls sitting in plain view!

Again, looks were far from ideal but by this point I didn't care. Four Snowy Owls in a day is incredible, considering some winters go by without any being seen in Mississauga. Before this day I'd seen 5 Snowy Owls, and only 3 before this December!

For those who aren't familiar with it, SNOW is the bander's code (shorthand for quickly recording bird species) for Snowy Owl, hence the title.

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