Winter Owl Tour 2017

12:44 PM

I've been leading tours to see owls in Ontario for 5 years now. Owls are one of the bird families that continue to fascinate many people because of their life history, folklore and well...they're cool. They can turn their head 270⁰, they are utterly silent in flight, they can find prey buried under snow catching it feet first and of course those eyes! 

While owls can be observed in Ontario year round, perhaps one of the best times for owl viewing in Ontario occurs between December and February.  This is due to the combination of our regular wintering owls and the addition of species such as Snowy Owls that spend the winter in Southern Ontario. 

This year our Winter Owl Tour ran February 3-5, 2017 and featured visits to Minesing Swamp and the Kingston Area. The tour booked up and quickly sold out. 

Day 1: February 3, 2017
We spent the day birding the Minesing Wetlands as well as some spots in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). It was not long before our group spotted the first owl of the trip, a lovely Snowy Owl in a field. This was followed up by 10 more Snowy Owls and a Rough-legged Hawk. It was a great start to our tour! After a yummy lunch, afternoon birding yielded a Northern Saw-whet Owl and some great up close looks of some familiar feeder birds (chickadees, cardinals, juncos, doves etc.).

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Snowy Owl
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Dark-eyed Junco

Day 2: February 4, 2017
The second two days of the tour were reserved for birding in the Kingston Area. The numbers of Snowy Owls in this area were not as high this year as in previous years (possibly to do with the rodent population?); but we still managed great views of 2 Snowy Owls (one a beautiful male). In addition to the owls we saw some interesting waterfowl and raptors. While driving one of the roads we spotted a male Northern Harrier gliding over a field, an American Kestrel "hawking", a Red-tailed Hawk and a immature Bald Eagle being pursued by an American Crow. The highlight of this day for me were the Snow Buntings. On our travels we spotted 4 flocks of Snow Buntings and with some patience we had great opportunities for views and photos of a flock of 30 birds. They are such a welcome sight while winter birding and the "twittering" sound they make is lovely to hear. The birds frequently took off into flight when spooked by on coming traffic, but were loyal to a patch of gravel in a driveway and kept returning. 
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Snowy Owl
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Snow Buntings

American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)
American Tree Sparrow

Day 3: February 5, 2017
Today we had an early start in search of a Great Gray Owl. The owl was hunting a vole when we arrived, it swallowed the vole while we watched and perched on a power line to continue the process again. While not the greatest set up for photos, the owl offered us great views. While some of our group watched the Great Gray, others in the group spotted a second Great Gray Owl only a short distance away! Our group was collectively watching two Great Gray Owls at once! This was quite an amazing site. After about 45 minutes both owls retreated into the forest and we left to bird some other locations. Our next location offered us some views of a Barred Owl, our fourth owl species of the tour and a welcome sight! Due to inclement weather we decided to change our plans a little bit drove back to the GTA earlier. We birded a couple local parks and were delighted with some close views of feeders birds including Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jays, American Tree Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves, White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-breasted Nuthatches and a Red-winged Blackbird. We also located a second Barred Owl which offered our group great views and photos.
Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)
Great Gray Owl


Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)
Great Gray Owl


Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)
Great Gray Owl
Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Barred Owl
All in all it was a great trip with great company. Lots of great birds were spotted and in the end we finished with 38 species (list below). While not an extensive list, our focus of the tour were the owls and with four species spotted, it was owl watching at it's best :)


To learn more about our upcoming tours and workshops on birding please visit our website: naturatours.ca

Happy Birding!

~Kristen  

Just a note that during our birding tours we respect the personal space of wildlife and property owners and follow the Ontario Field Ornithologists Code of Ethics

Winter Owl Tour Bird List 
  1. Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
  2. Gadwall (Anas strepera)
  3. American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)
  4. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
  5. Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)
  6. Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
  7. Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
  8. Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
  9. Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
  10. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
  11. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  12. Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) pale-morph
  13. Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
  14. Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia)
  15. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
  16. Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
  17. Barred Owl (Strix varia)
  18. Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)
  19. Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
  20. Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
  21. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
  22. Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
  23. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
  24. Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
  25. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
  26. Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
  27. White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
  28. American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
  29. European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
  30. Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
  31. American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)
  32. Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
  33. White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)- Tan-striped morph
  34. Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
  35. Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  36. Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
  37. American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
  38. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

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