I had to go up to Stoney Lake on Friday, December 5th to see some friends, and with all of the recent Barred Owl sightings in that area, I figured I should keep my eye out for some while in the neighbourhood. Just as I was about to turn off of Northey`s Bay Road just west of Petroglyphs PP, I spotted one on the telephone line. I decided to check it out and maybe take some photos, but not until after a visit with my friends. About an hour later, I left, and as I approached the end of their driveway, there was the owl. It had moved about 50mtrs closer, and now sat just across the road, low in a pine. Very large, (as Barred Owls go), and quite brown so I assumed it to be an immature. This fact proved to be true, after close examination of photos taken at about ten mtrs. Interestingly, it turned out to be the very same bird that Jeff Keller had photographed and reported on the 1st of the month. It looked to me, very much like the bird in Jeff’s photos, and once I compared his photos to mine, it indeed was the same bird. In addition to a few very distinctive marking on a couple of feathers, it also had the same little chips missing from the tips of the same tail feathers, shown in both his photos, and mine. I e-mailed Jeff later, and he said that he had seen it in the exact spot that I described to him.
On to another friend’s place, and then I left there at dusk, (since I would expect to see more owls in the fading light of day as I made my way home). I wasn’t disappointed, as along County Road #44, and just north of County Road #47, another Barred Owl flew out and alongside the road a short distance. It landed, and although I took some photos out the car window, it was already just too dark out, so none of the pictures turned out. And then, for the hat trick, as I pulled up to my own driveway near Belmont Lake, a Great Horned Owl was perched atop the hydro pole near my driveway. Just after mid-night that same night, I was outside bringing in more firewood for the night, and heard the local pair of Great Horned Owls (GHOW) dueting. First I have heard of them this year. Sign of spring? In my books, dueting GHOWs is always the first sign of spring. (Although, I am well aware that first, winter must come, before thoughts of true spring would seem logical). The GHOW was there, on the same hydro pole at dusk, two nights later as well.
On Monday, a friend on Stoney Lake, (the one where the Screech Owl has been dozing away the daylight hours in my box), heard a small but noisy group of Blue Jays all around the owl box. By the time he got over to the window to look, the jays had already started to disperse. I told him that the owl had likely been poking his face out the entrance hole again, causing the jays to go over and bother him. Once pestered though, the owls will often retreat back inside the box. The jays usually just go back to what ever it was that they were doing, once the owl has disappeared.
Today, (December 10th) I was back up to Northey’s Bay Road again, visiting another friend. He asked me; “Whats with all the Barred Owls around these days?” I pressed him a little for details, and he mentioned four that he had seen in the past week or so. One, near Petroglyphs entrance, (perhaps the same bird discovered by Jeff Keller, and later seen by me). Jeff and I had both seen it at the same place four days apart, about 1km west of the park. Another, my friend mentioned, was along Northey’s Bay Road but much further west than the first. And, he saw two other widely spaced birds along County Road #6 (aka Stoney Lake Road), one of which was near #40 at the turn to Crowe’s Landing.
So, I left Stoney again tonight, (early dusk), in hopes that I may see some more owls. With active weather on the doorstep, I knew I stood a greater chance of seeing them, if there were many about. Also, with the increasing wind, most owls would likely be perched quite low. Well, about 1.5kms along County Road #44 right atop a fence post, there was the first Barred Owl of the night! I figured it may be best to keep my eyes on the fences, and maybe not so much in the trees. Within two minutes down the same road, and right near the entrance to the former Belmont Granite quarry, (now a Drain Brothers property), there was another Barred Owl sitting on top of another fence post! Well, on down the road I went from there and decided to zip across County Road #47, and head south down #46 on my way home. About 1km north of Round Lake Road, there was yet another Barred Owl, and again, on a fence post.
I thought of how much it all reminded me of looking for Great Grays when they are around – driving around at dusk, and looking for fence posts that look just a bit taller and wider on top, than the rest in the row. The first two owls tonight were quite “brownish”, (perhaps youngsters), but the third, it was just too dark to make out colours accurately. As I rounded the bend near my home, there on the same hydro pole as two other evenings in the past week, sat our old Great Horned Owl. I parked in the driveway and watched her a while. After a few minutes, she parachuted downward in a spiralling vertical drop, but seemed to come up with nothing, about ten seconds later. A short time later, she dropped again, only this time, pausing on the ground for perhaps half a minute. Then, she flew over into our neighbour’s field and out of my sight. I think she may have secured a meal the second time.
I would suggest that if a “Barred Owl irruption” is an acceptable term, then we may well be seeing one right now.
Never before, can I remember having seen so many in daylight in such a short period of time, nor heard of so many being seen by others, either.
Could it be a warm-up for a Great Gray winter? I would definitely not rule it out. Stay tuned, and get out there and count owls!!
Tim Dyson, Cordova Mines