Friday, February 6, 2009

A Parliament of Owls

Jean and I had a great start to the weekend this afternoon. We had received a tip from our friend Kayo that, not one, not two, but three owls were roosting in the back yard of a residence in west St. Catharines! Kayo had spoken with Jean Thursday evening but I was working until 7:00 PM. The owls would already be gone. They have been leaving the yard routinely at 6:00 PM. Today I finished work at the usual time of 4:30 PM. I had left a message with the home owner to contact me when it would be OK to view the owls. Jean picked me up and we proceeded to the rural road in west St. Catharines, we visited recently, to observe the Northern Harrier until we were contacted by the home owner. We never grow tired of observing the harrier's aerial show. Before observing the Northern Harrier, we observed 3 Horned Larks on the road. The 51st species for the year list.

North of the road, a bird perched on the post of a vineyard row, 200 metres away, caught our attention. We exited our car and immediately knew this bird was different. The face was pale and round. This was no hawk. We walked along the field next to the vineyard and stopped every so often to observe the bird and its markings. As we were studying the bird my cell phone rang. It was the home owner allowing us to visit his home to view the owls. Until November of last year, Jean and I were one of the few remaining souls that did not own a cell phone. One of the main purposes of purchasing a cell phone was to assist with our birding and today it rang true.

We continued to observe the unidentified bird, lamenting that we did not have our scope. The bird eventually left its post but remained flying in the area. We were able to write the bird's identifying field marks for review when we returned home to our field guides. As we were leaving the bird was spotted once again, perched on a "no trespassing" sign. Before we could get a closer look, an oncoming vehicle caused the bird to take flight.

On to the home with the roosting trio. We arrived shortly after 5:00 PM with plenty of light remaining to observe the owls. Dave and Jan Ryan allowed us into their home and once again a kitchen window was used to observe birds. A previous attempt to observe a lifer through a window was unsuccessful. This time however, we would observe 3 Great Horned Owls roosting in the pine trees of the residential yard.

Image courtesy of Kayo Roy

Initially we could only see 2 of the owls but as usual, Jean's excellent spotting skills picked out the third owl. Remind me to always take Jean with me when I go birding.

An article in today's St. Catharines Standard describes the home owner's discovery of the owls which led them to contact Kayo. As mentioned in the article, Kayo is coauthoring the book 'Niagara Birds' with John Black. Jean and I have been trying out the directions for the "hot spots" and day trips section of the book. Kayo and John selected Jean and I as we are relatively new to birding and are not familiar with all of the "hot spots" in the region. You could say we are the guinea pigs.

Satisfied with observing the Great Horned Owls we left, thankful to the Ryans for allowing us into their home.

Upon arriving home we checked our guide books and confirmed our suspicions. The bird perched in the vineyard was a Short-eared Owl!

I never thought I would use the word parliament without discussing prorogue or coalition but somehow I managed. This was an excellent start to the weekend. A lifer Short-eared Owl (#254), the addition of Great Horned Owl to the provincial list (#222) and Horned Lark to the year list which now stands at 52.

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