Our first location was Mckinnon Road which passes through some really nice marsh habitat. Several notable rarities have been found along here (spring through fall), including a Glossy Ibis that Dave found this spring and two Ruffs in May, 2008.
We found a few Red-bellied Woodpeckers at the north end of McKinnon Road, a new Simcoe County bird for Dave. It was pretty quiet overall and so we backtracked to the south end of the road. Just as we were nearing the end, I noticed a light morph Rough-legged Hawk flying due east and we caught up with it just as it passed over my car. Great looks! I stepped out of the car to attempt a photo and noticed an immature Bald Eagle following suit. Luckily it too passed directly over us, enabling Dave and I to photograph the bird (new for both of us for Simcoe County).
|Bald Eagle - Minesing Swamp, Simcoe Co.|
Happy with our success, we continued on to an area consisting of wide expanses of agricultural fields northwest of the Minesing Swamp. Several Snowy Owls had been reported there recently. However, an hour of slowly driving through the barren, windswept landscape only yielded a Common Raven and no owls or raptors. I turned onto one more road, further west than where the owls had been reported, hoping to stumble upon one. It turned out that this was a good decision as a beautiful immature Snowy Owl alighted on a telephone pole in front of us!
|Snowy Owl - Stayner, Simcoe Co.|
It casually kept an eye on us, while also swiveling its head around from time to time to presumably detect an unsuspecting rodent. After a few minutes it took off and flew directly at us, passing over my head by less than a meter! Pretty amazing experience to say the least. Luckily this was a sparsely traveled concession road so it wasn't an issue, but if a vehicle was traveling along this road the owl could have met an unfortunate demise. Many of these Snowy Owls are young birds, where the closest thing they have seen to a vehicle is perhaps a Muskox. These owls are put in a vulnerable situation when they arrive much further south of their normal range. This past summer, Snowy Owls had a productive breeding season, likely due to the high numbers of lemmings in the arctic. Snowy Owls can have up to 10 young so in a good year there are often more owls than productive hunting areas in the north. Mainly the young birds travel south looking for new hunting territories, so most of the ones we see in southern Ontario are already very hungry and roadsides can be productive areas for hunting.
Recently, up to 300 (!!!) Snowy Owls have been seen in a small section of the Avalon peninsula in Newfoundland, likely originating from northern Quebec. See Bruce MacTavish and Alvan Buckley's blogs for more details and photos...