Saturday, 24 December 2011

An 'owl'right day of birding in Guelph

Between yesterday and today I spent about 12 hours doing some serious birding in Guelph. The weather for both days was supposed to be excellent and I happened to luck out and see some really awesome birds, including one that is at the bottom of the post and who's identity inspired that "clever" title for this post. But first, yesterday.

I started out by skipping Puslinch and Mountsberg and only hitting up the quarries in the southern part of the county. Several cool birds seen here so far this winter - Harlequin Duck, Bonaparte's Gull, Iceland Gull, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Long-tailed Duck. However there is also a high turnover of waterfowl, and needless to say the Common Loon that Mike Cadman had found here a few days previous was no longer present.

Undeterred, I pressed on and ended up at the Heritage Ponds (intersection of the Hanlon and the 401). Getting out of my car I was surprised to see a flock of Snow Buntings wheeling around - my first for the Guelph area this season. I picked out two darker birds in flight, and by approaching the flock, managed to obtain reasonable views of a Lapland Longspur. The other dark bird was most likely a "lappie" as well. There was a nice selection of waterfowl present including 15 Greater Scaup (rare in Wellington County in winter) and 6 Redhead (also rare in Wellington in the winter).

Driving north, I stopped at a little marsh to see if I could turn up a Swamp Sparrow that was found on the Christmas Bird Count by Val Wyatt and co. No luck with that, but a Common Raven croaked as it flew overhead. They seem to be getting more and more common in the county all the time!

I spent much of the afternoon thoroughly checking out Guelph Lake. Along the southeast side of the "island", viewed from the bottom of the hill along Wellington Road 124, were 1 Ring-necked Duck, a group of 3 richardsonii Cackling Geese with some Canadas, and a swan which was most likely a Trumpeter. The distance was far so it was hard to be 100% certain, but it was a young bird and was retaining a lot of brown coloration. 1st year Mute and Tundra should both be mostly/completely white by now.

The previous day, a Greater White-fronted Goose was reported to the WELLbirds listserv by Rohan Van Twest at Guelph lake. While walking out to the island off of Conservation Road in search of Rohan's Greater White-fronted Goose I came across a nice flock of birds which contained mostly robins but also a few Northern Flickers and other things.

By 4:00 in the afternoon I still had no white-fronted goose despite looking at every single bird in the area at least 5 times! Geese had just started to leave the lake so I parked myself up on top of the dam and watched the flocks lift off.

waterfowl taking off - Guelph Lake

While scanning, I noticed a flock of about 15 birds coming in, and one on the far right looked to have a white "front" as the flock flew head-on towards me. I suddenly released that my camera was still in the car so figuring that I had enough time, I sprinted back (actually) and grabbed the camera from my front seat. Much to my dismay I realized not only that I was still very much out of shape, but that the flock had flown quicker than I had anticipated and was over the dam, flying away. I fired off a few shots, not knowing if I captured the goose or not. Fortunately by cropping the photo I can see the goose in the lower part of the frame!

Greater White-fronted Goose - Guelph Lake

When I got back to my car I noticed a flash of gray and white and saw a shrike dive into some nearby bushes in hot pursuit of a junco. It emerged, unsuccessfully I should add, and perched on a nearby wire. Northern Shrikes are the badasses of the songbird world. They readily catch birds or rodents that weight almost as much as them and impale the unfortunate prey on hawthorns and even barbed wire.

Northern Shrike - Guelph Lake

Today I ventured back out to the Guelph area. I didn't see a whole lot throughout the late morning and early afternoon but it was nice to be out in the sun, especially since there was very little wind. Around noon I checked my email and saw that a Barred Owl was seen at Guelph Lake, so off I went!

Upon arriving the bird was nowhere to be found. I walked around a little bit and turned up a few kinglets and chickadees, had a House Finch fly over me calling, and finally found my first Hairy Woodpecker for Wellington county this winter.

Hairy Woodpecker - Guelph Lake

Eventually I ran into several of Guelph's finest birders - Mike Cadman, Brian Wyatt, and Larry Staniforth, and we decided that we should split up to find the sucker. After about 20 minutes, I turned around to greet some dog walkers who were walking past and looked up, right at the beautiful Barred Owl that I must have walked right past! The boys came by and we were all happy to have great views of this amazing bird. Wow! Almost as cool as the Great Gray Owl that showed up in Essex County recently. A great early Christmas present for us Guelphites.

Barred Owl - Guelph Lake

Barred Owl - Guelph Lake


  1. Josh, a great mix of birds. The owl photos and the shrike are stunning. -DM

  2. Thanks guys. I really enjoyed your recent owl pics too, Dwayne!

  3. I like the Barred Owl. I've actually seen more Great Grays than Barred! Usually I just hear Barred Owls, like I did this past September at Awenda.