Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Snowy Winter

Yes, the snow is deep outside right now and as I write this more of it is coming down. I have to say that I cannnot remember a winter in recent memory when we accumulated as much snow as we have this year and January isn't even finished yet. The snow bank at the end of my driveway is seven feet tall. I know because I am throwing shovelfuls of snow over it two or three times a day lately. The snow is so deep in our yard we had the snowshoes on just to walk around the house!!!

Lianna on snowshoes in our yard in Bowmanville

Every season brings treats to us in Ontario and winter birds are one of the things we look forward to. Siskins, redpolls, crossbills and grosbeaks are a few of the visitors that we don't see except in the dead of winter when they will come south and visit feeders. From the tundra we get Rough Legged Hawks in varying numbers most winters and every few years we will get irruptions of owls. A couple of years ago Great Gray Owls were turning up over much of southern Ontario. Cranberry Marsh in Whitby had some and a few kilometers east in Ajax there were as many as six. Usually this kind of influx is the result of food shortages in the normal wintering grounds of the owls. That was the case with the Great Grays 2 years ago.

This year the owl that is everywhere is the Snowy Owl. Reports of Snowy owls on the Niagara frontier, Burlington bay, the Leslie street spit in Toronto and Holland Marsh to name a few have been common. Farther afield there has been a Snowy owl seen in Tenessee, the first in 22 years. These owls are rare south of Ohio but his year there have been reports in Kansas as well as Missouri. One also showed up in Virginia.

Most influxes of snowies are the result of population crashes of Lemmings, the owls main food source. Lemmings tend to have cyclical populations. Apparently this influx is not due to a crash, but the opposite. This summer the lemming population was very high and as a result the number of snowy owls successfully fledged was very high. Because Snowy owls have their own hunting territories, the large numbers have resulted in an influx into southern Ontario this winter. So if you would like to see one where do you go? Probably the best spot to see Snowy Owls this winter (or most winters) is Amherst island. Amherst island is in Lake Ontario just south of Millhaven, which is about 20 miles west of Kingston. You need to catch a ferry over to the island, so check the schedule. Also there are no gas stations on the island. Driving the roads and keeping your eyes open should get you a few sightings. The counts have varied from 5 to 15 owls seen this winter.
Another good spot is the area around the Holland marsh, where 4 were seen yesterday with a fifth known to be in the area.

You might get lucky and see one closer to home. There was one in the GM plant grounds in Oshawa earlier this winter. My mother in law spotted one between her home in Newtonville and Port Hope, along Highway 2, just after Christmas. So as you are out and about this winter, keep your eyes peeled for these majestic visitors from the arctic tundra.

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