T.O. Backyard – Winter birds. Spring birds. And Owls… cuz we all love Owls.

Hello, welcome back to our neck of the woods in the west end of Toronto, Ontario…  our backyard!

It’s been confusing for everyone including the birds on just what season it really is out there.  February gave us some record breaking warm temperatures which really brought out the song in our birds…  and brought us some very early migrants to the area.  Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds were being sighted in the 3rd week.

First of year Common Grackle for us.

Then when the weather turned more like winter, we started to have a Northern Mockingbird visiting our backyard once again. The last few years we’ve gotten one every winter. I thought that wasn’t going to happen this time but he finally showed up. The Holly bush is what seems to attract this bird but for whatever reason, this time around, the Mockingbird is also hitting up our peanut feeder (something I’ve never witnessed before).

Other than that, it’s just been nothing out of the ordinary. Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, both White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, couple American Goldfinches and we’re down to one lone Downy Woodpecker. No shortage of House Sparrows most days either. Hawk activity was very low until recently.

I found an Owl pellet on our shed roof late February. A sign that the Screech Owl that was in the box in December is still around.

Last week we had 3 species of Hawk hitting the backyard for a meal. Red-tailed Hawk caught a Pigeon one day, a Squirrel another day. Sharp-shinned Hawk caught a Starling one morning. Then we had a Cooper’s Hawk hang around for 3 days and catch two Pigeons that I had witnessed.

Red-tailed Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

The Cooper’s Hawk made for quite a story, which I blogged about on my own blog. It wasn’t just raptor catches prey, the end.

The Hawk activity has put some of our backyard friends in hiding. They are missed but better to be elsewhere and safe, than here and threatened.

Meet “The Jerseys”. They started coming around last September. They do get a lot of love on social media compared to some of our other unique individuals.

The Spring like days have awoken some of our night creatures. In a few days I had chanced upon all 3 of our usual suspects… Raccoon, Opossum and Skunk. Two mornings in a row there was a pair of Skunks still out scrounging around at first light! We look forward to the warmer evenings, sitting out back, and watching them all pass through.

The Spring like weather brought out many bird songs we’ve been waiting for. It also has made for some amorous moments like this.

Red-tailed Hawks courting.

We love everything that comes through here, furry or feathered.

Now for a little of what has been seen away from the backyard.

Winter brings Owls to the area. They certainly are a highlight for most people.

Last year I totaled 57 Snowy Owl encounters. It started in late October and kept up until early April. I didn’t go out of my way to see this Owl species, they were just around many nights on my way home from work. This time around, I was seeing two Owls over about 5 weeks, and they disappeared mid-February when those Spring like days started occurring.

A couple Northern Saw-whet Owls spent some time with us.

Not always easy to spot.

Sometimes a little more out in the open but still easily missed by most people.

Elusive Long-eared Owls.

How many can you see in this photo?

There’s one! Did you spot the other 2?

Unfortunately there were 2 incidents this past winter where this species was reported to the public by individuals. Both times masses of people came to see the birds. The first time, in a park I frequent all year, any season, with or without Owls. I had spotted the Owls just days before all hell broke loose. I was saddened once I learned their location was shared to the world by someone. In less than 2 weeks it went from 6 Long-eared Owls to chance of seeing just 1 bird.

No begrudging those who went to see this species but to those who went day after day, who spent hours on these birds, robbing these nocturnal creatures of their day time rest. This park was THE place to be for a couple weeks but once the Owls were gone, so were the people. Occasionally I still ran into the odd person searching the same area and coming up empty. One man told me he was there every day for at least a week. He took over 9,000 photographs of these Owls that did nothing unless flushed. Ugh! His reasoning was he felt so lucky and wanted to keep returning to see if he could get even luckier with better angles and lighting. He could not answer me when I asked him what he was going to do with all those photos.

Then weeks later another report of Long-eared Owls popped up at a lake park. Once again here came the people by the dozens. Funny enough many of the same people who rushed the first area. This colony started out with up to 13 Owls but quickly diminished to nothing in days. The stories that came from this one were an ethical birder/photographer’s nightmare. Individuals threw snow balls in the direction of the roosting Owls to wake them up. Individuals shouted at them. Individuals broke branches as well in attempts to get the attention of these Owls. At least one, but possibly two incidents where an Owl was picked off by a larger Hawk. This is not unusual; but I do wonder if the steady harassment, constant flushing of the birds, had something to do with it? So with the rumors floating of these disturbances, then people sharing photos of their finds of dead Owls at the park, it really was too much. The ones found dead most likely starved to death. Not all of it can be blamed on human interference but we all know that did not help.

For as many people that were rumored to be on these Owls, there were just as many who took the high road and decided to stay away and not be a part of this. Not everyone sucks out there.

It is what it is, Owls are the s**t every winter. Unfortunately a lot of negative stories come with reported birds.

Some of us do like the adventure of looking for these birds on our own, away from the hot spots. Some of us do luck out but it’s more effort on our part. When we do find them, it’s a feeling beyond description. And to have a few peaceful minutes alone with them. Insert expletives plus AMAZING.

Long-eared Owls that escaped being publicly posted.

Another chance of spotting more than 1 Owl roosting together. Good luck in seeing the others here!

The last great find to date was a Barred Owl in mid-February. Every winter there’s an area east of us that gets one, and a lot of people go to see it. We’ve not been out that way in 4 years now. Honestly, the Owl seems to care less about the people coming to the park to see it. But it’s the crowds that some of us don’t like, behaved or not, just not everyone’s thing.

Light searching all winter, meaning not going out of the way looking, but always got it in the back of our heads whenever out. Then finally, one mid-February morning that was really slow otherwise, there was this bird…

What bird? Bit of camouflage showing with this cropped photo.

I was not too far from our home but also in the middle of no where. My jaw dropped when I walked right past this bird, maybe 15 ft to my right. I think his presence startled me more than mine to him. He looked at me for maybe 20 seconds and then went back to looking at the ground. The morning sun was melting the icy landscape, and all the crackling sounds had his attention. I lightly but quickly backed up and then had an *expletive insert* amazing time viewing this beauty for a brief spell before heading back to the truck. I am always thankful for these moments, just an Owl and me, and I do give silent thanks afterwards. I wish my wife or a couple good friends were with me but they are happy for me when they hear about it after; just as I’d be happy for them.

A friend reminds me on occasion that for every known Owl location, there are far many more that go on unnoticed or escape the overall general public, facing far less disturbance. We have to take comfort in that. He is right.

My favourite photo from this season. A peaceful moment with a Long-eared Owl. At least I thought it was peaceful. Contrary to what some people think, Owls and most wild life do not like us.

Thanks for stopping in. See you all next month!

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2 Responses to T.O. Backyard – Winter birds. Spring birds. And Owls… cuz we all love Owls.

  1. Rob and Angie Mueller says:

    In a perfect world, someone would be able to contact the DNR (here it is the MNR) and have an individual with authority to help monitor these areas. Unfortunately they are so understaffed due to gov’t cuts, it will never happen.

  2. Rosie says:

    As for the people making a ruckus in the parks to flush birds, can the DNR be contacted to monitor the area? They are protected under the federal migratory act in the US.
    Beautiful pictures, and good for you to take the high road!