Saturday, 13 October 2012

Can I Boreal a Bag of Owls? Sure, don't Saw-whet it?

So, I drove 6 hours up to Hilliardton Marsh yesterday so I could see at least one Boreal Owl.  I saw two, and a Saw-whet Owl, got to hold a Boreal Owl and see and photograph one Boreal Owl in a Pine Tree before the night was done.  It was one of the coolest things I've done this year and the furthest, I think, I've driven for just one bird.

After a few false starts and after having gotten lost in the pitch blackness that is District Road 569 and then finally finding, deep in the woods, the owl banding station, run by Bruce Murphy and his merry band of "banders," I was treated to an evening of bird talk, muddy walks in the woods and a short education on how to tell the age of an owl, using funky black-light technology.  Apparently owl wings glow purple under ultra-violet in younger owls and it diminishes as they get older.

After finding and banding a Saw-whet Owl, and seeing it was a first year bird, Bruce and one of his student assistants, Maggie, took me out in their pick-up truck to see the Boreal Owls deep within the woods.  We had to chase a young moose along a crazy-bumpy path, park in what seemed like the dead centre of the Boreal Forest, and walk through ankle deep mud puddles, to where we found two Boreal Owls.  It was a lifer for Maggie as well, as she had come up a year earlier and not seen one.  She had come specifically to study the Boreal Owls in the year that there were none.  Two of the Boreal Owls were caught in the mist-netting and Bruce and Maggie placed them in little cloth bags, after which we drove back to the little shack in the woods where they were banded and a few people, including me, got to hold one.

I was able to get a photo of one in a tree later on, and spend the rest of the night chatting with a few of the birders who had come to see the owls, one of which was an older gentleman who had also driven up from Toronto.  We swapped Alaska stories and I mentioned that next week I was going to the Yellow Rails and Rice Festival.  Maggie laughed and said she'd be there too.  We talked at length about birding in Louisiana and she promised to give me tips on where I can find more than just Rails, including a place where I might be able to see Whooping Cranes.

By 11:00 pm or so I was ready to hit the road and find a hotel for the night.  Bruce had tipped me to a place I might be able to find Three-toed Woodpeckers in the morning, in an area of burnt forest to the south.  I checked it out this morning but didn't find anything more than Field Sparrows and Red-breasted Nuthatches.  I still had hours to go before I was home and wanted to get back to Toronto by dinner time.

And now, those of you with sensitive constitutions might want to just skip ahead to the photographs below as I now wish to share some of the realities of long days of driving and not always eating a balanced diet.  Things happen.  Well, that's not exactly right.  Sh-- Happens, as they say.  And sometimes you have to go when you have to go.  And sometimes it's on the side of a dirt road, in a ditch, hiding behind the car, next to a farmer's field, with the wind blowing on and the cold rain pelting your bare bum.  I'm not proud of this.  But in the interests of full disclosure, so to speak, sometimes we just have to bare our souls for all to see, while hoping we didn't bare our buttocks for some poor farmer's family to see.

Boreal Owl: # 539

Whoooo Me?

Yes, Yooooo!

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