The journey to see the Northern Hawk Owl actually started in mid October, when I drove up to Hilliardton Marsh to meet Bruce Murphy, the Bird,(banding),man himself, to see a Boreal Owl. It was worth the 5 hour + drive to see that bird and meet a some really nice and committed birders. At the time I asked about Northern Hawk Owls and Bruce promised to help me find them when they arrived in late December. And one,(maybe two), did during their annual Christmas Bird Count. I made plans to go see it, along with Hoary Redpolls coming to his feeder at the banding station.
Sure there were Northern Hawk Owls closer to home, including in Peterborough, but it's not always about where the bird is, but who you get to see the bird with. And I have been looking forward to returning to Hilliardton Marsh in the daylight, and meeting up with Bruce and Maggie, whom I also met at Boreal Owl watch. Turns out, in the daylight, Hilliardton Marsh looks very similar to the Zax/Zim Bog.
We had met a little earlier at the Husky Station in New Liskeard, Ontario, which I was lucky to even get to, as their own web site had directed me to a Mac's Milk five Kilometres away. I ended up getting there early, so enjoyed toast and coffee in the diner. Soon after, Bruce arrived, followed by Maggie. She had also been at the Yellow Rice and Rails festival but we never crossed paths out in the field.
I followed in my car and after scanning the trees in the fields Bruce stopped his car and got out. I saw no sign of a Northern Hawk Owl or any life. But Maggie had spotted it in a tree about 200 yards away. We got a great look at it through my scope, but non of the pictures were that good. I dropped a pin on my iPhone map so I could find my way back later.
Meanwhile we went back to the banding station and stood freezing in the cold, watching Common and Hoary Redpolls coming to the feeders, along with Pine and Evening Grosbeaks. Bruce and Maggie would point out the few Hoarys from the large flock of Commoners. The Hoary Redpolls, had an overall more "frosty" appearance. Over the course of twenty minutes or so, I got to see a good handful of the Hoary Redpolls mixed in with the rest of the flock. They were cute, and would fly in as a group, stay for a bit, like seniors on a day trip to the mall, and with seemingly no provocation, all leave for the trees in an instant.
Once we were too cold to stand there any longer,(both Maggie and I commented on how our thumbs were particularly cold), and had seen plenty of the Hoary guys, we set off in search of a local Great Gray Owl, that has been sitting up fairly close to the road. We drove to all the sights it had been seen, but no luck on this day. I didn't need it for my year list, but any time you get to see a Great Gray, you want to take the time to check it out.
Afterwards Bruce and Maggie bid me farewell and I had thanked them profusely for their time, I drove back, with the help of my GPS App, to the spot where the Hawk Owl had been and arrived just on time to see it dining on a delectable little mouse. I enjoyed the dinner show and got to take a few good photos, including a nice closeup through my scope using my iPhone. Up close, it was even better, as I could really see what a beautiful bird the Norther Hawk Owl really is. The sky was overcast, so the pictures don't really show what I saw through my scope. I stayed until it flew off onto another dead tree way in the distance and at that point set off on the long drive home. I will finish 2012 having seen 16 owl species of 18 rated lower than code 5. My only misses were the Flamulated and Ferruginous Pygmy Owls.
And with less than two weeks left in the Big Year, I am heading to the finish line with 590 species seen or heard in 2012. Can I find 10 birds in 12 days? Good question. I've already seen 17 birds in the first 20 days of December, so who knows. On January 1 of this year, time seemed to be in abundance, and now as it approaches again, time has become just as much a nemesis as these last 10 birds.
Where to go next? Hmmmmmmm....