Although it is relatively early in the season, there has been another invasion of Snowy Owls in southwestern Ontario, and it may turn out better than even last year. In the winter of 2013-2014, there were huge numbers of Snowy Owls, but they were much more abundant in eastern Ontario and even as far east as Newfoundland. Apparently the productivity of Snowy Owls in northern Quebec was massive. Productivity is heavily dependent on the amount of food available, since some of the courtship behaviour to stimulate breeding is the number of young lemmings or voles that the male will bring to the female. I saw a photo of a nest from northern Quebec from the 2013 breeding season that had more than 70 lemmings lined up all around the nest! The abundance of food resulted in the superabundance of owls that fledged causing a major southern invasion that fall, since there was likely not enough food on the breeding ground to sustain the large population of owls all winter.
Apparently the Snowy Owls that arrive in extreme southwestern Ontario are not from northern Quebec, but from either north or west of Hudson Bay, so although we had a good number of birds, it paled in comparison to the numbers reported farther east.
Maybe this is the year for us in the southwest. There have been 2-3 in the Rondeau/Erieau area, there were 9 in the vicinity of the Sarnia airport as well as others west of Wallaceburg, all in the last few days. In my roaming around a small part of Dover today for a couple of hours, I came across 4, and there were likely more.
The first one was on a pole right along Bear Line, just north of Angler Line. These are easy to see, even against a grey cloudy sky.
Another was almost a kilometer back off the road, sitting on a pipe contraption. Even with a 700 mm lens, this photo had to be heavily cropped just to see the bird. It would be easy to miss, and I undoubtedly did miss others that were in a challenging location to see.
There were lots of other white birds as well. Tundra Swans were scattered all over the place. I saw probably at least 15 different fields with these huge swans resting or feeding in. Some fields had only a few dozen birds, but a few had several hundred, along with Canada Geese. And there were always several flocks visible in the air.
While I was driving slowly by one field, a very small goose caught my eye as it emerged from behind a swan. I got a quick look through binoculars, and then grabbed the camera. This particular group of birds were much more skittish than any others I looked at, and the bird of greatest interest to me got caught up in the flight and so I managed only a couple of quick shots.
|Ross's Goose and Tundra Swan|
|Ross's Goose, tail view|
Unfortunately the photos themselves are not conclusive, but in combination with what I saw through the binoculars at first, I am quite sure this is a juvenile, white phase Ross's Goose, which is relatively rare. The bill was very small and stubby and didn't appear to have a 'grin' patch. Overall the bird was extremely tiny.....I almost didn't even see it. According to the Sibley Guide, a Tundra Swan is about 53" total length. A Snow Goose, which is very similar to a Ross's and more common, is at least 28" in total length, or more than half the length of a swan. By comparison, Ross's Goose is about 23" in total length, which is much less than half the length of a swan. In looking at the first image I have posted, comparing the goose to the swan, it is evident that the goose is quite small, and to my eye, much less than half the size of the swan right beside it.
All in all, it was a very fine snowy white Friday.